Written by: Christopher Sell
Primary Source: The Wednesday Wake Up
Every day I walk past a small collection of plaques on the wall in my work office (the picture above is NOT from my office, FYI), and I think about them way more than I should. I think about them too much because, to be honest, I’m still not sure if I should leave them hanging.
The plaques represent a few different accolades I received toward the end of my undergraduate career and during my graduate studies at MSU. I was young and energetic — and without a mortgage, spouse, rambunctious toddler, or a Black Labrador who chews up wallets — so I had quite a bit of time to invest in my academics, my career, my personal ambitions. For me, those plaques represent life-giving relationships and new-found skills. When I look at them, I remember how much I grew from all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into creating and executing programs that have a huge impact on others. Those plaques represent an amazing chapter of my story.
And yet those plaques also represent some things I’d rather forget.
Looking back, I made a ton of mistakes along the way. At times I was naive, sloppy, and just plain wrong. I didn’t always handle the pressure, stress, and responsibility well. I’m not proud of all the work I did. I could have done more; I could have been better.
And then there’s the “face value” side of the equation. My time spent as an Assistant Hall Director at MSU wasn’t a disaster — I was recognized for my achievement in that position after my first year on the job — but I ended up switching to a different role outside the campus residential services for my second year. One does not earn a merit badge for piloting a publication into nonexistence; likewise, I’m not sure I can hang my hat on that part of my life knowing that I quit, or transitioned to a new role, after a year.
Thus, the dilemma of the plaques.
I’m not sure what to do with them because when I look at them I see both success and failure, big growth and big mistakes. The plaques are 8-inch by 11-inch aged wood reminders that I got some things right and some things wrong, that I made the most of some opportunities and botched others. The memories of my time circa 2006 – 2009 are a mixed bag for me, and I’m learning to be okay with that.
Life, if we’re honest, is a parade of mixed bags. Your friendships, your time in college, your marriage, your career — they all feature ups and downs, highlights and lowlights, wins and losses. When we think solely in terms of success or failure, we fall into the trap of a false dichotomy. Most of life isn’t success or failure.
Life is success and failure.
Look closer. You’ll see your successes are seasoned with failure and your failures are ripened with success.
If you’re determined to be disappointed, constantly ask yourself questions like:
Did that thing work out perfectly? Did it go exactly as I planned?
If you’d prefer a more balanced perspective, ask yourself questions like:
Did I grow from that experience? Did I give my all? Was it worth it? Am I better for it?
As often as we’re able to answer yes to that second set of questions, we’re redefining success to include both patience and grace.
What will you count a success?
After all, experiences and relationships don’t have to be perfect in order to matter — it’s enough that they shape us into the people we (were meant to?) become. That’s a more life-giving definition of success, right?
For me, I think it’s time I put those plaques in the success column so that I’m free to think about what might go on the wall next.