There was absolutely a time when I defined success in terms of money, titles and what I could show the world I had accomplished. My first two years at Michigan State were spent as a Journalism major with a determined desire to work long hours, produce shows and some day have a comfortable spot in front of the camera, á la Katie Couric.
I remember mid-sophomore year as I juggled being a co-producer for MSU News, planning activities for the girls on my floor as an RA, working at the front desk and maintaining a decent level of energy on a routine four to five hours of sleep a night, that everything changed.
I woke up and thought, "I'll never be able to keep this pace and be a good mother."
Which was a thought lobbed totally into left field as I was 19 years old, decidedly single at the time and had absolutely zero prospects for a family life.
The story, in facts, is simple: Got a restaurant job, got knocked up, got married, got divorced, get to raise world's most amazing child. (Possible bias on that last fact.)
There are times, I will admit, when I feel a little stuck. I cannot save the majority of each paycheck and take a few weeks off to travel Europe- something that would certainly be feasible of I lived in the world of singletons. Perhaps I would sell my home and live in a cramped apartment so I could start an event coordinating business. I can guarantee you that I would have finished my degree long ago. Maybe I would live in Spain right now. Maybe I would have experienced being a big city girl for a year or two like I had always imagined. Perhaps I would get all crazy and set some goal like biking coast to coast. I don't know.
The reality is that I cannot. At least not right now.
I went to Indiana this past weekend, where three of my four sisters live.
In the midst of pure chaos, which is the norm for a family with five sisters and 10 offspring, I glanced around and listened to life happening. Dinner cooking, football on downstairs, Wii competition commencing upstairs, the dog barking, my darling little niece falling asleep on my chest...certainly nothing out of the ordinary.
I'm right where I'm supposed to be. I'm a family girl. My intuition from seven years ago was spot on. And I may be slow on the take...but I will finally graduate in 26 days.
Success is now defined in terms of relationships and in slowly working towards goals and never giving up. Success is having a house full of people who love one another and being able to yell, "Go Colts!" at a television screen with my son. Success, to me, is not what I am wearing, what I am driving, what I live in, how much money is in my bank account or what my job title is.
Everyone defines success differently, of course. And while there was a time that I thought I was absurdly off the path I was intended for, I now think that detour shaped my perspective in a way that nothing else could have.
When someone else's life is more important than your own, the world gets really simple all of a sudden.