Re-Defining Success

Earlier this week, I was walking around Brooklyn, and I saw a huge poster with Maya Angelou’s portrait on it. Underneath, written in big, bold letters, was a quote.

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” – Maya Angelou

It resonated deeply with me, because for the first time in a long time, I feel like I like myself, I like what I do, and I like how I do it. Granted, there is always room for improvement – for positive change and growth – but for now, I feel like I am finally in a good place. Is this what success feels like?

This quote could be applied to any area of life. I saw it, and I first thought of work. But later, I reflected on the other areas of my life where I see success, or sometimes, a lack of it. I think of my side passion projects – writing, reading, giving LGBTQ history tours. Am I successful in those? How am I measuring that success? And I also think of relationships with family, maintaining relationships with friends, making new friends, and in general, the perception from the world around me. It would be nice to feel successful in all of these areas.

It’s a spectrum. Sometimes, I feel incredibly successful, other times, I feel like a failure. And of course, it’s more complicated than that. I could “fail” on one project, but be successful in another. Or an apparent failure could lead to ultimate success. Maya Angelou’s quote caught me though because it seems so simple. I like her definition of success because it’s self-defined.

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

All of those characteristics are up to my discretion; they are my choice. I can choose whether or not to like myself (and trust, that’s a constant journey). I can choose to do something I like, and if I don’t like it, I can choose to do something else. And I am a man of free will, so I can make my own decisions in choosing how I do it.

It’s all about personal definition, personal choice.

It’s not about money. It’s not about how big your apartment is. It’s not about how expensive your clothes are. And it is so, so easy to forget that, especially living in New York City. Every night, I pass by other apartments with grand pianos in the windows, with floor-to-ceiling windows and crystal chandeliers. I see people with designer-brand clothes, making at least six figures.

I’m not sure if I will have any of that. And taking a deeper look into my own personal values, I’m not sure I want any of it. Because to me, that’s not what success is really about. That’s not what happiness is. And one of my favorite sayings has the same mentality: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

And in addition to everything else, it reminds me that it’s not what our life is, but how we choose to live it. When I was younger, I used to constantly play a game of cat-and-mouse. I’d chase things. A new job, a new apartment, a new city, a new friend, a new  boyfriend. And none of it made me any happier. Along the way, I met some amazing people, did some cool things, and lived in some fun places. But then imagine my surprise when I moved to the greatest city in the world, doing something that was supposed to be my “career,” with a rent-free apartment, and I found myself completely miserable.

That was when I learned that lesson. Because no matter what I did, I was constantly in a cycle of not liking myself, not liking what I did, and not liking how I was doing it.

Things feel different now. After 27 long years, I finally feel settled in a way that I am enjoying. It’s a lifelong journey, it’s a lifelong process, but rather than being intimidated by the unseen road ahead, I’m excited to keep building it up for myself, and continuing to pave the way.

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Finding Fulfillment

Happy Sunday, friends!

Earlier this week, I was able to meet with a friend in Washington Square Park after work – coincidentally, the same friend who convinced me to start blogging again after a two year hiatus. It was a great time for conversation, iced coffee, and a whole lot of laughs.

Typically after work, I am either too exhausted to do anything, or I run an errand or two, and by the time I get home, cook dinner, and eat, the night is over. I somehow turned into one of those “boring adults,” and I’m not sure how that happened.

Something that was incredibly clear, however, during our conversation was that what really matters, is what happens outside of work. At least, for the both of us. Sometimes, work can be really meaningful. But I’ve been in a place before where I put all my time, energy, and focus into my work (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when it is rewarding). But the problem is when work isn’t rewarding, when you have a stressful day, or a bad meeting, or an annoying co-worker. And then, all of your time, energy, and focus ends up into something that’s not rewarding, stressful, bad, and annoying. And what good is that?

The challenging part of all of this is time. I get in at work at 9am. If I’m lucky, I leave work by 5pm, but most likely 6pm, and during our “busy time,” probably closer to 7pm. And between that and my new old-person bedtime of 11pm, that leaves maybe six hours left in my day to do everything else, and that’s on a good day.

