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What does "success" mean to you?

A friend of mine sat at a distance on my porch last weekend and told me she made a list recently of what "success" means to her: love of family and friends, pets, a safe place to live, solid work, and creative outlets. She basically told me, "After I made the list, I realized, Holy shit! I have most of those things now. It's both reassuring and disconcerting, like what am I working toward exactly? Which goals still matter to me?"


Her questions have been swimming around in my mind ever since. Her life is definitely not perfect. Her career has been upended. Her family is far away. Her finances are a delicate balancing act, and she faced a debilitating medical emergency earlier this year. She faces a lot of challenges but has found a surprising measure of peace in the middle of it all... and still there's a feeling of stuckness or inertia.


These questions speak to a sneaky, intriguing sense of presence I've been feeling in quarantine: I'm coming face-to-face with my own life-long craving to accept what is and celebrate simple pleasures—while the ambitious side of me is dancing around, trying to figure out how she fits in.


What does it mean to find peace in the middle of everything that's happening? Are goals worth setting? What do we have to look forward to, and does looking forward even make sense?


The rhythm of our days and the ways we measure success have warped beyond recognition. Remember how the internet kicked off quarantine (just 4-ish months ago) with an explosion of self-improvement memes? Learn a new language! Clean out your basement! Handwrite letters to people you love every day for thirty days! Become a gourmet chef! Turn your downtime into workout time! 


But what are we trying to do exactly? What is all of that "improvement" for? 


Maybe you've made some notable changes for the better since all of this hit, and maybe you haven't, but whatever you're doing, it's becoming clear that this situation is going to last a while. At this point, we're not sure when we'll be able to get back to our workplaces, when kids can get back to school, or when it will make sense to get on a plane again for a high-flying adventure to somewhere unknown. Nothing is what it was, and time is stretching indefinitely into the future. It's giving me vertigo, and I know a lot of folks reading this letter are facing much worse than that: unemployment, unstable situations at home and work, and, of course, illness.


So standing where we are now, I'm wondering what success looks like, and I'd love to know your thoughts.


What does the word "success" mean to you?

How close to it (or far away) are you feeling?

What brings you closer to that reality, and what pulls you away?

Do you still have big ambitions and has your approach to them changed?

What helps you find a greater sense of peace in your life, and how are you moving toward it?


I'd really love feedback on this one. Please feel free to email and tell me if you've been thinking about this!


Happy end of June. I hope you're staying safe out there, especially over the holiday weekend. 


Much love from me to you!


Sarah


A few weeks ago in this newsletter, I quoted Sikh activist, Valarie Kaur's beautiful speech that she so kindly let me reference in Physical Disobedience, "What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead but a country that is waiting to be born?... What if this is our nation’s greatest transition?... Tonight we will breathe. Tomorrow we will labor in love, through love, and your revolutionary love is the magic we will show our children."


Well, Valarie's own book came out last week, See No Stranger. It is very much a labor of love. If you need a light in this tunnel, she just might be able to provide it.

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SARAH HAYS COOMER

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