"What is success?" was a question that came up in my Theatre Today class last week. The same question was posed to me before I moved down here. A good friend suggested I find my own definition for it, and that's been rolling around in my head ever since. In class, the responses were very American, driven by consumerism: money, power, materialistic trophies and financial benchmarks. Meanwhile I'm sitting in my seat with my answer in my head, waiting, hoping that someone will be on the same wavelength and say that we should define "success" for ourselves. I felt that if I had offered my answer, I would want to continue the conversation in that direction, at which point we would be completely sidetracked; so for my own cowardly justification, I sat quietly and listened to my classmates' discussion contributions.
I've heard many times that Theatre is a selfish industry, and that can be taken in many ways. It can be in the manner that you are "competing" against actors, designers, techs, and directors for the same position, and even though you're friends with them, you want that job and/or that paycheck as much as they do. In a more personal light, the theatre can steal your life away from your family, from your ability to even have a family, and even from your friends and social life in general. Those of us that are wholly dedicated are usually split in multiple directions: classes, rehearsals, multiple part-time jobs, relationships, children, the list goes on; but how selfish should you become to progress in the direction that you wish to? I've asked myself that question multiple times in the last few years, and my answer has developed in my work ethic-I belong in the theatre. There have been numerous relationships that have suffered because of my theatrical obligations, no, not obligations, determinations. "Obligations" sounds negative, and being in the theatre is far from negative, it's my choice, and I've been determined to move forward everyday. I digress. Relationships are sacrificed for my dedication to the theatre. If I try to put more time into the relationship, something else has to suffer…the non-theatre classes. Well, that wasn't a good idea either. Over the last couple years the relationships have fallen by the wayside and the Theatre has become my main squeeze. This has come to power through choices I have made, and I don't regret what I have done, nor have I ever, but I have learned from all of them. The more I have become involved in Theatre, the more I withdrew from my social life. There should be a balance, and I'm working at it every day.
[my brain just stopped, and my thought train was AMTRAKed. if you were watching television you would currently be seeing static, perhaps a pixelated screen if you have a new plasmafantasticLCDmonitor, if you're used to regular tube TVs you would see the black strip across the bottom and the vertical color stripes across the screen.]
I am not defining "success" as a destination, I am treating it as a journey. I have succeeded already, I am going to succeed in the future, and I am currently succeeding-right now, at this very moment. "Success" seems to be as complicated as love, and it also feels as if it has been as commercialized just that same. Lil' Kim had a song a few years ago entitled "Money, Power, Respect" and that, for some, is as good a definition of "success" as they need. According to <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/success>
• Main Entry: suc·cess
• Pronunciation: \sək-ˈses\
• Function: noun
• Etymology: Latin successus, from succedere
• Date: 1537
1 obsolete : outcome, result
2 a : degree or measure of succeeding b : favorable or desired outcome; also : the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence
3 : one that succeeds
and it seems that Merriam-Webster agrees with my idea of success as a journey at not a destination, as you'll notice that the first definition is obsolete, and the working definitions refer to the degree or "the attainment of"
My definition of success has two parts, a concrete aspect that can be portrayed in examples and benchmarks, and an abstract side that will be just that, abstract and conceptual. Success has never been about money, having the newest gadgets, nicest car, or having a trophy wife. When I was 19 I transferred to the USS Hyman G Rickover, SSN-709 (Hoorah!) and, only two years in the Navy at that point, senior enlisted members were already plugging reenlistment packages and bonuses. My division chief, the late EMC(SS) Sean Bednarz had educated me on all the wonderful opportunities that would be available to me if I stayed in for "only" ten years-supervisory positions at power plants, paychecks upwards of $60,000 a year, moneymoneymoneymoneymoney. After he was done with his commercial I looked at him and told I'm rather make enough money to "just" get by and support my family teaching high school drama than to make an exorbitant amount in an industry that I have no desire to stay in for the rest of my life. Quality of life is more important to me than money. And he looked at me in amazement and after asking how old I was said, "kids like you don't talk like that anymore," and he's completely right.
America is a consumer-driven populace, and there's no one party solely to blame, but younger people just become more focused on money as the years go by. Don't get me wrong, I like to have money available as much as the next person does, but, as I've stated in earlier FB Notes, being here in Long Beach with very little money (for now) has helped me recalibrate myself in many ways. There are too many luxuries that I took for granted, and living here has shown me that I don't need them. They're still nice every once in a while, but there really is no need to eat out for every meal, go to a bar every night, and aimlessly drive around when I can eat at home, not drink all the time, and take the bus or even walk somewhere. Just like I told my Chief, if I can provide for my family, or depending on how our family situation is coordinated with working parent or parents, I simply want my family to be provided for. I don't want to scrape by, and I don't really need six cars and a house in every state (although a private jet would be welcomed). If we're healthy, with food on the table, clothes on our backs, and comfortable living conditions, things are good.
On the abstract side of success, if I can do what I love, and I mean truly enjoy what I'm doing for a living, then I am a success. Whether I'm teaching, working on Broadway, London, Oslo, or Kansas City, if I can head to work in the morning and know I'm going to enjoy what I'm doing, I'll call myself a success. This is where the selfishness comes in. I dedicate myself to the theatre, my passion, my craft, my art, and I need to achieve a balance with my family. That second part is what's been eluding me. This past week marked what would have been the fourth anniversary of matrimony had we stayed together. Stay with me, I'm not getting emo and regretting my "practice engagement." So, obviously I'm not married, and do not live in Virginia, and because of this separation and move back to California, I was able to get back into theatre, train at DVC, work with Shotgun and DTC (then DLOC) and arrive where I am now, CSULB, getting ready to start the third week of my junior year on track to achieve a major milestone with a BA in Theatre Arts. So yes, everything happens for a reason, I get it, and those reasons weren't apparent to me four years ago when I was leaving Virginia Beach, but they are now, and I can definitely say I've succeeded since then.
I don't know what the future will bring, and I'm not going to plan too far out. There are things I want to do, but I know life happens, and sometimes it doesn't go the way you planned. As long as keep doing what I love, and am making progress towards what I want, I'm succeeding. It's not about the money, the fame, or the prestige. It's about doing what I want and enjoying every bit of it. A college dropout who went back to school later in life said that if he ever hears you say you're bored, he'll crush you (it may have been "pummel," but I'm not sure, that's why I paraphrased, but there will be life threatening danger). He's absolutely right, there's too much cool stuff to be bored, learn something, look back, reflect, regroup, create and recreate. There are plenty of ways to succeed at something, and if you don't, or say you can't, you just "suc."