When my dad brought home girlfriends, my grandpa, rather obnoxiously, would quiz them from his arm chair. I’m told the first question was usually, “So, what’s your philosophy of life?” (I’m not sure what my mother answered.)
I was thinking of my grandpa last week when I was asked a similarly baffling and broad question during an interview: “What is your definition of success?”
I hemmed and hawed a bit, until I finally said, “I suppose success is your days looking the way you want them to look.”
Sounded okay, but after I said it, I wondered what the hell it meant.
“What do you want your days to look like?” is a question I ask myself whenever I’m trying to make a decision about what to do next. In fact, I believe that most questions about what to do with one’s life can be replaced by this question.
What career should I choose? Should I go back to school? Where should I live? Should I get married? Should I have kids? Should I get a dog? Should I take up the piano?
“What do you want your days to look like?” forces you to imagine the day in, day out realities that making such choices will present you with.
Albert Camus once told a reporter, “One has to pass the time somehow.” And how you pass the time, what your days look like, well, as Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Maybe success is just a matter of how the reality of the days match up to the ones in your imagination.
That’s not to say my ambitions these days are all that lofty. In 1851, Nathaniel Hawthorne, after spending the day with his five-year-old son, wrote in his journal, “We got rid of the day as well as we could.”
Whether that’s aiming too low or not, it sounds like success to me.