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.

‘Encomia’, my second anthology of poems, will be published starting this week.

Now that ‘Autumn Haze‘ has been published in full, it’s time to prepare for the release of a brand new anthology, namely a collection of encomia written in reference to a select few people who have inspired me creatively over my lifetime.

Encomia, you ask? Well, an encomium is a speech or a piece of writing that praises someone or something highly. I felt that this would be a fitting title for the collection of poems I have written using particular people as a reference point, and in a way I get to honor these people by publishing some work inspired by the way they live(d) their lives. I’d also like to look back at this time of my life and have a guide for the influences that inspired my creative expression in this particular phase of my life.

So, starting on Friday the 5th of July, a new poem from ‘Encomia‘ will be released each week, until the series concludes at the end of September.

For the first poem in the new series, I will be revisiting a piece I wrote for a competition recently, which placed third, and received some great feedback. I wanted to share it with more people as it was a particularly important piece of work, considering it guided me in more of a storytelling direction with my poetry, rather than writing from a purely emotional standpoint.

Where ‘Autumn Haze‘ was very personal and a snapshot of my life at a particular moment, ‘Encomia‘ has personal references, highlighted through others, which in a way is written in tribute and appreciation of these people. It won’t all be rainbows and butterflies, I promise. I have been influenced by a range of people, some wildly popular, and others not so much. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing the poems, and look forward to hearing your feedback once we kickstart this new chapter of my writing journey.

– Conrad was here.

This is “Flourish”, the the next piece of the ‘Autumn Haze’ puzzle.

“Flourish”
by Conrad Schwellnus

Clear is kind, like the depths of your sorrow,
A heart of steel, you will surely need to borrow.
Perhaps you can lend it to feed your hungry soul?
A lifetime of lies, no longer taking their toll.

Bested by those who loved their own reflections,
Using their kin in resolution of their imperfections.
Seemingly damaged to a point of no return,
A reality to ponder, but your memories start to burn.

Widening of shallow, subsiding anger in your mind,
Honesty and truth will always pay you back in kind.
Creative you will be, creative you will flourish,
A journey to build on, a past to demolish.

This poem is one of the pieces that went through the most edits from the first draft, simply because it had a lot going on (there was an additional stanza in the original version that didn’t quite fit, and I may use elsewhere in the future). It’s fairly dark, and tells a story of sorrow, but ultimately redeems itself in the last stanza, providing a glimmer of hope in the process.

Next week, I’ll be publishing a very special poem, influenced by ex-Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen. The piece, which was written while I was listening to her sing, is simply titled “Turunen” and it will be live on the site by 12h00 GMT+2 on Friday the 10th of May.

We’re five poems into the ‘Autumn Haze’ anthology already, with seven to go in the series. You can learn more about the anthology over here, but if you’re curious about the other poems in the series, have a look at this nifty page displaying all the poems in a batch right over here. Have a wonderful rest of your week.

– Conrad was here.

Here is “I Dream in Black and White”, the next poem in the ‘Autumn Haze’ anthology.

“I Dream in Black and White”
by Conrad Schwellnus

I dream in black and white,
I see in shades of grey.
Nothing about anything always feels quite right,
A life of your own, you simply cannot delay.

Mourn the emancipation, let go of the grip,
Alone you may just fall, perhaps you stay and trip.
But fly you will, you pick yourself up,
Resilience in the form of a tiny beating cup.

I dream in black and white,
I see the cruelty of a nation.
Trudging along and a departure I might,
The only energy to defeat my indignation.

This is your way to say goodbye,
To a lifelong service to a sigh,
This happened in the depths of this mind of mine,
I’ve been done for a while, waiting for the colors to shine.

This is one of the first poems in the anthology that just poured out of me when I started writing it. I wrote this very quickly and it came together even faster while I was editing. It feels like an important piece in the anthology. “I Dream in Black and White” is about fear, letting go and realizing that it is time to move towards a new chapter of your life. I won’t say too much, and let you interpret the text for yourself.

Next week, I’ll be publishing the fifth poem in the series. The new piece is called “Flourish” and it will be live on the site by 12h00 GMT+2 on Friday the 3rd of May.

