I have read two great posts recently about how it is all right and even good to choose a simple life over a life that is publicly recognized and acclaimed as successful. We all hear so much about what it means to be a success, how to set goals, and not give up on our ambitions. If we haven’t fulfilled those goals and ambitions we can feel guilty and let down. Maybe we just didn’t try hard enough.
It was nice to read these posts about how it is possible to think that living a quieter life, without lofty goals, is perfectly fine. That there are people who have found the quiet life very rewarding and satisfying. The first post is by David Brooks, The Small, Happy Life. Brooks had asked readers to submit essays about how they found their purpose in life. He was surprised with some of the responses. He said, I expected most contributors would follow the commencement-speech clichés of our high-achieving culture: dream big; set ambitious goals; try to change the world. I will quote from one of the responses he received.
Terence J. Tollaksen responded:
“I have always admired those goal-oriented, stubborn, successful, determined individuals; they make things happen, and the world would be lost without them.” But, he explains, he has always had a “small font purpose.”
“I can say it worked for me. I know it sounds so Midwest, but it’s been wonderful. I have a terrific wife, 5 kids, friends from grade school and high school, college, army, friends locally, and sometimes, best of all, horses, dogs, and cats. Finally, I have a small industrial business that I started and have run for 40 years based on what I now identify as principles of ‘Pope Francis capitalism.’ ”
Oh, for more capitalists like Mr. Tollaksen!
The second post I read was Oh What to Be by Kelly Quirino. In it she describes what is was like for her to be an identified “gifted” child in elementary school at 5 years of age. How the high expectations of her teachers and community created so much stress for her. She would vomit every day before school. Her mother finally withdrew her from the gifted program. Kelly grew up to have a quiet life dedicated to her children. She says:
” I’m not a surgeon, a scientist, a CEO, or a Nobel Prize winner. What I want out of life is to live simply, honestly, and humbly. My ambitions are to show my children that they are loved and to make the world around me a little better, a little more beautiful, and a little more peaceful. In my heart, I feel like this is a worthy way to spend my time in this world.”
Kelly says she still feels guilty at times about her life choices. That she did not fulfill society’s expectations for someone with her abilities. Isn’t it time to redefine success or at least broaden the definition? Can’t there be more than one type of success? I agree we need all those goal-oriented people but we would be lost without all the quiet ones. And we have to allow each of us to chose which life fits us best.