The Measurements of Success

Since my graduation from what would appear to be my final stint in academia, I have had a particular reoccurring dream.  The setting of this dream varies in people and places, but the overwhelming sense and feel remains constant:

I am on my way to class, terribly afraid because I have not been to this class in weeks.  I have no idea what subject matter is being covered, and no clue as to what assignments are due or have been due in my absence.  I am embarrassed by this fact, thinking that all my professors and classmates see me as a failure or lazy or stupid or some combination thereof.  To top it off, this awareness concerns not only the class to which I am headed, but encompasses all my classes.  It is apparent to me that I have not been attending any of my classes for weeks.  I even have a hard time remembering which classes I am in and where and when they meet.  Overarching all of this is the fear that I will not be able to graduate.

In awakeness, I have never taken the time to assess the meanings of these dreams.  I simply felt thankful that I was no longer in school and relieved that the dream was nothing more than a dream.  Yesterday, however, a possible interpretation jumped into my mind.  The curious thing is that I have not had the dream recently.  I was not even thinking about dreams or about school or any such related thing.  I do not know what I was thinking about at the time, but nonetheless, some subconscious cue was triggered and my mind was sent off to ponder the mysteries of my life.

I have been raised in an atmosphere of schooling: generally characterized by tangible and measurable success.  I know the assignment and I know the deadline for the assignment.  I work to complete the assignment and the end product is assessed.  Ultimately, there is a final achievement: the degree or certificate and a graduation.  The cycle, if you will, is predictable, stable, measurable, and, perhaps for these reasons, easy.  This is probably a good thing for one’s formative years.

I realize now, that I am having a separation anxiety of sorts from this former reality.  To be sure, at work I have measurable deadlines and assignments and am assessed on performance and work product.  In a macro sense, however, I am no longer in that predictable, stable, measurable cycle.  I no longer have an institution setting my goals and measuring my success in achieving those goals.  Much of the stress and anxiety I have been experiencing as of late is caused by my continually searching for such tangible measurements of success and finding none.

To apply the dream-allegory:  when are the assignments due, what assignments have I missed, in which classes am I even enrolled?  That formula which once stabilized me in a season of formation no longer holds any value.  I now have to set my own goals and my own personal measurements of success: what will I do with my life, where will I be in twenty years, who will I be with?  These are the new potential questions, and they do not fit in the old paradigm through which success had been measured.  I have to make up my own assignments and schedule my own deadlines and self-assess my performance and the end product.  I no longer have professors and classmates to disappoint or impress.  I am now moving into the phase of life in which I have only myself to disappoint or impress.  With this realization, I am liberated to be who I am called to be and to do what I am called to do.

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