Today I saw a motivational poster thingie on Facebook.
I can understand the desire underlying this. When we’re in the midst of a hard time, we want to believe we’re working toward something, that our suffering has some meaning or purpose. It’s really hard to continue to believe in meaning and purpose in world with so much suffering, injustice, and uncertainty. So we make mantras like this one to try to change our perspective about the hard shit.
I don’t disagree at all that the hard shit is valuable. Pain is like a charcoal water filter. You pour some murky-ass water into the top, all full of harmful thought processes, emotional baggage, social pressure. And if you allow yourself to percolate in the pain, you come through the filter a purer version of yourself, closer to what you really are on the inside. You have to go through the filter at least a few times before anybody can drink you without getting violent diarrhea, but . . . you know what, I think I’ve overextended this metaphor, so I’ll just stop now.
The part of this quote I take issue with is the “success story.” It implies success is some kind of end-game goal you’re striving toward. “This hardship is just your plot’s conflict, dear protagonist, and if you get through it, you’ll denouement yourself right into the Happy Ending.”
I don’t believe in happy endings. In fact, I don’t believe in endings. I believe in transitions.
There’s this persistent notion that happiness (or “success”) is an endpoint, an arrived-upon state of being; that if you do the Right Things, you’ll get to a place in your life where you don’t struggle anymore, you don’t have hardship or hurt, you’re just happy and everything is wonderful and Tom Hiddleston wakes you each morning by whisper-singing “You are my Sunshine” into your ear. (By the way, there is MUCH disagreement about which things are the Right Things to do to achieve Eternal Happiness, so good luck picking the right Right Things, anyway. That’s why there is only one Tom Hiddleston.)
There isn’t success, there are only successes. There isn’t happiness, there are only happinesses. And if you want to experience either successes or happinesses, that has to be enough. You can spend a lifetime chasing the state of success and happiness and run right past every single one of the successes and happinesses. Forget “success stories.” Stories with successes and failures and happinesses and sadnesses and all of the things — those are enough.