Success is the Name of the Game

Photo by Chris Devers via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: Chris Devers via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

These past few weeks have been a bit of a funny one for me. My relationship of three years, with someone I once thought was the love of my life, broke down. I have moved house. My day job has been getting me down. And I’m in a quandary as to where my life will lead me next.

All of this has led me to listen to ‘Rocket Man’ on repeat and cry like a moron on the train home to see my parents… No please, please don’t feel sorry for me. It’s my own fault that I like Elton John… As for the other stuff, well that’s just life. On the flip side, my dad is still recovering quickly and responding well to his cancer treatments, getting happier and healthier every passing day, I am now free to pursue anything I want to do, and I have realised how bloody lucky I am to have the friends I do in my life.

These musings have somehow tied quite nicely (I love it when that happens!) to something that I have been struggling/thinking on for a few years now — what is success or failure, and who ultimately decides what it is? The need for success and recognition on a grand scale is something we are constantly bombarded with. From the media’s obsession with ‘the next big thing’, ramming pictures of beautiful and confident young 20-year-olds down our throats every five seconds, to the idea that if we decide that our dreams no longer fulfil our current needs we are somehow failing in our lives. Just look at that car crash of a show Britain’s Got Talent.

The need for success and recognition on a grand scale is something we are constantly bombarded with. From the media’s obsession with ‘the next big thing’ to the idea that if we decide that our dreams no longer fulfil our current needs we are somehow failing in our lives.

I remember quite vividly not long out of Drama School one of my fellow students decided that acting wasn’t for them (having a rather unpleasant experience) and decided to give it up. At the time I thought ‘wow that’s depressing’. How naive I was, what a ridiculous and condescending thing to think. Whilst my friend decided to be honest with herself and pursue her happiness, I spent the next eight years skirting the periphery of the acting world, damn terrified and steeped in a feeling of worthlessness. Is that anyway to live? My nose constantly pressed up against the glass window of the door, watching others’ successes, only to feel jealous, but not enough to feel confident to knock on the door to let myself in. It took a total melt down, some massive soul searching and eight years of therapy to realise that my dreams had changed, but unfortunately my belief in failure hadn’t.

I don’t seem to be the only one having this private conversation either. I’ve spoken to many friends who are also starting to question what they really want now, compared to their younger selves, and asking if these changes mean we have failed. Most of my friends have strived, struggled and starved themselves throughout their 20s only to start asking themselves ‘am I actually happy?’ in their 30s. I have come to terms (well mostly) that I really, really don’t want to make it in Hollywood. There is nothing really there that appeals to me. Maybe sometimes I fancy myself being famous and popular, but that is just a never ending pursuit of love that doesn’t exist, and I can acknowledge that that way leads to deep unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

Most of my friends have strived, struggled and starved themselves throughout their 20s only to start asking themselves ‘am I actually happy?’ in their 30s.

I can tell you, right now nothing highlights this conundrum more than the film Amy. The unbelievably sad and heart-rendering documentary of Amy Winehouse. From the outside world this young woman had everything — an unparalleled talent, money, fame, worldwide recognition. But all the girl wanted to do was ultimately write music. I have to say, apart from enjoying a couple of her songs, I knew nothing about her apart from the obvious, that she was a huge talent with an unhealthy relationship to alcohol and other toxic substances. What was so interesting and unbearably sad about the whole thing was that right from the start, when asked whether she would want to be famous, she admitted that no she wouldn’t, it would drive her mad. And seemingly it did. No matter how much fame, money, talent or awards she garnered, she died utterly alone, fighting her demons until the very end, the overwhelming need to be loved by a man who did not know how to truly show it in the way she needed.

So, despite all those things she had gained, all the things we as a society put so much stock in, the question needs to be asked again — what is success and who decides what form that comes in?

Through all the countless hours I have discussed this with friends, acquaintances, therapists, watching this deeply moving film I realised one thing. That actually our successes can only really be measured by ourselves. Not by society or some journalist deciding whether we should grace the cover of their magazine or not. I am generally happy, much more than I was eight years ago. Yes I have my ups and downs, I still suffer from crippling anxiety and extreme low points from time to time, but I consider it a massive success that I can acknowledge when I feel low, and accept it for what it is. I think it is a success that I am writing this now. Yes I would love everyone to read it and tell me how wonderful I am but I also know that is just my narcissism speaking and that the fact I am just getting my thoughts out there is enough.

Our successes can only really be measured by ourselves. Not by society or some journalist deciding whether we should grace the cover of their magazine or not.

There are many things in my life I have taken for granted, minor achievements I have swept under the carpet because either someone did it (in my eyes at least) better, or I just thought ‘nah you’re crap, you have to prove yourself one more time’. But looking back, I may not have got into RADA but I have been to some pretty cool places, done some pretty cool jobs and met some pretty cool people I never want to lose from my life.

I really hope you feel the same about your life, because believe me, you may not have Simon Cowell telling you ‘you’re fabulous dahrling’, or that you can’t afford that Aston Martin because you are down to your last tenner. But I can tell you right now, you are worth a million times more than that drivel. The worth of your life, your struggles and survival, is incredible if you truly accept it.

 Originally written for Ilotttotalkabout.

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Ailsa is a London based writer and blogger with a background in theatre and performing arts.