My success meter is broken. My compass for achievement continually points southsomething. I don't know where notoriety lives, but I'm turning down the radio while looking for the address.
I have no gauge for whether or not if I've succeeded at one of the 97 things I try to do, because I'm too busy telling myself I'm a failure in multiple disciplines. "At best," I silently hiss to myself, "I'm mediocre on a good day."
I see Success in the distance, unattainable yet hovering in close proximity. Like it's in my feed with a soft focus filter and enough likes to have a K after the number, but we've never met IRL.
It certainly won't meet me here, in this adorable breakfast spot, having a tense conversation over eggs and fancy biscuits. While I hold my teal stoneware mug and sigh with furrowed brow, Success wants no part in the couple's "are you sure you support me cause you didn't freak out Price Is Right style when I told you about this gig" talk we've had for 15 years. Success does not want this weird emotional unpacking session in hushed voices so as to not disturb other customers. Success disturbs all the customers with free coffee and shiny glee. Success has sequins and smiles without eye strain, it has open-mouthed surprise face and big, squeezy grateful hugs. By design, Success can't handle hand-wringing over the cost of childcare and arguments stalled because my damn jaw threatened to lock up while chewing. That's new. It's probably arthritis, but we just lost insurance so I can't find out right now. Success wants nothing to do with insurance.
Success isn't really equipped for plan comparisons, discount codes, or last-minute texts to sitters. It certainly can't map the fastest route to somewhere it should have left for twenty minutes ago while making two separate dinners. Success just provided a balloon-drop of delightful news, and you want to talk about calendars? Next, you'll want her to take off her lucite platform heels and walk somewhere, you ingrate.
I'm 43 years old and I don't know what Success is supposed to do with or to me, or how I'm supposed to treat it. For starters, I don't believe it exists for me. It's a ghost other people have seen, a MagicEye puzzle I can't decipher. I dismiss it when it approaches and run after it when it's busy elsewhere. I'm a goddamned cat with a career.
When I left my corporate job in 2015, my husband issued a dire warning. "When you do this," he said, a steadied, pleading gaze and strong hands on my shoulders, "please...please. Please enjoy the journey. There won't be one thing that will make it worth it. Because then there will be another thing to get and do. And if you're still miserable, what's the point?"
Such sage wisdom emitted from the man receiving my death glare in a diner while I'm resetting my jaw over a greens scramble.
See, he didn't see Success walk in. I got something. I booked something. That was his cue to jump up and down and look at me, wild-eyed yet earnest, pledging his support to make this work no matter what. Instead, he made a calm note of his support and wanted to get down to the business of scheduling and making sure we didn't lose all our money on sitters while I rehearse and he counsels people with actual problems.
My six-year-old, on the other hand, LOVES Success and her sparkly dress. She likes her hair all curly and up like that, and she likes how she smiles so big. So when she heard I got work, she shrieked and jumped up and hugged me. She danced she screamed so hard and so loud, she gave herself a scratchy throat. THAT'S how you greet Success. Take note, adults with decorum and social skills or whatever.
Of course, my Success is not the Success of my youth. She's slightly pale and has saggy bits she holds up with shapewear, unlike the easy, comfortable beauty of the Success of people half my age. And what is Success for if not comparison and scrutiny? That's how that works, right?
I hang out with some younger people in the same industry as me. They're vibrant and woke, covered in Fenty, with all their boob tissue up top and they wipe Malort from their chins before heading to Steppenwolf for a Front Bar mingler and a role in someone's reading from that tv show they watch. Their Success doesn't settle for sequins and a good contouring cream. It has natural glow. These folx don't start basement theatre companies that will fade into obscurity along with four-sectioned newspapers. They build empires to topple the old ways, new works that excite audiences and build careers. The Old Guard finds themselves submitting their headshot and resume to be a part of the party, trying to get a little of that Success Shimmer (the newest My Little Pony) on their older, weary I-Guess-This-Gig-Works version of themselves.
We tend to think we've been passed by, and so we're not successful.
My husband left the table, having finished his egg biscuit with expensive aoli, and waited outside for me. Realizing Success was not going to pay the tab (she was busy playing peek-a-boo with the children next to us), I gathered myself and headed to the parking lot. I told him I knew scheduling was part of accepting the gig, and so was the constant job search. I admitted that his wanting to discuss logisitics doesn't mean he isn't happy for me. It likely means I'm not happy for me. It likely means I don't think I'm enough, that Success has taken off, and that what I accomplished will never measure up to the list of things I don't have.
While I wallowed at home over these thoughts plus my husband being right (again), an old friend called. He needed some Chicago-specific advice, as he might be coming back here to stay for a while. He's been isolated and focused very intently on his work because he has a razor-sharp vision of what Success looks like to him. It's Godlike, his version, berobed in gold and placed upon the highest and most lush mountaintop. I mean, it's...it's a lot. And it was killing him. What he wanted was everything he thought he worked for and deserved. What he was missing was a community.
I talked to him for a couple of hours - on the phone. Who does THAT anymore? In that time, I found myself telling him to accept that a vision of Success can change, and that you have to appreciate the journey or you'll be miserable. I extolled the virtues of the Chicago Theater community up and down as though they were physically cradling me and gently rocking me to sleep each night. To be fair, I firmly believe they would if I or anyone asked.
I told him everything I needed to hear and be reminded of. We lamented our secret hope of being better than everyone else while simultaneously thinking we were rotten at all of it. We laughed about our horrible actor-writer brains, our need to please, and how the other people around you can either keep you sane or ruin you. I opt for the former.
He thanked me for the call, telling me I was the most positive person he had spoken to yet. It meant a lot to him. It meant a lot to me, too. That right there? That was Success in all her swaggering glamour.
Later that night, I got an email from my daughter's teacher. She commended her advanced reading skill, already where 1st graders should finish the year (she's in Kindergarten), and thanked me for raising a smart, kind, and thoughtful child. She called her an incredible girl. My heart swelled, and I felt like I had done something right. Like I had succeeded in something.
Sure, it's taken me three days to churn this blog out, and it's not what I intended to write. But I've decided I'll take Success where I can, putting her in as many outfits as possible so she's more accessible. Those sequins need to go to the cleaners for a bit anyway.