by Rachel Toalson
We’re sitting around the table, talking about our days like we always do, when my husband says, “We got some negative podcast feedback today.”
“Oh, yeah?” I say.
He tells me about this guy who wrote in to say that as much as he wants to recommend the business show my husband co-hosts to his friends, he just can’t do it because of my husband’s involvement—because my husband, according to this man, hasn’t had the kind of success people would expect from a business owner giving business advice.
This exchange comes at the beginning of our meal, just before we get to our gratitude practices, and it thoroughly and completely derails me.
So it gets to my turn, and I can barely think of anything that deserves my thanks, my whole mood shot through with one ridiculous comment. I think about my layoff a year ago and our businesses that are still struggling to find their feet and money worries and what might or might not come next in the lineup of success, and my stomach twists.
My husband knows, of course, because he’s that kind of man. He smiles and says, “It doesn’t really matter. I know I’m successful.”
He’s right. But something about it just won’t let me go.
There’s a lot of talk about the pressures on women. Sometimes we forget that there are increasing pressures on men, too. My husband is a business owner. He’s also a dad and a husband and a helper around the house, because he has a wife who works. He has to find time for friends, for work projects, for watching Netflix with me, for spending quality time with his sons, for holding down the fort half a day every day. That’s a lot of pressure, too.
And, on top of all that, he’s expected to chase this thing called Success.
Success is a slippery thing in our world. The definition changes periodically. Sometimes it’s the person with the most money in the bank. Sometimes it’s the person who lives the most fulfilling life, as though that sort of thing can be measured. Sometimes it depends on how many cars are lined up in your driveway or how well your children behave or how many employees you have working for you or whether or not you bought a new, bigger house this year.
In the last several years, men in my family have lost their jobs and fallen into such a deep depression that they disappear from the face of the earth (because society doesn’t like depressed men, either), unable to show their “unsuccessful” face in such an unkind world. Men in my family have felt discontent but stuck in their work, because what else is there for a man to do? Men in my family have become stay-at-home dads and braved the judgments of those who believe that this cannot be success.
But the truth is, success lives in who you are, not what you have.
Success is found in the way you look at your partner in the middle of an argument. It’s found in the way you talk to your children when they’ve done something wrong. It’s found in the relationships you keep with family and friends and neighbors and strangers.
It’s found in the deepest places of a heart. The world, the ignorant words of others, the critical eyes of people, can make you forget this.
Sometimes people will look at your choices—having and raising multiple children, turning down a promotion because it would take too much time away from your family, keeping an old clunker because you don’t have the money for a brand new car—and stamp you unsuccessful because you don’t look like the ideal.
But success can never be measured on the outside. It is held within.
And then I tick them off, one by one: Loving spouse. Adoring father. Faithful friend. And so much more.
We may not have a bank full of money we couldn’t spend in a lifetime or two luxury cars sitting out front or a vacation home in that place we always wanted to live. But what we do have, this life full of laughter and presence and joy, means more than all that anyway.