What if we decided to turn the traditional definition of success on its head?

Yesterday, I had a very interesting conversation about the traditional definition of success. The person I was talking to very cleverly referenced the Harry Potter houses to illustrate the different definitions of success they see in the world today. Kudos to them for grabbing my attention using a HP reference!

  • Ravenclaw: Knowledge & Intellect
  • Slytherin: Power & Wealth
  • Gryffindor: Bravery & Recognition
  • Hufflepuff: Kindness & Modesty

Seems about right. But let’s back up just a little bit first.

What got me thinking about my definition of success in the first place, was a comment from my therapist: “when you achieve what your definition of success is again…” (I heard the undertone there, my definition of success, which clearly is a skewed one). She’s known me 10 years, so she must have a good idea about how hard I can be on myself. I have to take her comments on the chin, because I not only respect her opinion greatly, but, even when I disagree, she’s usually right.

Traditionally, a lot of us have been raised to believe that success is based on the Slytherin and Gryffindor mentalities. How much power and influence do you have? How wealthy are you? What is your job title? How famous are you? How many followers do you have? These are all outward indicators where your success is dependent on external factors. An ego driven mentality, in fact.

I’m not here to bullshit you and claim that these have never influenced my decisions: career or otherwise. These are all things that have been important to me in the past. It’s inherent really, when you’re raised in a household of high achievers and you also like to set very unrealistic goals and expectations of yourself. But what if I made an active decision to change my definition of success? What if we decided that we wanted to turn the traditional definition of success on its head?

I’ve always thought of success as something static or ‘black and white’: you either have it, or you don’t, there’s no in-between. I’ve had a very interesting career so far, with high profile jobs, big projects and earning many awards along the way. But have I ever felt successful? No.

I’ve never felt like I was earning enough, or being recognized enough, even when accepting awards for my work. Ridiculous yes, but even recently when I finished a short story for a competition, it didn’t take me more than 5 minutes to then turn my focus to the next competition. I didn’t enjoy the moment, enjoy the success of completing something. I was on autopilot, because it “isn’t about getting it done, it’s about getting recognized for it”. What a load a BS!

As you can probably tell, this topic is something I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about in recent weeks, and it’s something that I’m trying to address so I can approach life with a different view of what success means to me, especially as I get more settled into my thirties. I began by asking myself what I would do if I had one week to live. Literally, if I found out I would be dead next week this time, how would I spend my week? The answer gave me a sense of what is important to me, and what I would want to do to be considered a worthwhile contributor to society and the world as a whole. While I may delve into those specifics at a later date, I wanted to share what I have subsequently set out as new areas of “success” for myself. Perhaps this encourages you to do the same, and take on the same challenge of defining what success is to you at this stage.

At 31, success to me is:

  • Expanding my general knowledge.
  • Contributing to the success of others. Being a part of the journey of others (in a non-public facing way). I’ve always drawn a lot of strength from this.
  • Learning more about human psychology. I did a semester of psychology after university and I’d like to explore further studies in this field in future.
  • Safety in my relationships: friendships, family and in my heart partnership. Consistency too.
  • Focus. One of the hardest things for a self employed person to do!
  • Travelling to learn and gain perspective, not for recreational purposes.
  • Practicing my writing, specifically prose. Learning more about how to improve my writing. Writing to contribute, not simply for money or recognition. Putting other creative projects on hold to grow in this area.
  • The amount of time in my day that I’m free to do what I want with my time. This includes committing to the entrepreneurial and writer’s journey, regardless of external recognition or opportunities that may come from it. This one is very important. Essentially, I feel successful if I can choose what I do with my 24 hours. That doesn’t mean I get to be a lazy sack of potatoes on a beach all day. It means having the freedom to decide what I do with my time, which 99% of the population does not have the luxury of doing.

Looking at these, I now have a clearer set of parameters and goals to work towards for a renewed interpretation of success, rather than continuing to focus on the traditional view (and making myself unnecessarily unhappy). Frankly, looking at this means that I’m pretty damn successful already! Let’s call a spade a spade. I am doing these things to the best of my ability, so I should pat myself on the back for that.

Perhaps, the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff approaches are not as lame as they’ve been made out to be by others (well, myself included). I’m thankful for a bit of clarity around the matter. I’m sure my definition of success will keep changing as my goals adapt and adjust; this is something that many people I have spoken to over the years have echoed and I believe it to be true. Let’s see how this goes for a little while, and try not to get too far ahead of ourselves (and the rest of our day today).

– Conrad was here.

It seems that the universe would like me to stay in Brazil for a little while longer than planned.

I had very little to do with the airline going bust and my flight to South Africa being cancelled. I had even less to do with the fact that one way tickets are suddenly three times the price of the return ticket I bought initially, and that the refunds will take up to eight weeks to process.

I did, however, put it out there to the universe that all I needed for these six months of my “flow experiment” was a place to write, a place to type and a place to sleep. Hell, I even wrote these things in permanent marker on the front cover of my diary. Well, I have all three of these things over here, and it seems that it is something I have to explore a little further on my journey towards a career as a writer, and wanting to connect with people from all walks of life (one of the other things I wrote down back in December).

