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Another thought-provoking post from writer T.L. Gray prompted these thoughts. It’s interesting that she brought up that part about how she needs to make a difference…that she needs to experience success. I think we’re always looking to be acknowledged and validated, by ourselves, and for most people, also by others. I would even go so far as to say that for those who actually express the sentiment that they’ll love and serve God even if He never does anything else for them, well, they’re either not being honest with themselves or they don’t know themselves well enough.

Me? I started off with the same noble intentions, to accept whatever God plans for me or allows to happen to me. But I stumble all the time, you know. I complain to Him, I grumble…and dare I say, if I can see and touch Him, I may even possibly pummel Him out of frustration and anger sometimes. It’s not that I expect Him to make my life into one of rainbows and candies, but it sometimes feels as if His lessons are too hard to learn even though He’s patiently waiting for me to get it and is there for me every time that I fall. Maybe it’s just me, but I really don’t think I’m the only one who dials the hotline to grumble to God when things remain unchanged for an extended period of time. Not when as human beings, we’re always looking for good, better, and the best.

Anyway…what is my personal measure of success? When I was a teenager, I bought into the whole (okay, maybe a part of it) commercialism and materialism package and thought that if I could climb up the corporate ladder so that I have my own room at the topmost floor of an exclusive firm, a sprawling mansion with a gorgeous garden, and a very healthy bank account, I’d deemed myself successful in life.

I tried the corporate life and I loved certain aspects of it. The spreadsheets that I could manipulate until it churned out whatever my fingers commanded. People failed me in so many ways – by not making good on their promises, by not fulfilling their responsibilities, by not performing up to scratch. But my spreadsheets delivered. Every. Single. Time. The reputation that I earned. I was known for being sharp-witted, responsible, quick in my responses, and unfazed in the midst of chaos. People knew they could rely on me. But I was also someone who told it like it was and didn’t take any bullshit from anyone, management level or not. That definitely didn’t go down well with some people.

But in the end, I detested the person that others often thought I was – a hard, unsympathetic person who was too harsh on others, and always on the lookout for people trying to pull the wool over her eyes. I’m neither hard nor unsympathetic; I’m just one who believes in being responsible for one’s actions no matter how justified the motive is, and I’m big on not making excuses for the self. Life is not painted in black and white, but in shades of grey. Yes, but the stance that you take on issues is most likely quite clear-cut. You may be standing in black, charcoal, pewter, silver, or ivory, but you definitely have your feet in some shade or other on the colour spectrum. I’m one person who’s not afraid to say which shade I’m standing on; others are not and they use the ‘life is made up shades of grey’ argument to justify their secretive natures, hidden agendas, or fear of stigma, etc.

I’m always on the lookout for people trying to pull the wool over my eyes because of my work. As a HR practitioner, I had to ensure that I remained objective without leaning too obviously on the side of the employer or the employee. An impossible task, because who is purely objective? But that is neither here nor there, and I’m not going to start a discussion on objectivity or the lack thereof. Anyway, when you’ve had staff who consciously omit or conveniently forget details in order to sway you to persuade the company into making certain decisions, or you’ve had your manager feed you some cock-and-bull tale that was actually a front to cover their own misdemeanors and lack of good judgment, you’d be cautious about taking people at their word as well.

Sieving out truths from bullshit was tiring, but what made me exhausted was the sheer volume of crap. I didn’t like that people were playing about in the murk, slinging the filth at one another, and dressing it all up as part and parcel of life with the reward being an empty title and a hefty wallet. Sorry, I don’t buy into that deal anymore.

An office at the topmost floor, a sprawling mansion, and a very healthy bank account would not give me satisfaction. I didn’t achieve any of them, and most likely never will, but it’s okay because I know they’re not what I need. We have needs and wants, and if we can’t even satisfy our needs, don’t even talk about our wants. I need happiness, inner peace, and the capacity to love and be loved. Those are states of being, and I know that tangibles can’t induce permanence of those states. Was I good at my work in the office? Yes, if I may say so myself, I was fantastic in my work. Was I successful? Hmm…not to me, at least.

