Maddie On Failing Up

When we decided to create “Change of Plans” week, both Maddie and I jumped on it and offered to write posts on our own lives. So we wrote them, read each others posts, and it turned out they were interesting echoes of each other. I was writing about what happens after a major (and outwardly perceived) success, and Maddie was writing about how you find real success in the first place. (Hint: It’s not the way you were told that you find it.) Though in a sense, Maddie’s whole story is about what happens after early perceived success because of her Success Kid phase (which we must bribe her to tell us about, because it’s THAT GOOD). I hope this post sparks thoughts and discussion about making our way to life that feels successful to us (along with a healthy fear of geese).

The other day I was about to leave my house to take the dog for an appointment at the vet when I was stopped, physically, in my tracks. By a goose. An angry goose at that, and one that had a bone to pick with me.

I stood there frozen for a moment, and in between panicked thoughts of “Is this creature going to give me rabies?” and “Oh f*ck, oh f*ck, oh f*ck,” I thought to myself, “How the hell did I get here?”

Maybe it’s because I actually watched a few episodes of The Simple Life, but it felt a little like I was seeing the scene from afar. There I was, a caricature of my former city-slicker self, trying unsuccessfully to coax my 175lb dog (who has poor coordination and low-self esteem) into my hatchback while a wild goose was swinging its neck violently from side-to-side in an attempt to scare me away from his mate.

Someone call the TV crews. I think we have a hit on our hands.

But in reality, the reason that this moment made me do a double take was because it was the first time since moving to California that I felt like I’d surrendered to the change. I wasn’t shocked that this demonic animal was chasing after me. I was resigned and annoyed. And I’m pretty sure being resigned and annoyed with your surroundings is how you know you’ve settled into a place.

And it’s this level of comfort and ease that’s throwing me for a loop.

You see, before moving to California, I’d spent a few years fitting my square peg of a self into all of the round holes around me. I’ve written a little about my time working in the entertainment industry and how it tore out my soul little by little. But the reality is that there are plenty of people who love that life, and I just wasn’t one of them. So the trouble was never really with the system itself. (Editors note: HAHAHA, Maddie is being kind.) I mean, the system is flawed, yes, and anyone who works in a “dream industry” knows that, but more that I was trying so hard to force myself into what I thought I wanted to be that I was losing myself in the process.

It was an extremely painful process quitting my job in the entertainment business because for the first time in my life, I had to admit that I didn’t really know what I wanted at all (and as a former Success Kid, admitting you don’t know what you want is only slightly more jarring than actually failing at something you do want). What was worse was that I’d spent so much energy trying to become the picture of success that I no longer even remotely resembled myself.

So in an act of rebellion (and maybe as a coping mechanism for feeling like a failure), I decided that whatever I did next, I’d do it like the honey badger. I simply would not give a shit. And I would own it.

Before coming to APW, I took a job that promised good money and little to no creative fulfillment. And because I was in no way passionate about this career path, I didn’t put any pressure on myself to succeed or fit in while doing it. I dressed in the Maddie uniform (which usually involves a lot of animal print and probably a little too much cleavage), spoke up any time an opinion was asked for, and added creative flair to as many PowerPoint presentations as I could get my hands on. Very literally, I sat at the table.

These were seemingly small actions compared to the efforts I’d put forth in my previous career, but it was a solidly liberating experience to stop giving a shit about how every move might affect my future.

What surprised me most (but is probably blatantly obvious to everyone else here) was that my coworkers and supervisors responded positively to the new (well maybe not new, but a renaissance version at the very least) Maddie. They listened to my opinions, liked my zany outfits, and made frequent requests for my PowerPoint flair. As it turns out, confidence in one’s self, rather than people pleasing, wins favor with the bosses.

So then, of course, what started out as an act of rebellion became a way of life. I started listening to my gut and began to trust my instincts about what might be good for me. I became the Maddie that I knew in high school, before the real world got in the way.

Before my newfound zen, Michael and I used to fight all the time about where we’d end up living together. I was a city mouse and he was a suburban mouse (but maybe with a nice bit of land behind the house for off-roading or something). I thought that if I lived anywhere other than New York City, I’d be failing 10-year-old Maddie who just knew that’s where she wanted to live. Or I’d be failing 18-year-old Maddie who managed to get into and then survive NYU with a decent grade point average. Or I’d be failing my father, who, you know, was really proud that I was living out our plan.

So last summer when Michael and I photographed a wedding together on a couple’s farm (an APW couple, of course) and had that moment of “Oh this might be a nice life for us,” I stopped worrying about whether or not I would be selling out or giving in or settling (God, how I hate that word) and instead I shut up and listened to myself.

Which is how I ended up here. On the farm in California, being chased by a goose. While wearing animal print. And probably showing too much cleavage.

Am I going to live on the farm forever? Who knows. Part of adopting this liberated peace of mind is that it only allows for a very loose future plan. Sure, I have a rough idea of where we might be in a few years, but I’ve stopped beating myself up about having a detailed image of what that looks like.

Don’t get me wrong though. I’m still a Success Kid at heart. I don’t think that will ever go away. But as I put forth even more effort into my job and personal life now than I did before, I’m less worried about the outcome and more concerned with whether or not the effort itself feels authentic to me. Instead of “I must do this or else I will never end up where I want to be!” I’m approaching success with an attitude that’s closer to “Hey, that might work. Let’s try it!”

Last week when I announced that I was co-hosting a collaborative photography workshop, I had a momentary panic reminiscent of my former self. I thought, “What if this doesn’t work? What if nobody shows up? What if I FAIL?!” A few years ago I would have lost sleep over these questions, but this time I was able to remind myself that nobody is keeping score. Doing it, unafraid of the outcome, is success enough for now. And do you want to know the best thing I’ve learned so far? If nobody is keeping score, not even myself, then it’s almost like failure isn’t even an option. And if I do fail? Well here’s hoping I keep doing it in the direction of up.

Photos of farm life by Maddie herself

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  • Mollie

    Another Success Kid here. Another NYU grad who went into a “dream” industry after graduation. And ran from it a few years later.

    I actually found my “don’t give a shit” rebellion on an adult swim team. I had never, ever in my life been even remotely athletic (because, I was the smart and musical one, you see) but I was SO ready to try something else and SO scared of failing (Success Kids, you know, we expect immediate results).

    As soon as I gave myself permission to be the worst– for swimming to be the one place in life that I simply don’t need to be the best, or even good– it became one of my absolute favorite things in the world. And you know what? I slowly but surely got better.

    Now I am a soon-to-be-MBA with a very-corporate (read: non “glamorous”) job waiting for me after graduation, which I am SO excited about (even though family still ask if I miss my old gig). And although I am not on the swim team anymore (relocation), I workout at the local Crossfit box 4x/week and can do PULL UPS now. Real ones. All from just showing up and giving myself permission to not give a shit.

    Your 175# dog reminded me of the 140# barbell I finally managed to deadlift yesterday.

    Funny how we got here… but SO glad that the identities put upon us as children don’t need to be ours forever.

    • Ashley/ Ailee

      If you don’t mind me asking, where did you get your MBA? (And congrats!!) I only ask because I have just finished about three years’ worth of research and anxiety and evaluating next steps for me (during college it was law school and um, no actually) and getting a MBA is what makes the most sense for what I want to accomplish. I have been DYING to get an APWers take on it, especially if negotiating around a partner’s work/life was an issue. And let’s not even get started on the investment….

