success: target practice

J and I sat in our small car while driving back to base, over hills and valleys, an expanse of fielded German landscape surrounding us when he said something that stood out to me. We had just driven to a nearby town to buy a crockpot and coffee maker from another military family who was leaving soon. Our joint life was clicking into place, piece by piece, with each of these seemingly small purchases. For a brief period of time after the purchase, I felt successful. 

What J said went something like this:

“I heard somewhere that a person needs three things in life to be successful: a job, a car, and a partner. If you have two out of three you can still accomplish anything. If you have a job and a partner, they can transport you to your job. If you have a partner and a car, you can transport them to their job. If you have a car and a job, you’re doing pretty well for yourself and will eventually find a partner.”

Now, I struggle with the meaning of the word ‘successful’ like a few others out there, but I knew that it was this unique feeling, this small but mighty step towards a goal. Cogs shifting into place. According to J’s definition, he has already obtained all three of his meters of success. Job. Car. Partner. Does that make him feel a supreme sense of success? Does he just pack up now because he’s achieved all that he set out to achieve?

Though his philosophy is valid, I see success as less concrete. If I had to choose a current goal that we are working towards, it would be to have a fully functioning household, something we are still far from achieving. Someday, we will inevitably get there. When that day comes, will it feel glorious? Like the final long Tetris piece slides into place and we’ve “won” whatever this game is? Or at that point will we already have moved onto a different goal and swept this one under the rug? What we thought was the most important achievement eventually becomes an obligation. Instead of feeling joy in completing the project, we feel dissatisfaction until it’s finished, then we can finally move onto the next. A never-ending march to obtain a singular feeling. The cycle spins and continues. I see success as a constantly moving target, and I’m an out-of-shape Hawkeye, arrow pulled tight against my cheek, attempting to narrow my gaze. 

I listened to him and realized that he was feeling the same sense of success that I was, from simply picking up a crockpot and a coffee maker. (A coffee maker that we deduced was unusable due to an overwhelming amount of mold when we returned home.) Such a simple act created a tiny rush of confidence, of realizing that we will be alright after all. But, his speech also left me thinking. I remembered a scene in The Great Gatsby (2013) where DiCaprio’s character discussed rules to live by, rules that he followed to a tee, such as keeping his nails clean and waking up early. I recall from the movie that Gatsby did everything by the book to achieve his goals, and he was partly successful doing these things, mainly by acquiring his wealth and regaining his connection with Daisy. But, alas, the success didn’t last and ended with heartbreak and tragedy.

What I’m trying to get at here is that success often changes faces with each phase a specific person goes through. To me, success as a child was being able to watch Friends at 7pm in my parents’ bed with a big bowl of ice cream. To be honest, I would still mark that as a sign of success, albeit in my own bed, but a few more lofty expectations of myself have appeared over the years. 

For now, I’ll soak up these fleeting moments driving along the German countryside with my husband with a crockpot and a moldy coffee maker in the backseat as a victory. The rolling hills and valleys standing as a metaphor to my changing state of being. In the back of my mind the truth waits, knowing that soon we’ll be the ones selling this crockpot to a new military family. We’ll be moving to a different country and working to put together the scattered puzzle once again. A puzzle that was once almost complete. By then, success will be defined by an entire new set of expectations, but I know we’ll have each other for the ride. 

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