Friday afternoon at our conference was designated “activity time.” There were a multitude of great choices that got all the conference attendees up-and-away from sitting in the same seat and having people talk at us. There were quite a few that were tempting (brewery tour bus, namely), but we settled on attending a hike in the Flatirons.
We chose the hike partially for exercise, but also partially because it would literally be our only time to get out and see nature. We could see glimpses of the foothills behind buildings as we moved between sessions, but really, we were trapped indoors for the greater part of our conference. Which is a shame in one of the most beautiful parts of the country.
We took a bus to Chautauqua Park and split into three groups: challenging, moderate and easy.
We chose easy with a handful of other people and the world’s most amazing trail guide.
She was flat-out inspiring. She was a part-time Pilates instructor and part-time hiking guide. She had ostentatious, nerdy designers playing games and giggling like little school girls.
You could tell she loved her life. And it was easy to see why. She loved walking through the mountains and telling people about the animals. She loved teaching us how to breathe to make sure we got in enough oxygen. She loved who she was. Not only that, she had figured out who she was and also loved it. Something I definitely haven’t accomplished yet.
There were a few of us on the hike that were awestruck by this woman’s life outlook. Coming from a group of iPad lovers and abstract thinkers, meeting a woman who was so content in just being, existing, and experiencing was refreshing.
For the entire hike, I was trying to figure out what made me so enamored with her. Sure, her life seemed blissful, but I’m not naive enough to believe that everything is perfect. Why was I so inspired by this woman? There were other people on the hike that were eye-rolling and scoffing at her; my adoration of her wasn’t shared among the entire group. Someone said, “I can’t take another damn picture of a mountain.” And another girl was actually texting on her iPhone the entire time. I’m hyper-connected, but c’mon! This is life you are missing, here!
I didn’t figure out why I was reacting so differently from the masses until I got back on the bus to head back to the hotel. We were chatting with our seat-neighbors and asked them how the moderate hike was and they reciprocated the question. We explained about our awesome Pilates/Trail Guide. The man in front of me laughed and then said, “There are a lot of people in my PhD program that are going to be looking for jobs as ‘Pilates’ instructors.”
It dawned on me that other people thought this woman was a flake. Unsuccessful.
It never even occurred to me that this woman could be viewed as unsuccessful. Was she making a ton of money? Probably not. But she was the happiest, most carefree person I’d met in a long, long time. I’d love to be that content in my life. She had shed any need to satisfy a stereotype of “success” and was just doing what she loved. She was successful. More successful than 90% of the conference attendees. Certainly more successful than a PhD candidate that needs to put down his classmates. . .
Sometimes I struggle with the culture of my career path. I’m good at what I do and I enjoy it, but culture of my profession has bit of a “pretentious designer” stereotype that is born out of a whole lot of truth. What I do is not life or death. And I accept that. A lot of members of my field don’t quite grasp how truly unimportant what we do is. And when people think they are overtly important, they think the “little people” aren’t.
I am not better than a Pilates instructor because I design websites. Or because I am a blogger. Or because I’m really good at Photoshop. Or because I am tall. Or because I have dark hair. Or because I’m from Indiana. Or for any reason.
Jobs are just jobs. Even careers are just jobs. The most important thing is discovering your own definition of success. And mine is not how many awards I win, conferences I attend or how many zeros are at the end of my paycheck.
To me, success is figuring out who you want to be and achieving it. Truthfully, I think the first part is the hardest. Once you have an end goal, the path reveals itself. I’m not there yet. Not even close. I have no idea where I will be next decade or even next year. And right now, that’s okay.
What is happening is I can see a picture slowly revealing itself in my mind. That out-of-focus picture is my end goal. My Flatirons. My Pilates class. My whatever. As my life-experiences start to add up, I’m starting to put together a mental scrapbook for my definition of success. And the smile on that woman’s face as she led a group through the mountains, that is the first item on the page. I want to see that smile on my own face.
P.S. I promise I’ll write about food on this blog again soon. Maybe even tomorrow. . .