By: Claire Cook, Guest Blogger
I recently spoke to a group of senior at my high school, Choate, a well-respected and world renowned New England boarding school. A decade after graduating, their faces were a reflection of my younger self. Yale and Harvard obsessed. Defining happiness by recognition and success. Planning for a perfectly lived life with a socially acceptable job, appearance, partner, house, and family, but deeply scared and lost by the process.
I live(d) that way.
At 27, I have a laundry list of achievements. All of them make me proud. None of them make me happy in the way I was taught success should. What does recognition mean if you can’t recognize yourself? I was at the “top” wearing a mask of happiness, but hadn’t created a foundation for myself within myself. So, I fell down the rabbit hole. It’s dark down there. No “on/off” switch available. No way to see one’s disguise.
Afraid of the dark, I decided to embark on a journey to figure out who I am; to find “my light.” I wanted see myself the way all of my incredible friends, family and co-workers see me. What I’ve learned so far is that we must focus on the transitions; life is orbital. Although the sun shines brightest at the summer solstice, that doesn’t mean its power is weaker on any other day of the year.
Take time to figure out what your passion is. It could take years! I thought I was meant to be an opera singer, but I hated to practice and performing gave me anxiety. After being rejected from 19 conservatories, I changed course and realized opera was my father’s dream for me. It was not my dream. 5 internships, 3 studies abroad and 2 companies later, I am illuminated when I am creating and helping others create art. I wouldn’t change my path for all the opera-singing success in the world.
Be patient with the process of building a relationship: platonic or romantic. Be forgiving. Be loyal. Dive in with the hope of seeing the other person completely. Love that person - especially their bullshit - and don’t be afraid to call them out on it. Appreciate the moments that take your breath away along with the moments of doubt, anxiety and insecurity. Love is a slow and steady burn.
This is the place. Wherever you are in whatever moment, be there. Ground your feet and be there. It’s easy to go to a new place and set a timeline until your next move, but that doesn’t serve you. Why constantly play the waiting game? I’ve lived in LA for a year and a half now. I was on vacation for the first three months, hated it for the next 6 months, and have allowed myself to consider it home for the past 9 months. I’ve learned to cherish my long drives to and from work and spend every morning on the beach watching the sun rise. I may not live in LA for the rest of my life, but I have lived here.
Use your senses: Breathe; smell the fragrant summer flowers that line your street or sit outside of your local bodega. Let sand fall through your fingers and then shut your eyes and listen to the sound of the ocean. Look at people and things, but really, truly look at them. Eat and drink for nothing other than the taste - this also results in healthier eating habits. When you use your senses fully you become your most essential self. I recently spent what could have been hours or minutes - I don’t know and it doesn’t matter - sitting in a field overlooking a bay in Maine. The touch of the grass, the smell of the salt water and the sound of the ocean paired with bumble bees was magical. I began to breathe with my whole body. I felt happiness radiating out of me.
Rather than preach to the students at Choate about success and how great it feels to have it, I spoke to them about finding passion in the things they do every day. I reminded them to be kind. Jealousy and disdain won’t get you anywhere, especially not to happiness. One thing we can be sure of is that life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for your own growth. True success is not a finish line: Harvard, a well-paying job, a Porsche, countless pairs of Louboutins or a hot blonde trophy wife. True success is a state of being: a life lived well with constant presence and intent of happiness. Don’t set goals and check them off the list; follow your passion and you’ll walk straight into your light.
It's easy to caught up in other peoples' definitions of success and happiness, but remember that YOU get to decide what's right for you!
- What are your definitions of success? Where do they come from?
- What makes you happy right now? How is that different than a year ago? Five years ago?
- What everyday activities fuel your passion?
Claire “Bear” Cook is a regular contributor to I AM THAT GIRL who spends her days working in marketing at a multimedia company in Los Angeles. Having lived in New York City for 3 years and grown up on the East Coast, she moved to LA in 2013 on a leap of faith to build her career and broaden her perspective. Claire is passionate about travel, running, music, karaoke, walruses & wine and enjoys spending her free time with free-thinking, creative & positive people.
Image courtesy Sheila Moeschen