      Please don’t feel obliged to share any details if you don’t feel comfortable- but congrats either way on your accomplishments (in soon graduation, securing a job after graduation, and being AWESOME and not passing out immediately after ONE crossfit session, like myself)

      • Amy March

        Not to steal from Meg or anything, but these types of questions come up on Corporette all the time, and usually get lots of responses.

        • Ashley/ Ailee

          Thank you Amy March, I’ve checked out that site before, but wasn’t able to find anything related to a MBA or similar degrees…perhaps I should try some different keyword searches. (and I will still be a faithful APWer…three years now!)

          • Amy March

            Just post your question as a comment in the afternoon thread one day. Corporette lead me to APW so I think a bit of cross-pollination is okay :)

      • What are you trying to accomplish? I got an MS in Organizational Development and Knowledge Management which we would jokingly call the anti-MBA. This program is available at George Mason University in northern Virginia.

        • Ashley/ Ailee

          Ultimately, I want to end up doing Corporate Social Responsibility for a large corporation and ensuring funding goes to the organizations that are truly making an impact. BUT, and this is a big BUT, I have learned through experience that working at a non-profit or in a strictly CSR role now is not for me. Those who I’ve seen have the most impact in that area tend to have more corporate side experience and pull. Post-MBA I would love to go into Strategy or (shh) into a more front office role in Finance/Wall Street which is where I work now. I have also considered getting the MS in Human Resources Management at NYU (which can be completed online, so I could still work and get my job to pay for some of it), but it seems like for the price and effort, it still wouldn’t really make too much of a difference as far as helping get to the level I really want. MBA seems the best bet for ROI.

          • Jessica

            I have an MBA and work in corporate social responsibility for a mid-sized company (about 4000 employees). I worked in CSR consulting after college and went back to get my MBA because I felt I needed both deeper and broader business experience in order to be effective and marketable in this type of role. I think it was a worth it a million times over. There are a lot of different degrees that are popular among CSR practitioners – MBAs, MPAs/MPPs, communications degrees, environmental sciences-type stuff, degrees specific to the content area on which the company focuses, etc. – but I do think people respond particularly positively to MBAs (at least, at the moment – maybe it’s just trendy). On the other hand, I might argue that, depending on the type of company you want to work for, having a prestigious degree is more important than having any one particular degree, since there are still so many common backgrounds (which makes sense, since it’s a very interdisciplinary field), and since the hiring market in CSR is quite competitive. Or I might advise you to pursue the school and degree that will give you the most opportunities to build relationships with the type of people you want to work for/with, since I think hiring in this field (and probably all fields) is fairly relationship-based.

            I’m happy to talk about this offline, if you want to give me an address to email, or I can answer any specific questions here.

            (I would say that, if your interest is primarily in making sure the funding goes to the organizations truly making an impact, you might be happier at a foundation. If your interest is in making sure corporate resources – probably including funding, but also including employee expertise, products, product design thinking, etc. – go to support organizations making the biggest impact on social issues of strategic importance to the company, then you’d be happy in CSR. I do think strategy work in the core business would be a good fit, as I think CSR is, or at least should be, most closely aligned to strategy, among the various corporate functions.)

          • Mollie

            Interesting! My previous life was in non-profit fundraising, and I had a lot of interaction with CSR folks at large corporations. And I am going into management consulting with a focus on strategy. I’d be more than happy to chat :)

            Feel free to e-mail me at mollie (at) nyu (dot) edu. (I’m actually at the University of Maryland now, which I looove, but this e-mail address is just easier to type out in this weird format, ha)

            Talk to you soon!

          • Jessica

            I just saw Mollie’s comment, and I wanted to add that, if you want to do something more traditionally business-y before moving into a CSR role, management consulting at a respected firm is a really good choice. I know a few people who have gone or considered that route, and I think it positions you very well.

          • Ashley/ Ailee

            Oh how i love the APW community! My email address is ashleymayfly (at) gmail (dot) com- i would love to chat more!
            and mollie i will be emailing you!

    • Maddie

      This is a brilliant analogy. Also, this line, “Funny how we got here… but SO glad that the identities put upon us as children don’t need to be ours forever.” AMEN.

  • Hillori

    The lessons of my 20s, packaged neatly into an essay. Thank you, Maddie.

    • suzanna

      Yes! How many times did I hear while I was in my 20’s that turning 30 is magical because you suddenly don’t give sh*t anymore about what anybody (including yourself) thinks? IT REALLY HAPPENS. And it is magical.

      • Maddie

        APW has managed to make me super excited for my 30’s. TRUTH.

      • Ohhh, turning 30 in July and psyched to hear that the rumors are true!

        • MDBethann

          I’m 33 and most of the best things in my life have happened in my 30s – I met my FH right around my 30th birthday, we bought our house right after I turned 31, got engaged right before I turned 32, and am getting married 2 months after turning 33. I expect things to only keep getting better with age – kind of like fine red wine. :-)

      • meg

        It’s TRUE. I hear it’s even better at 40, not that I’m in a rush or anything, the day after my 32nd birthday :)

      • Josephine

        Oh I hope so. I think that’s the best thing that could ever happen to me.

  • Carly

    Ahh APW, you always have the ability to write a post exact when I need to hear it. My husband and I are house hunting and NOT agreeing on a location (me- downtown, him- suburbs). We found a house that I thought was a good middle ground and the perfect blend of everything we were looking for. I mentally had moved in and unpacked. And then he backed out, saying it wasn’t ‘the house’. Needless to say, things have been a little icy around our apartment. I have been blaming him for my disappointment, when really he was just being honest. He has the right to live where he wants, just like I do. And maybe I need to open my mind a little and consider his options. Maybe I don’t need to be downtown. Who knows, I could be happy on a farm with geese 

    • Maddie

      Oh man, we used to have this fight ALL the time. So I feel ya. For us, we slowly discovered that our middle ground actually looks WAY different from what we like independently.

      I wish you both God speed and good luck!

      • carly

        Thanks Maddie. Our current apartment, which we love, is much different than our own individual apartment searches, so I know there is hope for us in the house hunt too. I loved that house, but I love my husband more (this has been my mantra every time I want to look longingly at the listing pictures, haha). I know we’ll find something.

      • meg

        TOTALLY makes sense, by the way. We’re both city people, but if we wern’t living in the city, I’d live in the country in a HEARTBEAT, but the suburbs are a no fly zone for me. So, yeah, this just makes a lot of sense in my head.

        • I know so many people (including myself and my husband) who are urban OR country but have no tolerance for anything in between. There should be some kind of house swap exchange website for people who keep wanting to switch from one to the other.

          • meg

            Yes PLEASE. Like weekend swaps.

          • Maddie

            I would FOR REAL do this. I mean, I love the farm, but it wouldn’t hurt to be able to walk home from the bars for a weekend. :)

          • Well in all seriousness, if you ever want a home away from home in a fun neighborhood in St. Louis city proper, say the word.

        • I offer my country house AND access to the rustic cabin for a weekend in your city house.