So, given that I’m not completely exhausted, that I have no errands to run, and that I’m feeling up to it, I have less than a third of my day for “other.” And within the “other” category is all the things that bring me the most happiness – friends, writing, reading, cooking, relationship, my personal passion projects…the list could go on. It’s not a matter of making more time. It’s not a matter of prioritizing. It’s a matter of working quickly and efficiently in those six hours to maximize the time you do have after work to focus on other aspects of your life.

Especially as I get older, I think about how important those other things are to me, and yet, how they are often the first to get left out of my life. There are few things I love more than going on a coffee date with a friend, but before this week’s, I can’t remember the last time I did that. Writing this blog post is the sacred hour every week that I know I will make the time to sit down and write, but otherwise, it usually doesn’t happen any other time. I don’t know the last time I finished reading a book, something I used to do on a weekly basis.

This blog post is a serious kick in the pants for me, as a reminder that these things need to come first, because they are so important to me, for my own happiness in life, and my own fulfillment.

The Responsibility of an Advocate

The first time I ever identified as an “advocate” wasn’t until grad school – when I accepted a job working in our diversity office on campus. I was 25 years old. Before that, I was living a life of ignorance and bliss. My privilege as a white, cis, man meant that I could ignore all the systemic issues in this country, and even worse, be completely unaware of these issues. Even as someone who identifies as gay, I was someone who has always been accepted by my family. I never needed to protest, I never felt like anything in my life was unjust.

But then I grew up a little, became more aware of the world around me, and I realized that just because my life seemed fine, that didn’t mean the world was fine. There was still (and still is) a lot of injustice in the world. In our country.

This week, all of this is incredibly prevalent on my mind for three reasons:

  1. Christopher Street Tours launched this week – a project I have been working on to provide free walking tours of LGBTQ history in New York City.
  2. I went to the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in New Orleans, and learned a lot about the history of white people, and advocating for racial justice.
  3. It’s the first week of June, where so many people celebrate Pride and being their true, authentic selves (which is great, but it also makes me think of the history of the gay rights movement and why we even have pride in the first place).

Notice the common thread? History.

When I was a kid, I used to hate history. Ugh! So much memorizing! And my brain never used to work like that.

But now, as these experiences are on my mind, I think I realize part of the key of advocating is learning, understanding, and knowing the history of the movement. At the conference this week, I learned about some of the history of white people and the role that white people have played in the oppression of other groups. During Pride, I always reflect on the history of the gay rights movement, because without that history, we wouldn’t have some of the freedoms that we have today. And the entire mission of Christopher Street Tours is to provide that history of the LGBTQ community with the world in an accessible way.

History matters.

And while this may not be a twentysomething specific experience, I think it is especially relevant for our age group. During our twenties, so many of us are shaping into the people we are going to be for the rest of our lives. We are leaving home for the first time in our early twenties, finding our first job, possibly meeting a life partner…these are major life experiences. And within that, our entire world view is being shifted – our minds expanding, our world growing, which makes it even more important to be aware of these issues.

But something I learned at the conference is that being aware is only the first step. There is so much more to do. And not everything needs to look like a protest, which is something else I’ve learned through my own advocacy journey.

So this week, I wanted to share three ways that we can continue to create positive social change:

  1. Boycott
    • The Salvation Army brings Christmas cheer by putting your extra pocket change into those red buckets with little bells ringing, right? But in reality, the Salvation Army has a history of active discrimination against LGBTQ people. It also has a history of lobbying worldwide for anti-gay policies – including an attempt to make consensual gay sex illegal. And this is why history matters. Ever since learning this, I save my money for other organizations that make positive social change for all.
  2. Donate
    • Not all of us have the finances to donate money to organizations that we care about, or that are doing good work. But even just a few dollars helps! And if you don’t have the financial resources, you can always donate your time in volunteering, or a special skill you may have. For my own personal example, I’m donating my time and my knowledge in giving free LGBTQ history tours.
  3. Share
    • And once you have something you are passionate about, or a cause you are contributing to, or you’ve learned a specific bit of history that you think the world could benefit from, share it! Write an article, a blog post, tell your friends and family. Knowledge shouldn’t be contained, especially if the point is to teach someone an important piece of history that makes an influence on a social cause today.

And at the end of the day, we are all in this together. Inequality is a problem for all of us. It’s our communal struggle, so we have to learn to rise up together.