The latest episode of Wellness with the Schwellnus, titled “Where do you feel like you belong”, discusses my first few weeks in a foreign country, and touches on what I’ll be doing for the next few months, which in all likelihood is looking like a longer term stay in Brazil, up until the start of September.

I also talk a bit about the concept of belonging through community rather than country, as well as mentioning a few key points from my journals that will hopefully help both of us, as we embark on the third quarter of 2019. You can listen to the new episode on your platform of choice over here.

– Conrad was here.

One year since starting the blog, I’m in Brazil continuing on a journey of self discovery.

I’ve been known to put a lot of emphasis on milestone events in the past, so what better way to celebrate the one year anniversary of the blog than by spending some time in a faraway location, taking a second to acknowledge everything that has happened over the last 365 days, and exploring a culture completely different to the comfortable bubble I grew used to in Cape Town.

At the moment, I’m in Alfenas, a small town in the South of Brazil, with a population of around 70 000 people. The townsfolk are calm and timid bunch, community oriented, and I enjoy the energy here. Foreigner stares aside, I have felt very welcome here, and also, have learned just how far I still have to go with my Portuguese lessons. I think I realised I wasn’t quite as good as I had hoped when I didn’t understand much while people around me in the boarding queue at the airport were talking to each other. I made it to Brazil regardless, which is good!

Last week, I took the week off from work, in order to explore São Paulo (which is massive, and features some of the most intense traffic jams you will ever see in your life), as well as some of the other towns in the Minas Gerais area. One of these towns, Varginha is renowned for its alien sightings, even going as far as showcasing a “UFO” (like, a real life one, you would expect to see in a Hollywood movie) in their city centre. I snapped a quick pic and had a good chuckle at this. I’ve heard it only took two people to see the alien for it to become a thing, and who am I to question this?

In fact, I’ve experienced quite a few extraordinary things while being here, like spending time in a public university library exploring local literature, visiting an art exhibition for one of Brazil’s most famous contemporary artists, as well as having dinner at a bakery (strange to think about, I know) that serves the most delicious treats you can imagine and sells them off as meals. I’m trying all kinds of interesting local cuisine, thanks to my partner (a Brazilian native), who I am travelling with at the moment, and of course, I’m having a cappuccino wherever I can. This is part of a personal mission explore the myth around Brazil having the best coffee in the world. So far, so good. I particularly love that they enjoying adding chocolate and cinnamon to their cappuccino’s, which is something I want to start doing when I make coffee at home.

Caffeine aside, I recently also got to experience to most incredible bookstore I have ever been in, which featured different sections, each with a unique ambiance (the art section, for example had a unique feeling, when compared with the history section, not only based on how the books were cataloged, but also in terms of the music they play in the section and how you experience the particular part of the store). I loved this, and found myself particularly impressed with the fact that the store featured so many local writers, which is not something you would traditionally find back home in South Africa. Brazil is a nation of great cultural diversity, with writers from many different backgrounds, so I am curious to know more. I’m particularly enjoying learning more about Clarice Lispector, an early 1900’s writer, who is very well known across the country.

This week, I’m doing a little less traveling, in order to focus a bit more on work, finishing up a new episode of the podcast, and naturally I’m doing a lot of writing (I’m already a few poems down, and have picked the title for my next anthology, launching in July). I think it’s a good idea to take it a bit more easy this week, as in the past ten days, I’ve covered over 10 000km between car trips, flights, Ubers, bus trips and walking. It’s certainly been a memorable journey so far, and I’m keeping an open mind about the next 10 000.

– Conrad was here.

I’m heading to Brazil next week to reflect, celebrate and get out of my comfort zone just a bit.

Contrary to popular belief, I won’t be going into hiding as a result of ‘Game of Thrones‘ coming to an end.

This year, I have some surprising plans for winter in the southern hemisphere, which include reflecting, celebrating and pushing myself out of my comfort zone just a little. Gently and kindly so, of course, but a push it remains.

Conrad was here is turning one year old next week (insert proud parent moment: “my baby is starting to walk”), and as part of marking the milestone, I will be flying from South Africa to Brazil, to spend some time processing everything that has happened since last year this time.

The thing is, this will be the first time I’m travelling on my own to a foreign country, which is daunting yeah, but also, incredibly exciting. At this stage, I’ve surrendered all control and and put faith in the process, to bring me whatever experiences and lessons it may. As a friend told me recently, “you can’t try to control a trip to a foreign country. It defeats the entire purpose of going”. Truth guuurl, truth. I needed to hear that.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to share some updates from the trip on the fourth episode of the podcast, which I will be recording early June. Posts on the site will also continue, including wrapping up of the sharing of the ‘Autumn Haze‘ anthology, and other life ponderings, as is usually the case.

I’d like to take a quick moment to say thank you to you for walking this journey with me over the past year. It has been a pleasure to have you with me for the ride, and to be able to have a platform (a voice, really) to share with people from all walks of life in different countries from around the world is truly a gift. I’ve talked about what it has done for my confidence, which is nowhere near the ditch it was living in twelve months ago. I can only be grateful for that. Here’s to seeing where the wind takes us next. Until then, remember to take things just a single day at a time.

– Conrad was here.