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Defining Success

As a millennial, the definition of "success" hasn't been handed to me. My generation has had the blessing and the curse of trying to decide what that word means for each of us, individually (since, after all, we are special little snowflakes). This definition is what I've been trying to write about for the past two weeks, and coincidentally why I haven't written anything lately! But a sweet young woman with a twinkle in her eye this past weekend told me to "Keep writing!" and I've been itching to obey her, so here goes.

Over the past 2.5 years as our business has grown my definition of success has swung dramatically back and forth. Here's a little taste of some of my conclusions:

Success for Chicory Farm Soap is...

  1. Becoming a nationally recognized brand stocking the shelves of every natural foods aisle of every grocery store in the country.
  2. Proving profitability and selling the company for a good chunk of change after a few years of growing it.
  3. Doubling sales each year for the first 5 years we're in business, ending that stint with an impressive annual gross income of $1,000,000.
  4. Paying off operating expenses and coming out on the other end debt-free and letting the business go.
  5. Growing enough to support our family and members of the community through jobs that pay well and respect employees.
  6. Becoming a financially stable business that can be our family's only form of income without being too taxing mentally and physically.

All of these statements are small snippets of various visions of potential futures. They all have their pros and cons, and they could each come to fruition based on what sacrifices and risks we're willing to take with our future.

Steve and I had a big conversation last night about that future. As new homeowners (and growing small business owners) this whole idea of "debt" is really messing with my brain. What's good debt? How much debt is too much? How can I figure out what I can afford in the long run if I don't know what kind of salary I'll be able to take from my business? In each discussion I somehow end up obsessing over the worst possible scenario, thinking it's the safest way to plan for the future. 

It's in my nature to be optimistic and compassionate. I don't feel it's bragging to say that. But lately I've been pessimistic and completely devoid of compassion when it comes to myself. Isn't it terrible how we can be our own worst enemies, insisting that our value is inversely tied to our waistline or directly tied to our bank statements? That how one negative review can vaporize an entire weekend's worth of positive feedback? That instead of "self-employed and happily married" my mantra has been "fat and poor"? Who taught me that my value was so completely external?

Anyway, I'm getting carried away. What I want to write about today, what I really want to meditate on, is my vision of my ideal future.

Close your eyes. Ok, no, don't do that unless you've got x-ray-through-your-eyelids-vision and can read with your eyes closed. Imagine you, my dear reader friend, are coming for a summer visit to my new house-slash-soap-making-factory. It's a few years in the future, and you've been following along with my blog that has blossomed into a fun and insightful read that explores joyful sustainable living (with a little snark thrown in, of course!) and you've got some of our goat milk soap by the sink that you picked up at your favorite Mom & Pop store in your town. In your arms you've got a casserole that you know we'll both love and a book you just finished that you want to pass on to me. You open up the door, not bothering to knock, and you're greeted by a crowd of unfamiliar-yet-friendly faces, the smell of fresh foods, and boisterously happy noises (shrieking children, jovial music, yipping dogs...). Steve and I are thrilled to have you, to have all of you, for as long as you'll stay. We're unconcerned about all the work that we have to get done while you're here because we're happy to do it while you play frisbee in the yard, take walks on the farm, or sit at a nearby table sipping coffee while we work. Just like you love to cook and clean in the kitchen while your friend sits at the counter helping you knock off a few bottles of blueberry wine, working isn't a chore. We're unconcerned about how much food you and your three teenaged boys will eat because most of it came from the gardens you're helping us tend anyway. And at the end of the day when you do leave, we're a bit sad to see you go but content nonetheless because we don't have endless soul-sucking J-O-B-S to go back to after our scant week of vacation time is spent.

This is my vision of a successful future. The only reference to money is the fact that we can support ourselves through a sensible amount of work done while we're still enjoying ourselves. It's a messy amalgamation of work and joy, not a separation of the two. It's this vision of the future, a vision similar to the life I experienced at Sterling College in Craftsbury, VT and on vacations to visit friends from college. Friends who live an acutely less-is-more lifestyle that we've strayed from in the past few years (one friend-who receives room and board as part of her salary-told us that she looks forward to the day when she earns more than $12,000 a year).

While it's true that our daydreams rarely pan out in quite the ways we expected, I think it's also true that it can be healthier to pursue the dream than to chase it away in an attempt to be Grown Up. What are your dreams for the future? What were your dreams when you were 26, like me?