I learned, early this morning, that I am a success. A piece on NPR was relating how some wingless mosquitos in Antarctica survive under the most miserable of conditions, only to “awaken” out of semi-dormancy to live for ten days or so, mate, and die. In the animal world, the reporter noted, this is considered a successful life. You have reproduced. You have won.
So, I have made it after all. My genes—such as they are and God help my offspring—will go on. Success, it seems, is all a matter of perspective.
This is comforting, in some baseline sort of way. I’ve always wanted to make some sort of mark in the world, and certainly children—at least well-raised, happy, compassionate and caring children who are deeply loved—are a mark well made. But the reason this little radio tidbit left such an impression upon me is because I’ve long struggled with the definition of success—both mine and the common one espoused by the majority of Americans: namely money and fame. Of course, as this little NPR piece highlights, success is all in how you define it. I think, however, that it may be a bit premature to break out the champagne.
One of my Very Least Favorite Things is the arrival of my college magazine in the mail. Every three months I receive the beautiful glossy thing in the box and immediately flip to the back just to torture myself by seeing who is CEO of what, or how fellow alum Steven Colbert is doing, or who just published her third book, etc., etc. It’s masochism at its full-blown best. I mope about and jab my finger at the page saying, “Look at her! Look at him! What have I done? Nothing!!” And then I hang my head and imitate Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront: “I coulda been a contender, I could’ve been somebody.” Then I throw the magazine—which cost me $80,000 for the honor of receiving it—with all its success stories in the recycle bin, breathe deeply , pour myself a glass of wine, and tell myself that I’m a late bloomer, and that the highest sort of success is not easily measured; after all, I have two very beautiful, intuitive, balanced, smart, healthy children (if I do say so myself.) But inside, I still say I want to do something worth putting in this stupid magazine. Reproducing just doesn’t quite say success for me the way it does for the Antarctic Mosquito; More’s the pity.
I believe real success is a well-lived life, by which I mean living into your fullest potential, expressing and sharing your innate talents, and loving well. I’m working on all of the above. But I’m not so evolved that I can’t admit that a bit of fortune or a smidge of notoriety wouldn’t be nice. Being a good mother is vitally and immeasurably important, but it’s not the end of the story, at least for me. There’s more life than sex and its aftereffects. Yes, there is.
But thanks to NPR and those sad, cold mosquitos (have they not heard of Belize?), I do feel as though I have done something worth celebrating: A couple of lovely somethings actually, without whom all the rest of whatever else is waiting in the wings would matter little. Success is only sweet when you have someone to share it with you. Message received. And I’m not dead yet. I might still be a contender.