You can learn more about the ‘Autumn Haze‘ anthology over here and if you’re curious about the other poems in the series, have a look at the new page displaying all the poems in a batch over here.

– Conrad was here.

The next chapter in the ‘Autumn Haze’ anthology is here — read “Knife Party” now.

“Knife Party”
by Conrad Schwellnus

Let’s throw a knife party,
Our highs take on a new life,
When you’re done sipping on the Bacardi,
Will you start to let go of your wife?

Take away the pressure, we dance intimately,
Stroke my hair as I begin to feel you in a dream,
Shake your body, the contours slowly enchant me.
Pass through me, as I float somewhere far beyond my being.

Sensual in all of my remembrance,
Illustrious as I take my space,
Love in the monotonous, head up in the clouds,
Manic as we avoid a tender embrace.

Let’s throw a knife party,
Aim for the neck but keep hitting the board.
Everything is slow, a near set of sorry,
Discourse in heaven, we put down the chord.

Many of us have experienced falling in love with someone who is unavailable, and this poem tries to pack that into a few sentences, eight years after I started what would be the defining romance of my twenties. I reference a ‘wife’ in the poem in a non literal sense; it merely implies a person that is otherwise committed, be that through being with another partner, or just as a result of a lack of self acceptance. For me, the poem is a symbol of letting go and moving on, and I hope it brings you some comfort too if you’ve ever experienced something similar.

The next poem in the series (which I might add, goes straight for the jugular) is called “I Dream in Black and White” and will be published on the site by 12h00 GMT+2 on Friday the 26th of April. Catch you back here then?

You can learn more about the ‘Autumn Haze‘ anthology over here and if you’re curious about the first two poems in the series, head over to the home page to check them out. Thank you for your support!

– Conrad was here.

Here is the second poem from ‘Autumn Haze’ — this is “Hearts at Half Mast”.

“Hearts at Half Mast”
by Conrad Schwellnus

Let’s bond as a family, with our smartphones in check,
Eyes fixed on the television, in public we shall forget.
The elders converse with their hearts at half mast,
Exhausted from keeping the week afloat — now with some freedom at last.

Sit by yourself sweet miss, your loneliness is palpable,
Can I give you a hug or will that make me culpable?
Do you believe I feel sorrow in the wake of your solace,
How charmed or lonely I am, awake in my empty bodice.

Bond, bond, and bond, we must,
We despise each other, but in blood we must love.
Sing to me child, show me your prowess,
Other than that, be gone, but remember to stay the dourest.

I wrote this poem after seeing a family having breakfast in a restaurant, and adjacent to their table was a woman having a meal on her own. Both “parties” seemed equally isolated in that specific moment, though ironically, I only felt sorry for the woman, irrespective of whether my intuition told me that everyone at the group table was alone too.

I really appreciate you taking some time out of your day to read some of my work. The next poem in the series, which is quite possibly the most sensual poem in the series, is called “Knife Party” and will be published on the site at 12h00 GMT+2 on Friday the 19th of April.

You can learn more about the ‘Autumn Haze‘ anthology over here and if you’re curious about the first poem in the series, you can read it over here. I welcome your feedback via social media or the contact section anytime you feel like reaching out.

– Conrad was here.

This is the first piece of work from ‘Autumn Haze’ — here is “Yanked”.

“Yanked”
by Conrad Schwellnus

Yanked against my will,
Towards a life I never wanted.
You asked me to be still,
Forget a childhood of enchantment.

A distant memory lurks, but I’m with family now,
You are what I wanted… we knew each other so well.
Untainted by your words and passions somehow,
Behind the shades, behind the façade, your self lurks with a story to tell.

The cup is unrefined, it’s still early, you’ll see,
Fill your well with all the wishes and the things you mean to me.
For the universe knows how to send you a dream,
Perhaps it’s more about your needs, despite what you will not see.

I initially planned to attach a visual and short description to each poem, but have since changed my mind, as I believe poetry is largely an experience of personal interpretation, and I’d like to avoid influencing the way you experience my writing and the full anthology. I’m happy to chat about it if you’d like to reach out to me privately. Speaking of the anthology — you can learn more about ‘Autumn Haze‘ and the publishing plan for it over here.