    • MDBethann

      We ended up in the suburbs, but it HAD to have a sizeable yard so we can put in a garden and still have room for future kids to play. It also had to be close to commuter rail so I could get to work. The suburbs do have some advantages, so I wouldn’t rule them out entirely. Depending on where you’re looking, you might be able to find something where you aren’t too close to the neighbors, but still close enough to civilization that you can comfortably hit the bars on the weekend.

      House shopping is definitely interesting. We settled on a house that was previously owned by a very patriotic couple – the room we use as a home office had a giant, 13-star American flag painted on the (normal height) ceiling. It’s gone now, but if we can paint over a flag ceiling and make the house our home, it’s possible to do turn most places into your dream home with some elbow grease.

      Good luck!

  • Ashley/ Ailee

    From another “Sucess Kid”, thank you thank you thank you for this. Especially the part about worrying what every little thing will mean for the “future”. Trying really hard to enjoy the present.

    And yes sister girl re: the cleavage. I have gone through highs and lows with my cleavage (through years of guilt from the GCB kind), and it’s so nice to not feel alone in kiiiind of noticing it about myself, and kiiiiiiiiind of not caring.

    Yay for Maddie!

    • RachelC

      Omg let me jump on this train as well. I am very proud of my cleavage and don’t even give a tiny shit if people raise their eyebrows at me. It’s just a part of me, goddamnit. And, it’s kinda hard to hide them totally away if they’re large and in charge! This is a pet peeve of mine lol – that I can’t wear a shirt because it gives me too much cleavage but someone with much smaller boobs can wear it. Pout pout.

  • Geese are so protective huh. It is not for nothing that they saved Rome back in the day ! If you want protection, don’t get a dog get a flock of geese.
    Oh and they won’t give you rabies !

    • Sandy

      Just wanted to agree. Birds can’t carry rabies, so that is not a worry with them. They actually have very few diseases that they can give you or your dog.

      But they are terrifying and definitely appear possessed. Many a walk in the park has involved re-routing to avoid the beasts.

  • Amy

    The honey badger is my g-d spirit animal.

  • Yay! Work it Maddie!!

  • PA

    Oh, man, I need to internalize this so much… I am learning it, slowly but surely. Still, my former Success Kid self (seriously…I applied to HIGH school, not just college) is still of the opinion that if I can’t figure out what I want to do for a career, I need to do EVERYTHING else (such as … publish my novel, get into long distance running, learn ALL the home improvement techniques, and cook all my own bread). (Oh, right. There’s also that wedding thing.)

    The thing is, I’ve been in the whirlwind and the high-pressure for so long that as soon as things start to slow down, I panic. It feels like I’m in a void, and I hasten to squash down the “nothing is happening” fear with the “I will MAKE things happen!” imperative.

    So, thank you, Maddie. I’ll be reading and re-reading this.

    • KOTF

      Is it characteristic of a Success Kid not to even understand the term “Success Kid” at first, let alone apply it to oneself, until reading more descriptions and realizing that applied-to-high school, aspiring long distance runner/baker (even amid serious leg injuries/gluten allergies) while also planning a wedding/career/college graduation applies to me, too?

      PA, I think we are of similar stock!

      Thank you for these words, Maddie. Your inner Success Kid poking you with the reminder of “I must do this or else I will never end up where I want to be!” is also one that plagues me, and it’s a good wake up call that there is a journey to be enjoyed somewhere in there.

      Also, I want to give your dog with low self esteem a hug.

  • Bubbles

    Thank you so very much for this post, Maddie. It’s exactly what I needed to hear right now.

    As for the geese, if you ever encounter that problem again put your arms up like they’re wings, shout, and chase the goose down. You’ll look a lot bigger, and more threatening. I learned this from the bf’s boss. They have a bit of a goose problem on the campus where they work, and he likes to chase them.

    • Maddie

      Ha, I bet my husband & roommate would LOVE to see me perfect this move. :)

  • mimi

    Um, this may be a dumb question, but what is a Success Kid?

    • I’ve never heard the term before, but I envision being the children who had such big dreams as a young age as to what they wanted to do, and dammit, they were going to do it!! And maybe their parents, being awesomely motivated as well, helped sculpt their kid into future success. So I think what you end up with is a kid or teen that has goals, has a plan, follows the plan, accomplishes the goals, sets standards and becomes a bit of a poster child, role model or success story. Good at everything they set their mind to.

      I also feel like success kids sometimes are so structured that they feel really pressured to do So Good and have a breakthrough later. Or break up with success, like Maddie is talking about.

      Maybe I’ve got it all wrong, but I’m just talked from my experiences here.

      • Maddie

        That’s exactly what I mean when I use the term Success Kid. It’s not exactly overachieving, because it’s all made to seem very attainable.

        And I also just wanted to borrow the term from this fantastic meme. :)

        • NICE.

        • Exactly, how could I be proud of myself for graduating from college with honors, when there wasn’t ever a doubt that I would graduate from college with honors.
          My mom actually said recently, when I asked her about being proud of her kids, that she was in many ways most proud of my little brother, “not that I’m not proud of your success Jesse, but we always knew you were gong to succeed. He had to struggle”
          For me being a success kid meant that much of my hard work didn’t count as exceptional because everyone, including me, just expected me to do it.

      • meg

        Um, not always. I’m (oddly? we’ve discussed this before) the tail end of a different generation than most APWers, and for me Sucess Kid looks different. First up, Maddie’s being vauge, she was kind of famous as a kid, which is a WHOLE STORY. But I was a bit of a Sucess Kid, and my parents didn’t shape me much, nor was my life super structured (it was less of a done thing in our age range and where we grew up), but, I have a mother f*cking international high school diploma, that was harder to get than my NYU degree by a LONG shot, and then I went to a top three program in my feild in college. So, after all that amition and potental, and winning of awards, it’s really HARD when you don’t hit it out of the park right away. In a sense I was lucky. My theatre BFA kicked the shit out of me, so by the time I hit the real world I’d already had that happen, but it was still tough, and it took a lot time to feel like I was living up to what I knew I had in me.

        • Caroline

          Perhaps yet another definition of success kid here, but to me, being a success kid meant I’d never had anything but success as a kid, and everything came easy, and I was always the best. (Not actually true, but often enough.) Screws with your mind, that.

          Of course, that certainly didn’t last til college (hence the different definition of Success Kid). About halfway through middle school, I collapsed in a giant f-ing heap and my atoms didn’t start to react to form new molecules until I was about 20. All of a sudden, things were HARD, and I had no idea how to deal with hard. As a Success Kid, I had only done easy before. I had a decade of falling around limp and lifeless before starting to reassemble.

          Which, by the way, after being such a mess for so very very long, even minor successes make me feel like superwoman. Made the bed AND washed the dishes on the same day? Hell Yes I Did! Wrote a paper without freaking out? Hell Yes I Did!

  • kmc

    Seriously, can we please talk more about Success Kids? I’ve feel like I’ve finally found my people and we are all very confused.

    (To add my own definition, based on my own life experiences…so I was good at stuff/school as a kid. I learned things quickly and easily and got the As and quickly accustomed myself to meeting all the outward definitions of success. Valedictorian! Got into great college! Good grades and leadership positions in extracurricular groups! Success!)

    Then comes the real world–where there’s no report card. I’m STILL realizing that no one is keeping score. So no one is going to come around and give me a gold star for being a Success Kid. And that’s a big ole mindf*ck. Because now I have to figure out what I want to do. And if I don’t know what that is, how can I succeed at it?