I also ran into problems related to a romantic nature some years back. The emotional abuse that I suffered nearly broke my spirit and I cried myself to sleep every night for three years. I didn’t want anyone to worry, and maybe I was too ashamed that I had let myself get into such a mess, so I sobbed silent tears into my pillow for fear of alerting my sister who shared the same room. I’d then wake up every morning and paste a cheerful smile on my face for the people at my workplace. I don’t know which was more frightening – the fact that nobody detected anything wrong with me, or that I could put on an act so well, or that I could detach the logical aspects of myself from the emotional parts so well. I guess I should be thankful for the last; I was my own therapist basically. That said, doing that was highly dangerous and I was lucky that I was able to claw my way out from that depressive state. I strongly encourage people who need help to seek the correct avenues for help, or at least turn to those they trust, as soon as possible.

Then, success was waking up every morning. Success was those rare moments when I felt a connection to others in a state that made me feel so disconnected from everything and everyone. Success was when I could reduce the time spent staring into space and just blanking out from an hour to thirty minutes and then finally, totally snapping out of it. Success was when I could summon an appetite to eat. Each success came gradually but was monumental in pushing me to become a non-automaton and a person who could feel, trust and love again.

Fast forward to present day. I have this friend who gets on my nerves, oh, about eighty percent of the time that he messages me. He’s so emotional for a man, very long-winded for a thirty-four year old, and quite clueless when it comes to understanding yours truly. He’s also the kind of friend I’ll want to keep around for a lifetime. He’s always supportive and on my side, he deals with me honestly and in turn appreciates my honesty even when it hurts him, and he accepts me for who I am.

I have often not shown my appreciation for this friend. I have been brusque and curt, to the point of being rude, with him. Frankly, there have also been times when I have had thoughts of giving him a flying tackle and pummelling him hard when he’s down on the floor. Why? For the simple reason that his timing is very often, well, off. I can get very caught up in whatever I’m doing at the moment – may be a book that refused to be put down, may be a big battle that I’m waging on my Pokemon Black, may be a conversation that I’m having with someone else. It’s always when I’m heavily engaged in some activity or other that his messages will come. That’s not his fault; it’s his behaviour that comes after that irks me. A conversation that I feel could have been over in three minutes often lengthens to become one of seven or even ten minutes. He doesn’t seem to get that the conversation has closed or that I don’t want talk anymore. Perhaps he just really likes to chat with me, as he has expressed many times, but it came to a point when I felt like a hostess with a guest who has overstayed his welcome.

I knew that being angry with him was pointless if I didn’t do anything about it. He sensed my impatience, but didn’t know what prompted it. As difficult as it was, I found a way to broach the subject and we talked about it. His feelings were hurt, but in the end he said that he was okay and that we’ll learn to communicate better with each other. Great friend, right? He didn’t berate me for my bad attitude to him although God knows I deserved it.

This is something that I’ve always needed to work on – giving voice to my emotions. I can provide an analysis of a person’s motivations and a fairly astute character assessment, including mine, but I find it extremely difficult to discuss my emotions, especially when it’s not on paper. It’s not that I don’t have emotions, but I’m just not used to sharing them, especially when I know that airing them would hurt people I care about. I know that not sharing them would hurt both sides even more in the long run, but I need some time to prepare myself to talk about it. I’m not proud to say that it takes me many months or even years to work up the courage and the finesse to speak of something that affected me deeply on an emotional level.

Luckily for me, this friend knows enough to take my honest but hurtful comments beyond the superficial level. He knows that behind those remarks lie a genuine wish to communicate, an honest search for meaningful connection, and a respect for the listener as an adult who can take reality as it is.

So what does this friend have to do with my measure of success? A lot. I think we made a milestone in our friendship after we had that talk. I think I’ve made a personal milestone in the art of communication. Instead of spending months or even years to prepare myself to let him know that I need more space (which was what happened previously), I’ve improved to take less…months. I know, it still took me months to speak up, but at least it was a shorter time than before. I’m more patient with him now, and I put more thought into my responses.

Treating this friend right and not taking him for granted. Having this friend for life. I’ll take that as one of my successes, any time, any day.