Read an Excerpt from The Gloriously Simple Guide to Getting What You Want
To laugh often and much To win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, American writer and philosopher
Watching a sleeping baby is almost magical. The first night I spent in my very own apartment, I was a 20-year-old caring for my infant daughter, Nerissa, who was asleep with me in my bed. We had left a much more dangerous and volatile environment with her father, which included drugs, guns, yelling, fighting and more. Here – on my own for the first time – everything was so peaceful and quiet around us. I remember lying in bed, surrounded by the darkness, listening to the sound of sweet silence. No loud music. No unfamiliar voices echoing through the rooms. No doors slamming. Just quiet. And Nerissa was beside me sleeping so serenely, her fat, caramel-colored cheek was squished against the pillow. Her eyelids fluttered every now and then. I could feel her soft breath against my hand.
At that moment, I felt I’d accomplished something great. It might have been an easy and minor task for other parents, but it was a huge accomplishment for me as a young, single mother with no money and a history of sleeping in cars and on people’s floors for shelter. Providing my daughter with a safe and loving home – all on my own – meant everything to me because since the day she was born, this seemed like an impossible task. A lack of money, my young age, and my turbulent relationship with her father seemed to stand in the way of that. I may have felt more proud of myself that night than the day I graduated from college! How strange that out of all of my personal and professional achievements, this would make me feel like I had truly accomplished something, but it did.
Have you had a moment like that?
If you ask a man living in a small village somewhere who has raised his children, loved his wife, and provided a home for his family, whether he feels that he has succeeded in life, his answer might be yes. His surroundings may seem modest to you. Instead of a sprawling five-bedroom home, he may live in a small house or even a hut. Instead of two luxury cars in the driveway, he may ride a bike or use his own two feet to reach his destinations. His “career” may be painting portraits of his neighbors. And instead of a bank account that is set for life, he may enjoy a modest lifestyle that doesn’t require more than stable shelter and a good reserve of food.
It’s customary in our society to equate only the large home (or homes), cars and money with success. That’s what we see on TV. That’s what we’re conditioned to work toward in school and in the workplace. When we see other people who have these things, we think, Wow, they’ve made it, but the truth about success is often revealed to us once we’re mature enough to see it – if ever at all. Many people live empty lives never knowing what success really is – chasing after things that will never make them happy.
This brings us to Emerson’s quote at the beginning of the chapter. The first time I saw these words, I was student teaching at Lafayette High School in Williamsburg, Va., as a junior in college. The teacher I was working with had posted the excerpt on a bulletin board in her room to inspire her students. I sat in the empty classroom and stared at it for a while during a teacher work period. It had the most profound impression on me. Here I was, a young woman putting herself through college with an infant. I was working tirelessly to keep food in the fridge and to get my degree. Every day I obsessed over balancing it all and proving to myself, Nerissa, and my family that I wasn’t a failure. There was no room for error. There was too much at stake.
But Emerson made me realize that success is not such a far-off, distant thing as we make it. In my case, success wasn’t just holding the actual college degree in my hands. It was every accomplishment along the way. It was the experience of setting a goal and achieving it. From that point on, I started looking at my life differently. I appreciated the walks across campus with my daughter to get the mail, the applesauce and slices of cheese in our refrigerator, the laughter that filled our small apartment, the visits to my parents’ house – even my station wagon with its constant oil leak!
Years later, when I was leaving my last job to promote Glori and do professional speaking, a co-worker gave Emerson’s quote to me in a frame as a keepsake. I knew then that Emerson and I had to stick together. His words remind me of what life is all about. I keep them on my desk so they’re there waiting to do just that.
When I sat down to write this book, I decided that I had to start with Emerson’s perspective on success. You are reading this book because you want to achieve or change something in your life. You have a goal, and you want to succeed. You recognize that this is going to take hard work and persistence, and you are ready for the challenge! But before we go anywhere, we have to start here. We have to think about what success really is. Why wait a whole lifetime to figure it out?
Here’s what I’ve learned: success is more than the big things. Academic degrees. Promotions. Nice cars. A size 2 pair of jeans. In fact, it’s none of these things if there isn’t any significance to them. Instead, success is everything. It’s the things that matter to us regardless of whether they matter to anyone else. It’s the things that warm our hearts and make us proud of who we are. It’s the moment that we’ll look back on and be pleased. It’s the process and the experience.
If you’re like me, once you achieve one thing, you move right on to the next. For instance, when I graduated from college, I didn’t just clap my hands and say, “Okay, I’m done. Nothing to work toward. Nothing to do.” In fact, during my commencement ceremony I should have been relishing the moment and taking it all in. After all, I was sitting there in my black cap and gown surrounded by thousands of people, including my family and even Queen Noor of Jordan. Instead, I couldn’t stop thinking about how badly I needed a job! Even now, I have so many goals and dreams that they’re coming out of my ears! It’s true, we don’t give ourselves a break, but Emerson’s words remind me that accomplishing those things will not make me a success. I am already successful because of all of the various accomplishments – big and small – in my life.
And the same goes for you. Realize that success is not something you’re striving for, it’s what and who you already are. You are successful because of the person you are today and all of those moments that got you here. You already have a list of achievements. Think about how you felt when you bought your first car, soaked in a beautiful sunset, cooked a great meal or even forgave someone. Or recognize that after all you have been through in your life – the pain, the obstacles, and the people around you who said you’d never make it – you are still standing. That feeling – the glorious warmth that permeates your soul – is success.
This secret is so essential to getting what we want out of life because if we don’t begin to think about success as a process and a state of being, we will never fully enjoy it. If we see it as something we are grasping for everyday, or if we measure it in terms of dollars or the number of degrees behind our name, we will never be satisfied. Think about the people in your life who are always thirsty for something whether it’s money or fame or power. Even when they reach their goals, are they happy? Probably not, and I would argue that without happiness, you can’t be successful. Understand that success is measured in far more valuable increments than dollars and cents, and it is ever-present in our daily lives. When we realize this, we will be able to reap the fruits of our labor.
In this book, I’m going to give you a basic guide for achieving your goals, and as we go through it, I want you to think about all of the things you want – even those that don’t seem worthy of writing down. Eliminating swears from your vocabulary. Getting out of a bad relationship. Spending more one-on-one time with your children each day. Cooking healthier meals. You never know which goals you’ll be the most proud of. This book isn’t about achieving the big things – it’s about achieving everything that is important to us. That’s what will make you the happiest and most accomplished person you can be.
Nine years later, I still sneak into Nerissa’s room to watch her sleep. Her slumber isn’t so serene these days, but I get the same feeling now that I did that first night in my apartment. At the end of what is often a very busy day when I may be feeling frustrated, tired, or pulled in all directions, watching her reminds me of why I work so hard and why I already deserve a high-five. I could lose everything I own, but what matters most is that I’m leaving this world a little better by raising a healthy, happy child. And that feels good.