    So yes. This is why I need more Success Kid talking.

    • Erica

      Dooce talks about how, as a former high school valedictorian, she has the need to be “the valedictorian of everything.” Ha. (Would be funny if it weren’t painfully true for a lot of us!)

    • Doesn’t being an adult sometimes come incredibly hard? I just don’t think I’m doing a very good job. I made a better student.

      • Totally! I suspect thats why I’ve gone back to school a couple of times. I dont think I make a very good adult – I dont really know what I want to do with my life, and often feel like I have made a rather substantial hash of things thus far…

      • Tina

        Could this be why I want to go back to grad school so bad? Because I felt successful as a student? I feel fine as an adult in the working world, but this comment has me thinking…

    • Susie

      “I’m STILL realizing that no one is keeping score. ” This comment and Maddie’s pre-geese story could have been written about me. I ditto the more Success Kids as adults chat!

    • “No one is keeping score.” Holy crap. This is my life. (Seriously, ask my fiance. I practically beg for my A+ or in lieu of a grade at least a gold star.) I still haven’t figured out how to get along without that positive external reinforcement….

      • Marina

        I STRONGLY recommend giving yourself gold stars. Seriously, buy those little star stickers and stick one somewhere every time you do something you want yourself to be proud of. Gold stars are great.

        • Suzy

          I totally did this recently. I was so excited about scrubbing all the black baked-on crud from the stovetop (Bar-Keeper’s Friend rocks btw), and I had spent such a long time and worn out my shoulder muscles from all the elbow grease. So I dragged my husband into the kitchen and said “Look what I did! I need you to give me a gold star!” Luckily he is cute like that and wasn’t annoyed :)

    • SAM

      I am totally and completely feeling the exact same way. If only there was someone who could tell us what career would give us that A+ feeling that we had done exactly what we were supposed to do.

    • HH

      “Then comes the real world–where there’s no report card. I’m STILL realizing that no one is keeping score. So no one is going to come around and give me a gold star for being a Success Kid. And that’s a big ole mindf*ck. Because now I have to figure out what I want to do. And if I don’t know what that is, how can I succeed at it?”

      YES. This is what I’ve been struggling with- EXACTLY. How can I succeed at it?!


    • Maddie

      Right?! Once I hit “the real world” I realized that I had previously been a little addicted to the gold star itself, and not so much to the activity I’d done in order to earn said gold star. And THAT will mess with you, for sure because suddenly you need to find a different motivator.

      • youlovelucy

        Aaaand suddenly everything makes a lot more sense after reading this conversation.

    • meg

      As someone who’s sort of beat the Sucess Kid demon (I mean, I’ve had a decade out of school to work on it as of next month, so there you go), I can say a couple of things.

      First, it takes awhile to realize that there are no grades in the real world, and MORE than that, the grades given out ARE NOT THE ONES YOU WANT. The prestige jobs where everyone thinks your fancy and important, are often the ones where you’re dying inside (because hint: if you love what you do, you don’t even notice if people think you’re fancy and important). So you have to start to break that, or you’ll value exactly the wrong stuff. (Which is why I loved Maddie’s post so much). But I did learn to beat that, naturally, and it took me about five years of concentrated work… or maybe just a little more?

      And second, if you want to beat it, YOU HAVE TO START FAILING AT SHIT ASAP. Go fail at something tomorrow. Start small, take a trapezee class and be awful and scared but not give up. Go ice skating and fall down a lot. Then move up to bigger failing: join a swim team (hello, love that story) and be the worst on the team. Then, I think this might actually be manditory: you probably have to fail professionally. Once you stop being afraid of failing (HELLO, I quit my chosen passion feild of theatre, you can do nothing to me now) you’ll be able to be a sucess adult (whatever that means to you). Because sucess adults fail all the f*cking time… that’s why they ocassionally suceeed.

      • Maddie

        YES YES YES.

        I was on my company softball team last year. Do you know how much I *suck* at sports? I was literally the worst player on the team. But I loved it. And boy did I ever get over some fear of failing with that experience. (There were a few PBR’s involved, but still).

        • piccali

          Damn, apparently I need to get myself into a sports team and fast! The Former Success Kid disease is strong in my corner of the universe.

      • Kate

        Super yes to failing and being able to learn from it. The times in my life I have grown the most have been where I have had some failures and had to figure out where to go from there.

        Also, I think that as a society we DO NOT value and even encourage failure nearly enough, particularly in the corporate world.

      • Rachel T.

        Yes. Failing!!!! It’s become such an awful word; part of our teaching curriculum this year (ironically) was an article entitled “The Right to Fail”, discussing how powerful failing is in becoming successful emotionally and mentally, as opposed to financially or socially. It was so moving and thought-provoking, however misunderstood by my 17 year old boys. Haha.

        Also, the more I read this, the more I realize how brilliant my father was though woefully misunderstood by my teenage self. I totally owe him a “oh now I get it” conversation.

        • Mary

          Oh interesting! Would you be able to post a link to the article? Would love to read it!

      • Umpteenth Sarah

        Indeed. One of my favorite (much abbreviated) quotes, from Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Fail up, fail better, same idea, all smart.

    • Oh my goodness, YES to the lack of a report card. I also just miss the constant GRADES in red pen. In school you get a constant stream of feedback, so you have a barometer of How Well You Are Doing at all times. I didn’t realize that I needed that until I got out into the real world and I find myself wanting to ask people, “how am I doing? was that good?” all the time.

      • piccali

        I’m missing that too! In academia (for me at least), everything was warm and fuzzy and open (and Graded) and nothing in my current job is warm, fuzzy, or open (let alone Graded).

  • Stephanie B

    Well that makes me feel better. I’ve learned here in college that music (at least this school’s idea of it) is not what I want to do. But now I feel so lost. I came into college thinking, “Everyone drops being a music major, but I’m going to stick to it and be awesome!” Now I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn and I’m trying to get out as soon as I can with my dignity intact (while working my ass off and paying for extra classes/summer classes).
    The whole time in the department I had felt like I was the worst one there, I didn’t enjoy music anymore, I was even told by a professor he didn’t think I had it in me to be a composer. I’ve been so beaten down all I want to do is graduate, work some mundane job that pays, and figure out who I am again. This article gives me hope that I might find my sanity again.

    • V

      Stephanie – From one on the other side of a very dusty music degree, I promise you’ll make it through! My experience was exactly as you’ve described. I finished my degree (as the worst one there), took the mundane job, soul searched, went to grad school and landed a corporate gig I love. 7 years later I’m plowing ahead, student loans paid off, singing in the car at the top of my lungs – which I’ve found to be the very best possible use of that music degree.

      • Stephanie B

        Yes! I’ve decided it’s not the worst thing in the world to happen, in a way it’s exciting to refocus yourself, but as always change is scary. I’m really glad to hear I’m not the only one! Thanks a lot!

    • Alexandra

      My experience with University went fairly similar, with me believing I was an awesome programmer, then realizing that in University, I was medicore at best. I could have written this comment myself 3 years ago, honestly (with computer programming instead of music). But I believe this also has to do with the environment of a college department. If you went out and pulled a sample group of 100 peers of yours in the college music department, you might not be as amazing of all the students. But if you pulled that group from your whole college, you’d be better than most. And if you went out further and included all the people your age in your town, including those who dropped out of high school to work in retail or something similar… You’d be one of the best at music.