The next poem in the series is titled “Hearts at Half Mast” (no, it’s not a country song, well, yet) and will go live on the site at 12h00 GMT+2 on Friday the 12th of April. See you then?

– Conrad was here.

I’m publishing my first anthology, ‘Autumn Haze’.

Earlier this week, I got some good news about “Roaming”, a poem I wrote about the life and career of the legendary Whitney Houston, which came in third place in the first writing competition I entered. The poem (quite surprisingly) was read by over 1,100 people on Instagram, which gave me the confidence to start thinking about how I want to start sharing some more of my work. So here we are!

At the start of March, I wrote a bundle of poems under the anthology title of ‘Autumn Haze‘. I called it this for a variety of reasons. Firstly, as a symbol of the changing of the season and the birth of autumn (which runs from the end of March to the middle of June in the Southern Hemisphere). “Haze”, however, also refers to a traditional definition relating to an initiation of sorts, highlighting the ushering in of a new personal journey, the closing of a chapter, and my path into a career as a writer. The poems are deeply personal, were written in a very short space of time, and have only been shared with my partner so far. This will be the first time this work gets seen by anyone else, and I’d really like to invite you along for the ride if you felt connected to my poem about Whitney in any way.

So here’s the deal: between now and Friday the 21st of June, I will be publishing the full anthology, one poem at a time, every Friday, at 12h00 GMT+2. Each poem will be accompanied by a short context paragraph, to give you an idea of what it was inspired from, but the overall interpretation, as with all poetry, remains with you as the reader.

It will also be accompanied by a photograph I have taken in my self care journey so far, which started when this blog was launched in June 2018. Each post will also contain the title of the next poem in the series, to give you a taste of what is to come the following Friday, and I may even be dropping some hints as to what it is about in the week before, depending on how I feel on the day. The anthology will be published in full on the blog by Friday the 28th of June.

It would be wonderful to have you along for the ride. This is my first time doing something like this, so I’d welcome any feedback on any of the works, and would like to make you a part of the journey. Oh yes, before I forget! The title of the first poem, which will be published right here on Friday the 5th of April at 12h00 GMT+2, is “Yanked“. I’ll leave you to get imaginative about the inspiration behind it.

– Conrad was here.

Rest easy, beautiful. You’ve left a lesson or two behind.

I recently entered my first writing competition, hosted by Writing Tips. They share writing tips every day to an audience of over 40 000 followers and their goal is to help fellow writers like myself out with various nuggets of advice. I wanted to share my entry with you today. The challenge was to submit something based on a single keyword: adrenaline. This was the first English poem I wrote this year, so it’s extra special to me in that sense as well. I’d love to hear from you if it evokes any kind of reaction or feeling in you.

I’ve written a poem, inspired by music legend Whitney Houston. Her life had so many ups and downs, her career was truly adrenaline filled, but when you dig a little deeper, there is an innocence to who she really was. The poem is a eulogy of sorts, which I was inspired to write after learning more about her life in a documentary.

It reminded me that we’re all human, with our own dreams and wishes, and that success doesn’t always guarantee personal fulfilment. I hope you enjoy it.

“Roaming”
by Conrad Schwellnus

She wandered the earth, an angel,
Broken by a spirit of trust —
Commanding the masses,
But carry her family, she absolutely must.

In her meandering, she fumbles, she’s done —
But where were the coin smugglers in your troubled days?
I weep for you, Ms. Houston, roaming even in death,
A legacy of a ghost, but a human being like the rest.

Sing for me Nippy, lament the pop monster —
When did the people start to let you down?
Did you need to be held, need to be fed —
Your emotions on fire, sacrificed for what others did and said.

I will extend myself inward,
I will always love me…
You remind me of my pitfalls,
Drawn into the ashes by a wave of echoed calls.

You remind me to be gentle,
You encourage me to be kind —
Rest easy, beautiful.
You’ve left a lesson or two behind.

Update: I have just been told that my entry came in third place in the competition, which is a wonderful honour. Thank you to the judges for believing in my work and for sharing my piece with their community.

– Conrad was here.