There is no Success. There is no Happiness.

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.


Me, before and after two divorces and the final episode of LOST.

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.)

This is where the One True Path leads.

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.

Broken on an Autumn Day

Photo courtesy of Suzann Rodgers Hallman

Photo courtesy of Suzann Rodgers Hallman

It is an almost absurdly beautiful fall day. I stepped out of my car to head into Starbucks (to get a drink with a RED CUP!! …I have no idea why this is such a big deal to people, but apparently it is) and a big slap of delicious autumn air punched me in the face while jolly mister sun poked me gleefully in both eyeballs. It’s cliche, but everything in autumn is so fucking CRISP!

And my very first thought, standing there in the light and the air and the crisp, was, “It’s far too beautiful a day to feel so broken.”

A relationship I was in ended recently and, while it wasn’t particularly long-lived, it was meaningful to me.  It’s not abysmally bad, but it has been difficult.  I did the usual grieving routine over the past two weeks (it was almost comical how textbook the process was, actually), and now I just feel a kind of soreness, like my heart went back to the gym for the first time in a few years and decided it could, like, totally bench 250, bro. Which, in a sense, is pretty much what happened.

So I’ve been feeling broken…until it occurred to me that, no.  Just no.

Heartache, confusion and sorrow are all natural, healthy reactions to loss.  They’re just as normal as the excitement about what may come next and the tiny twinges of relief (because, let’s face it, being in a relationship where you actually allow yourself to be vulnerable can be exhausting, and it can be nice to step back from that for a moment).  I spent a huge chunk of my life avoiding the act of feeling my feelings, and if I didn’t feel pain now, it would mean I was right back to suppressing the part of myself that’s able to feel.

Pain doesn’t mean I am broken.  Hacking off big parts of who I am so I didn’t have to hurt?  That was broken.  Pain means I am whole.