      College and University just tend to skew the environment. Sure, you might not be the best. In the end, I needed to get special permission just to graduate since my average had dropped to 0.4% lower than I needed. But that doesn’t mean you’re bad at music. And when you graduate, as I’m sure you will, you’ll have a chance to find yourself. And maybe you will end up working some mundane job while you try to figure out who you are. Or maybe you’ll end up working in something that relates to what you studied. Turns out the working world is pretty much nothing like school, and how well you did at school tends to fade really quickly into just “What are you capable of doing?”

    • meg

      F*ck that shit. (Man, this comment section is making me cursy). This is what they do to you in art school: tell you that you are a failure (it’s some break you down to build you up disproven bullshit from 70’s pop-psychology that they are still using). Then, they tell you that everyone quits because only the CHOSEN are cut out for this, and make you feel so guilty that you can’t possibly quit.

      Art School Survivor Says:

      If you really want to quit, QUIT, and stop listening to their emotionally abusive shit.

      If you don’t want to quit DO NOT QUIT, and stop listening to their emotionally abusive shit. Yes, you might not be a composer (but who KNOWS, the kids who were sucessful in my art school were not the favorites, the favorites are by and large drug addicts). But you’ll put that creative training to work somewhere else at some point (Me! Writing books and a website but not acting, but still using all my skills I learned in conservatory.)

      It is ok to take a break after school to find yourself.

      To HELL with your emotionally abusive professers. Usually, they are just crazy insecure about their own work, and taking it out on the young, talented, and impressionable.

      You will find your sanity AND create again.

      PS It does not matter if you’re the best (or the worst). Sucessful people are tenacious more than anything. And tenacious plays out over TIME.

      • So true: “Successful people are tenacious more than anything. And tenacious plays out over TIME.”

        • And I have to say, especially in something like music (or theatre for me), it is all a matter of taste. I had actor friends who found directors who loved them in college and who were cast all the time, I had other friends in college who did not find a director they clicked with among the 4 or 5 at our school, and who left college without ever getting a good role in a show. Five years out of school the number of roles my friends got in college have turned out to correlate with exactly nothing in terms of success in art in the real world.

        • Analogy from my time in sales: the most successful sales people (the ones who sell the most, bring home the most commission etc) spend more time on sales that don’t go through than anyone else. They are rejected and turned down more than anyone else. And then they keep going, because the “nos” don’t scare them.

  • Laura

    This is hitting so many right notes this morning.

    It’s so hard to let go of those big dreams and plans we have for ourselves, even when we don’t even remember WHY we made those big dreams and plans in the first place.

    Also: geese (and their brethren, swans) are terrifying. No one ever believes me when I tell them this.

  • I once had the audacity to talk with a fellow “success kid” about how we were afraid we peaked too early. WTF? Who does that (we got married “young,” too, so saying I peaked early is pretty f*n arrogant, for the record)?? And I think I really believed it, at the time. But really what it was was just me growing up, and then burning out, and now I’m a little wiser and have figured out how to create and make better a career that, over the past two years, was killing me very subtly and slowly. I really identified with this post. I’m not getting chased by geese, though. Cattle, yeah, but no geese. And I think you’re OK on the rabies bit, since that’s a mammal thing.

    • I’m relating to you on the “peaked too early” questions, which are both absurd and persistent! My husband was the anti-Success Kid, and now he is enjoying loads more career success and fulfillment than I am (wtf?). It is at times a little hard to feel the difference between us, because that Success Kid voice tells me that I did everything right so I should have the great career.

    • Maddie

      I distinctly remember being in my first job and telling another coworker that I was pretty sure I peaked at 13. He felt his height of success was at 18.

      Clearly that job wasn’t for either of us. :)

    • OMG, I tell my boyfriend that I peaked in high school all the time and that I feel I’m failing at life, because fellow graduate museum edu students will get jobs before I do in a highly competitive field full of few full time positions. And essentially that was a bit of a rant ..but I really wanted to just say that I agree!

      This section of comments is resonating with me so incredibly much.

  • Kristy

    “If nobody is keeping score, not even myself, then it’s almost like failure isn’t even an option. And if I do fail? Well here’s hoping I keep doing it in the direction of up.” Congratulations Maddie and Dear God, please help me to come to this and to believe it myself. I feel like EVERYONE is keeping score, most of all me, and I’m so afraid to mess it all up.

    • meg

      You start winning it, THE SECOND you start messing up and letting yourself mess up. Please try to really belive that, because I swear to you that it’s true.

  • Holy crap, Maddie, get out of my head!! We may be the same person, minus the animal print (I just go for straight-up bright colors). The realization that your goals and dreams don’t always turn out to be the right fit is a hard one to have, but it’s so rewarding once you acknowledge it and let them go. Congrats on your newfound comfort.

  • Rymenhild

    Oh, APW. Maddie, thank you.

    I’m a fellow Success Kid. I made it through grade school, college, and two postgraduate degrees, and I took home all the grades and several of the awards. I’ve known what I wanted to do with my life since I was seventeen.

    Of course, the market for new professors in the humanities crashed in the last five years, and here I am, with a Ph.D., at the end of a one-year lectureship, with no job at all on the horizon, saying, “Well, now what?”.

    So, thank you for telling me it’s possible to fail up. That’s what I’ll try to do next.

    • Caroline

      Totally off topic, but HI!! I thought that this was you reading your comment, having forgotten you are on here, then I remembered and checked, and it was you! (It’s Caroline from shul)

  • Oh man. I really needed this post today. I’m going through a whole bunch on BS at work and just got turned down for a raise I had strategized for weeks about asking for. The whole thing is making me question what the eff I’m doing with my life. However the Success Kid in me is saying “Stick it out! You’ve come this far and starting over would be a total failure! You’re never going to afford a house and retirement unless you earn more money and this is the only way to do it!” It’s exhausting.

    This post addressed all my fears about making a left turn on the old career path and I really appreciate it. No one is keeping score! Thanks for that Maddie!!

    • Maddie


      For what it’s worth, the best thing that happened to me in the past few years was getting turned down for a job that I *really* wanted. Since I’d been looking to that position as The Thing That Would Change My Life, when I didn’t get it I rallied around myself and made life changes despite the setback. The course for everything you read about above was set by a pretty devastating rejection.

      • I can relate to this so much. When I was still pursuing the production path, every interview I went to I thought was The One To Change It All. I told a family friend this before one interview and she goes, “You’re 20. EVERY JOB is a game changer.”

      • Steph

        Point taken. I appreciate your sharing that piece as well. I know one of the things that makes failing so scary is the FEELING that it is permanent. When in reality it can be a jumping off point toward something better if I choose to frame the story that way and then keep doing the work…

  • Fellow Success Kid here, and I relate to this SO MUCH. I started rebelling against my perfect plan (more my family’s than my own, why yes I was the first to go to university) pretty early in undergrad; graduated 8 years later with a Master’s degree in a subject completely unrelated to the topic I’d started out with; and then 2.5 years into that career realized I was still completely miserable…

    Now I’m following my dreams, chasing a career that was never presented to me as a possibility for my life, and doing well at it. I’m happy, successful, and my business is growing. (And the more I give myself permission to be fully myself even in my business, my business also grows). It’s an amazing feeling.

