I had a revelation recently. If you're happy and fulfilled, regardless of what you are doing in life, then you're successful. I am at the very least trying to convince myself of this. I have never felt successful on the professional front. Why? Well because while most of my friends have been building work experience, I've been racking up basically useless graduate degrees because I wasn't clear on what I wanted to do for a career. During the periods of my life where I have been working, and even, in some cases, hobnobbing with important people and making good money, I've been miserable and unfulfilled. Now, I am almost completely unemployed (except for my weekly spinning class and occasional seminar I present for the corporate fitness company), for the first time since my undergraduate degree, which I completed 14 years ago. So no income to speak of and back in school for my 4th university degree after which I will be starting a new career, right from the beginning, which will probably take a while to launch.
My default is to consider myself a failure because at 36, I am just beginning my career path and making bupkis. Most of my friends at this stage are firmly established in their law/academic/teaching/publishing/journalism/consulting careers and have 2 income households allowing them to live in fancier neighbourhoods, spend more on clothes/food/interior decorating, etc. and take many more family vacations.
But I am enjoying school. Although they drive me nuts sometimes, I feel blessed to have a loving husband and two beautiful, healthy, fiesty daughters. I have a large network of supportive friends and family. We are not rich but we are certainly much more fortunate than most and financially comfortable enough that I was able to quit the high paying job that I hated to start this journey. Day to day life is enjoyable and I'm happy and based on the options available to me, I am doing what I want with my professional life and hopefully moving it in the right direction so that one day I will be able to say I love my work. In the present, I love my life and I'm happy...so, you know what? I'm a success! In cognitive-behavioural therapy terminology, this would be referred to as replacing a negative core belief (I am a failure) with an alternative (I am a success). It may sound hoakey, but you know what? It does make me feel better. It is certainly a more positive way of thinking than focusing on all the decisions I have made in the past that I regret (why didn't I just do a psych degree and then go on to get a clinical psych PhD so that by now I'd have my own counselling practice and would be making big bucks?). Let's face it, having regrets is really a total waste of time.
The past is history, the future is unknown but the present is reality.