A successful life

My girls are now in grade 3 and frequently have to sit for class examinations or spot tests. I personally do not agree with the whole concept of exams as a good way to judge someone's knowledge but that is a whole different conversation for another time.

I have explained to them that the result is not as important as the process. Trying your best and getting up after each failure is far more important than chasing that 'A'.

But things were quite different when I was a kid. Growing up, I was expected to do well in school - really well. My parents would know my entire syllabus and if there were ever an exam coming up, there they would be, reminding me to revise, weeks in advance. After the exam they would eagerly ask me, "so how did you do? will you get an A?

I know they meant well. They, like all the millions of parents out there, only wanted their child to succeed. But if we just take a step back and think, what do we mean by 'success' and how would you label someone as successful? Would it be someone who has a truckload of money like a seven-figure earning executive or a 60 hour a week working lawyer whose charges for one gig is more than the average person's annual income? Or someone who has oodles of job satisfaction like a surgeon working for the Smile Train or a care worker at a senior community home? Or is success measured by the amount of free time you have to spend on yourself or your loved ones, like a successful business owner who doesn't have to worry about the whole 9-5 routine?

I think that success is different for different people at different times. When I was young, my personal measure of success was based on how good a doctor I was, how good my bedside manner was and how many patients I was able to help. Another priority for me was my professional development. I was determined to be a specialist paediatrician before 30 with my main goal being to join Doctors Without Borders or Médecins Sans Frontières (in fact, that is why I studied medicine, but that is for another post). Money never came into the picture, which is a good thing because doctors don't earn much in Sri Lanka. I was probably earning about USD200 a month (no kidding!). I think when you are young, money rarely matters.

After becoming a mom, my priorities were turned on their head and I could not imagine spending hours away from my babies to further my clinical career. Which is why I chose to do specialize in Public Health, it did not take me away as much.

Now, having become, for all intents and purposes, a single parent (more on that in another post) to 3 young kids, my priorities are being a good role model, making time for the kids and making sure we are financially stable. So money has now definitely become a priority and practicality has finally set in.

And this change in perception in what one measures as success is not something that is unique to me. I have seen it happen with all my friends. Even with the friends I thought would never change but have now done a complete 180.

As for me, just like almost any parent out there, my greatest achievement will one day be if my children are successful. I  think that, more than anything else, I would feel that my children are successful if they were happy with their life. But it's not easy escaping years of conditioning. My kids come home with exam results and I have to bite my lip from asking why they got a B (or C+) instead of an A. There are times when I want them to excel in school, win awards every year and be the 'brainy kid' in class - so I have to remind myself, that is just a throwback from my past. Because as an adult, I know that my kids don't need to get a college degree to be happy and I'm not just talking about Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. I'm talking about the local masseuse who is extremely well read and knows something about everything - she loves her job and is very happy. I'm talking about the plumber who has his own small business, gets to meet new people and build relationships on a daily basis and also gets to dictate his own hours. And the local artisan who makes hand-blown glass. She does what she does because she loves it and not for any other reason.
Am I a dreamer? Absolutely. So are my girls. Is that a bad thing? I don't know. I know that I have made many 'irrational' and 'unconventional' choices over the years, because of my never-ending optimism. But I don't think I would changes things because it is dreamers who bring big ideas into the world.

If I really think about it, success to me will be if my children are being someone and doing something that makes them truly happy and if that can add something, however small, to this world, then I would think that I was a successful parent.

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