    My one hang-up, as an eternal people-pleaser, is wanting my family to acknowledge what I do as something with value and something that I’m good at. Since I’ve reached the point where I’ve dropped everyone else’s plans for me, now I’m just waiting for them to do the same.

  • I think it’s interesting how many people talk about feeling like a failure for not going through with a life plan they picked as a child. As though you had so much wisdom as a kid about what life would make you happy, and that by growing up and evolving you somehow fail yourself. From the outside, it looks odd. Not becoming a ballerina-astronaut (because I can’t dance and hated physics) doesn’t mean I betrayed YoungMorgan – to me it just means I grew up and learned more about the many options of thw world, and much more about what makes me happy.

    But then, I was never a Success Kid – I figured out that straight Bs would take me where I wanted (university and job) and put in enough effort to get decent grades/job performance while still enjoying my downtime. So I am very much looking at this as an outsider.

    • suzanna

      I was thinking about this, too, Morgan. I was a Success Kid with a lot of That’s a Load of Crap friends. When I was in my early 20’s and just discovering the whole Nobody’s Keeping Score thing, I remember being a little jealous of my friends who had never bought into it in the first place–they were fine. They had been open-minded about life, were happy with their choices, and knew how to find fulfillment w/o outside affirmations.

      I will say, though, that 10+ years later, I’m really glad that I have all the drive, determination and focus of a former Success Kid. It can really help in life!

      And yes, thank goodness we can live our lives NOT according to what 10-year-old us wanted! Good point!

      • I wanted to be a cardiovascular surgeon/helicopter pilot when I was five because those were the biggest words I could spell. My preteen self would be horrified to learn that my current career is massage therapist/witch doctor. You can’t get a PhD in witch doctor! And yet, I survive.

    • Ballerina-astronaut? I wanted to be an ice skater-President.
      Thankfully we are not prisoners of our 5-year-old dreams.

    • Maddie

      I’m pretty sure that as a kid I wanted to be a professional cheerleader. :)

      I’ll just leave you with that.

    • MDBethann

      When I was 5 or 6, I wanted to be a paleontologist (then I found out I had to dig in the dirt and ruled that job out). By high school, I wanted to be a U.S. Senator or President of the United States. But then I realized the jobs are soul-sucking, take over your life, and that to “succeed” you usually have to sacrifice your ideals. Needless to say, I am not now, nor do I plan to be, a politician. I consider myself much wiser at 33 than I was at 18 or even 22.


        Me too! I think it was only so I could go on to tell people that clearly I did know what a Palaeontologist was!

        • MDBethann

          Exactly! According to my mom, my grandparents were floored that I not only could say palaeontologist, but that I knew what it was. Too bad I hit my “I hate dirt” phase not long after that.

    • Caroline

      It took me about 7 or 8 years to get over not becoming a ballerina. I quit when I was 12 years old, but until then, I was going to dance at the ABT. Nothing else would do (except possibly to be a ballerina AND an astronaut), besides the American Ballet Theatre. I was actually planning to audition for a summer program there for the next summer when I quit. I quit because of a combination of things (abusive classmates, abusive teacher who was tearing up my pretty good body image and telling me I couldn’t be a dancer because I was developing a womanly figure, and a broken foot. I just never went back.)

      When I say it took me 7 or 8 years to get over not becoming a ballerina, I mean that I couldn’t watch the ballet, or watch a movie with ballet, or talk about ballet without breaking down in giant heaving sobs for 7 or 8 years. Then, I moved on to being a little sad, and now, I’m so glad I’m not a ballerina. When I was about 19, had totally failed at being a Success Kid (almost didn’t graduate high school), had moved in with my (awesome, wonderful, still with him, I’m planning to marry him someday) boyfriend, and was trying to find a job to pay the bills, I watched Center Stage again, and I was able to enjoy it without crying. It wasn’t my dream anymore, I had created new dreams, that centered on being happy, rather than being the best. But I think it did take failing at EVERYTHING to get there. Once you hit rock bottom, you can only go up. ( Seriously. I had failed at high school, I had failed at getting out of bed in the morning, I had failed at college, I had failed at friends, I had failed at feeding myself meals from the dining hall, I had taken all my parents Success Kid dreams for me, and broken them to shreds called “just let her live” and “I hope she is happy one day” and “Please, please, I don’t care what she does, as long as she does something that makes her happy”by that point.)

  • Lturtle

    First of all; to much cleavage? Is there such a thing?
    Secondly; I am not, and never have been, a success kid. I was more of a chronic f***up who dropped out of college repeatedly and had a baby while young, single and unemployed. Still I can relate to what you’re saying about going with your gut and finding your path while kicking some a** and rocking the bold prints. It’s definitely the way to go.

    Also, if you’re ever in Portland, OR I would really like to buy you a coffee, or a drink, or a voodoo doughnut. Whatever you fancy. Hopefully nothing would explode from too much cleavage with both of us in the same place. ;)

  • steph

    This post…thank you Maddie! And can I just add that I feel doubly “unsuccessful” for just starting to figure this stuff out now at the end of age 32, when it seems that so many other Success Kids around me mustered up the courage to leave career #1 behind in their late 20’s and already appear to have navigated through this particular stage of choppy waters, while I’m still trying to smash my round peg into the square hole of my job, because I’m still afraid to admit how unhappy I am, and afraid of jumping without a plan in place. And then I laugh, bc I know that’s ridiculous.

    Just before reading this post todya I was driving to work and thinking about how I basically accomplished the things I wanted for myself when I was 21 (career: enough money to pay the bills but most important is doing something that is making a difference in others’ lives love: to truly love someone and be loved in return). Its just that in hindsight I realize my career dreams didn’t take into account that making a difference could mean to the detriment of my physical and emotional health. And now that I know this I can write a letter to 21 year old me, thank her for doing the best she could, and make some new dreams for myself.

    And then I opened up this post. Your timing couldn’t have been better. Truly. Thank you so much!

    • Amanda

      “…so many other Success Kids around me mustered up the courage to leave career #1…”

      And if they have, then I can, too. Right??

      • Maddie

        You can! And we’ll rally behind you. :)

      • meg

        Dude THAT IS THE KEY.

        • Steph

          Aww, you guys!!! Just THANK YOU

          • MDBethann

            I’m always right there behind you my friend – failing up is the only way you are going :-)

    • Tina

      I’m late to post but this really resonated with me, “It’s just that in hindsight I realize my career dreams didn’t take into account that making a difference could mean to the detriment of my physical and emotional health. And now that I know this I can write a letter to 21 year old me, thank her for doing the best she could, and make some new dreams for myself. ”

      I also work a job that makes a difference but is detrimental to my personal health. Putting off my own care because I feel bad taking a day. I’m in a field where I’m supposed to want to make a difference out of the kindness of my heart rather than in exchange for a professional salary. I always say just one more year. This post and your comment have given me some things to think about.

  • Tre-bey

    Wow. I have felt so connected to APW since I found it about a year ago, but reading a post and all these responses that EXACTLY MATCH the spiritual philosophy I’m trying to use to lead my life? Priceless.

    APW, please keep empowering women and humans to listen to their truth and have the balls to act on it.

  • I can tell I’ve been reading too much motivation research when my initial response to this post is “Ah, she’s discovered the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.” I think I’ll go water my lawn because I clearly need a break from studying.

  • Sarah

    I don’t have anything profound to say except: Amen.
    We “Success Kids” (particularly the women, who let’s face it often feel like we’re failing if we are not keeping 10 plates in the air at the same time) have be sold a big fat lie.
    That the only way to happiness is through a paycheck and “being somebody”.
    I want to be somebody. But I want to be somebody who doesn’t dread going to my job. Who has enough money to pay the bills, but has enough time to listen to the stories in my head.
    I want to be somebody who honors my heart and my path.

    “Do what you feel in your heart to be right…for you’ll be criticized anyway.”–Elanor Roosevelt.

  • I feel like this post is a voice from the future, telling me that everything will be okay.

    I’m a Success Kid, moved to the big city to enter the ‘dream industry’ of animation, only to realize that it was not what I wanted for my life. My husband, also in animation, came to the same conclusion, and three weeks ago we moved back to the small northern Canada town I grew up in. I know three weeks isn’t enough time to judge a life change like this, but it’s been the toughest three weeks with renos from hell, living with my parents, the worst flu bug I’ve had in years, and neither of us having time to look for work we’re interested in here. There have been more than one night were I’ve laid in bed wondering if I made a mistake.

    You’ve reminded me that I need to breathe a bit, give the dust time to settle and to stop worrying about ‘failing’ or ‘success’, and to just think about living.

    Thank you.

  • Rachel T.

    THIS!!! First, let me say how much I LOVE APW for having a place to find that I’m not nearly alone as I feel I am in my head. I almost wish we could all get together in one place and just have a big ol’ love fest for all of our collective growth, maturity, realizations, and struggles to become ourselves. I guess that’s what your book singings probably were. Wish you had come to Philly!!!!

    I am a teacher currently, a former Success Kid, and someone who has had this “teacher” path since I was six when I watched Anne of Green Gables for the first time and decided to be just like her (an avid reader, dramatic, red haired, and an English teacher). In my third year, I’m thinking more and more that I need to find something else. I tried, I succeeded (whatever that means as an adult, as we’ve all agreed), and now I think I’m pretty much done. I have that same anxiety of – what do I do? How will I pay my bills? Where will my path be now? Can I really just leap? I haven’t developed that strength to leap yet, since the fiancé is just finishing law school and trying desperately to find a job too, I don’t feel we’re in a place where I can be unemployed as well by choice. However, I’m going to try this whole teacher thing one more year, and if I still feel the same next year, I’m out.

    Thanks Maddie, for speaking directly to my anxiety. :)

    • Steph

      Hi Rachel, I’m from Philly also and while not a teacher am working in our “wonderful” public school system. Just had to virtually introduce myself after reading your post

      • Rachel T.

        Hi Steph!!! Nice to meet you! I used to work in Chester until I got laid off last year when all of their district drama and now I commute to Quakertown every day. Shoot me an email – I would love to hear what you do! rtrosino at gmail dot com

    • MDBethann

      Sounds like we need an APW retreat or convention. Either in the mountains somewhere or on a beach. I’m thinking beach, with margaritas or sangrias.

      • Sarah

        I’ll both plan that convention and make those margaritas. (Not even joking here. Let’s make this happen!)

        You’re on your own for the sangria though.

  • DKR

    Thanks for this, Maddie, from another Success Kid. I’m working on my career change/honeybadger rebellion now; there’s so much wisdom in this post and comments to think about.

  • Cleo

    I’m a Success Kid who procrastinated going into my dream field because I was so afraid of failing and of being the worst at something I loved that I thought it would be a better idea to go to law school where I would have a stable career that I’d be good at (because it was academic and of course I’d be good at it).

    Then I got to law school and not only did I hate it, but I was in the bottom 25% of my class (at a good school thank goodness, so I didn’t get the heave ho). Suddenly, I was failing at something I’d always been good at (school) and it was seriously painful, but once I was done crying, I realized that the times I was really happy in class is when I was zoning out and outlining a re-telling of Cinderella where she can swordfight and rescues her prince from a tower with a kickass fairy godmother who taught her karate.

    Anyway, I accepted that law school wasn’t my thing and I that I failed at it and here are the things that happened:

    1. I broke off a 5 year relationship that hadn’t been working for 2 years
    2. I took out a loan and traveled to France, Morocco, and Spain over Spring Break — it was the first time I’d ever been out of the U.S.!
    3. I found a professor at law school who believed in my abilities (not as easy as I’d thought) and agreed to sponsor my senior thesis so I could…
    4. Move to Los Angeles and get an internship in my dream field while finishing law school
    5. Get into a relationship with an amazing guy when I wasn’t even looking for it.

    And now I’m an over-educated, low level entertainment industry employee. :)

    It still stings when I can’t go on trips with my law school friends, or I see my friends who graduated with me be more advanced in their careers (becuase they had a 3 year head start on me), but I wake up at 5:30am to go on a run every day with a smile because I love my job and it’s worth getting up that early for it.

    I’m still a success kid though…I have spreadsheets and goal charts and beat myself up when I don’t reach them. But I have to admit, I do have a pretty kickass life right now, even though I’m no where near where I want to be.

  • MDBethann

    I was a Success Kid too – salutatorian, upset when I got a B, school-came-naturally to me high school student. College wasn’t too much different either. Grad school was a bit of an awakening, where I started to realize that what I thought I wanted to do wasn’t really it. I stumbled into my gov’t job and I’m pretty good at it – been doing it for nearly 9 years. But sometimes I find it frustrating and wonder why I keep doing it. In some ways I think I’d like to go back for my PhD or try to do something in the history field. A few years ago, I set out feelers along several different paths – grad school, some other jobs, and promotion in my current field. The promotion came through but none of my other options did. By staying put, I ended up meeting FH and built a good life for myself, but sometimes I wonder if this is really what I want to do for the rest of my life. It certainly isn’t what I originally planned and it isn’t exciting and glamorous (which was kind of bothering me a week ago after meeting some fellow alums from my college who’ve gone on to do the “exciting” stuff I never did). I just haven’t been worrying about it much because other parts of my life (like my upcoming marriage) are a much more important focus right now.

    I’m not as stressed about my career as some others are (I really have no desire to move up in my agency – the job doesn’t interest me), but Maddie’s post has been great food for thought and I may start looking into ways to get into academia or something new. Thanks Maddie and everyone for helping frame a career change as not a failure!

    • DKR

      Career change is so NOT a failure – it’s a change. I actually had a conversation with a fellow intern this past Monday about how our society expects us to know what we want to do by time we’re in high school and stick with it – no room for change or personal growth. We need to be able to make the changes we need in our lives without being labeled a “failure”.

      And as someone who had a job that could be considered “exciting” (at least by some I’ve talked to): exciting can be overrated.

      Good luck with your career! I hope you find what makes you happy.

      • MDBethann

        Thanks. I just need to make one big life change at a time. Getting married in 2 weeks is enough right now, especially since I am feeling pretty zen about it – don’t want to rock the boat and just enjoy life for a bit.

  • Audrey

    For me, I think I’ll finally feel cured of being a “Success Kid” when I no longer pull apart every new interest I have as possibly The New Perfect World-Changing Career where I will Make A Difference. Ever since I dropped out of grad school I’m constantly having to mentally reign myself in from things like:
    – I’m enjoying singing & acting in community theater OMG I should have been an actor or singer or something! Maybe I would have felt like I was impacting more people…
    – I always liked being in the library OMG I messed up I should have done library science! Maybe I would have done more good in that job…
    – Oh man, I totally messed up when I dropped Astronomy in undergrad, I messed up I should have finished my degree in Astronomy instead of Biology! I could have discovered cool things…
    – I’m really enjoying this Natural Language Processing class I’m taking, I should have stayed in grad school and switched to CS! I might have done work that really mattered…

    …and so on and so forth. I’m sure that some people really do have that sort of epiphany, but for me it’s more like picking at a scab. I’m slowly learning to redefine success on my own terms (and these are getting rarer and shorter these days) — but it’s still somewhat hard for me to look at my former classmates who have been getting their PhDs for the past few years and not think “they are so much more Successful than I am!”

    The ironic thing: I really like my current job and pretty much liked my previous 2 jobs too. They just aren’t World Changing in the way I dreamed my career would be when I was a kid.

    • Hahaha this is SO me!! If I like or admire something, I start to think about how to incorporate it into my life. I go to a new city: “OMG I want to live here!” I see a pretty bouquet of flowers: “I should become a florist!” I like to eat pie: “I want to open a pie shop!” I read about someone who owns goats: “I need a goat!!” Glad to hear I’m not totally alone :)

  • Hmmm, it’s been really interesting to read these comments. I was another one of those people who were good at school, but I was not a person who knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life from an early age. So…I explored all the areas that interested me. In college (towards the very end!) I remember being SUPER stressed and frustrated about this lack of clear direction.

    So I went to talk to a mentor about all my (seemingly disparate) interests— how would they EVER come together? What would I DO with my life? What career path should I choose? What was I MEANT to do? He calmly told me not to stress and keep doing what I enjoyed and it would work out in the end. Since I had no clue what to do as a “career,” I decided to follow his advice. And I guess I still am about 15 years later. And it has come together. In the most odd, unexpected ways, really.

    Anyhow, I guess I agree with the advice of my mentor and wanted to share it. When things look confusing, a good approach might be to try your best to do something you enjoy. Or several things you enjoy. And it will probably lead you down a good path. (And if you stop enjoying something, it is okay to change paths.)

    • Caroline

      Thank you! I just went back to school to get a bachelors this fall. I decided that nursing, (what I went to study) was so so not for me, but have been struggling to take all my passions and smush them into a career goal. Math and chemistry and Judaism and history and fantasy and swords and gaming and childbirth and food and….
      So thank you for sharing your mentors advice. I’ve been headed to that point lately: I don’t have to figure it out persay, just do something and it will happen, but helpful to hear.

      • I wish you the best- and fun adventures as you explore what you enjoy! And I also think that, at times, the idea of “you can have it all, just not at the same time” is related too. Over the years some of my interests have faded in and out of the limelight. And that is okay. Sometimes they boomerang in the most surprising ways. Like my French minor that I turned into part of a double major just because I liked French? Well now I live in a francophone country with my francophone husband. :)

  • Maddie rocks. The end.

  • Diane

    “Growing up is about aiming to succeed wildly and being fulfilled by failing really well.”

    For all of you (us?) “Success Kids” and with gratitude to the students who taught me, fresh out of college, that knowing that one can survive failure is the first step towards success at anything really meaningful. Thanks for your post, Maddie.

  • RachelC

    I would just like to echo some of the other commenters and say that this whole thread of comments has been so incredibly wonderfully enlightening to read today. This has put into words all of these things I’ve been feeling and trying to come to terms with in my own way. I have an AMAZING life, and even though it’s not “perfect” and doesn’t have “everything that I wanted to have” in it, it’s amazing and I am trying to stop fearing so much and being afraid of failure so much. I’m in a doctoral program, but am already freaking out about knowing how to function post-academia. I have been solidly buried in academia for uh…20 years. Out of 25. So yeah it’ll be an adjustment….BUT IT’S OK!!! HONEY BADGER!!!

  • Abby

    Maddie, you’ve put into words what has been churning in me for a while. I’m putting on my honey badger suit and slowly shrinking my desperate “people-pleaser & need to impress-others” self. And you know what’s been the impetus? My wedding.

    Yep, got married almost 3 months ago (yay for marriage!) and cried when the wedding was over because I didn’t receive my consolation prize of emotional bliss and joy (which was supposed to make those months of stress and resentment be “worth it”). I think, when I gave into the pressure to create a wedding I didn’t want, I thought I could distract everyone from my preceived failure at life. A “You want a wedding? I’ll give you the best motherf***ing wedding, and I’ll do it my way and you’ll love it!” I felt I could ride on that “success” for a bit and no one would see my external failures for awhile. Except my wedding, while awesome for our family and friends, was the latest mistake for me. Not because it didn’t perform (oh, it did), but because the EFFORT wasn’t authentic to me and not worth it (though the outcome is still awesome).

    So thanks for your timely post – stepping into that honey badger I-don’t-give-a-shit suit is scary, but man, does that feel REAL and TRUE! I want to scream that while dancing! I don’t need to hide behind the external success of that damn wedding, ’cause this honey badger don’t give a shit. This honey badger just does and is! External success is nothing compared to what’s in me.

  • pixie_moxie

    “I became the Maddie that I knew in high school, before the real world got in the way.”


  • Ashtonishing

    I must say, as a long-time lurker (who plans on getting engaged next spring, following college graduation) this is exactly what I needed to hear. I’m a Success Kid who was intent on going to grad school until the realization hit that I would be miserable and in debt, even if I was doing what I thought I SHOULD do (ironically enough, Arts Admin.) It will work out, in the end,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. By no means does one post fix everything, but it makes me feel a hell of a lot better.

  • You know, I seem to be making a habit out of making big life choices that I could have made YEARS ago, all because my former self was far too worried that it wouldn’t work out with my very narrow plans. Every time I read a post on APW, I want to blast it to the world, “See??? THIS is how people should be thinking.” People get so wrapped up in the judgement of themselves that they can’t just roll with a really cool option in life. It’s a never-ending battle to let go but I really love that you guys can be such a source for me!

  • Louise

    I read this post a while ago and on first blush, I thought to myself, yeah yeah, I totally get it, but it’s nothing that new to me (graduated from design school, which I chose because I wanted to do art but also wanted to be employed – huge mistake- worked in child care for two years because just the thought of applying to corporate design jobs was soul sucking, then figured out I wanted to work with kids for real and now I’m teaching first and second grade). See, I thought I had reformed my success kid ways when I failed at getting into the design program the first time. Or when I quit trying to be a designer and became a teacher. I also thought that my relationship helped reform me (my man is the third child in his family and came after two high achieving sisters, he had add and always hated school.we had little in common when we met. He is the best, most calming influence in my life) and it has. But I reread this post recently and the whole “no ones keeping score” sort of haunted me. I still DO want feedback and praise when I do well and I still want to know whether I’m on the “right” path. It is sort of shocking and also amazing. Your telling me I’m the only one who can tell if I’m living the right way? I have got to internalize that! Thank you apw and Maddie! I came here to read about weddings, and you’re making me a better person.