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Stutzman: When you get there, remember where you came from

I have a little knick-knack sign in my office that reads, “When You Get There, Remember Where You Came From.” It’s located on a short bookcase across from my desk so it catches my eye frequently. Coincidentally, it is right below the “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys” sign.

I found it at a little gift shop downtown nestled among others that read, “What Happens at the Lake, Stays at the Lake!” and “Sunsets are Gifts from Summer” and the like. But this one caught my eye. When you get there, remember where you came from. This can be interpreted a number of ways but I keep focusing on one part of it.

When you get there Where is there? Where am I going? Where are you going? It seems that almost from birth many are on a constant mission. Get out of your parent’s house. Get out of the class level you were born into. Get out of where you are now and get into a better job, a bigger house or a fancier car. Some are on an endless pursuit for more. More recognition, more money, more of everything. It speaks of the average American’s constant pursuit of success.

I recently read an article about multi-media mogul Oprah Winfrey and her stone bathtub. Oprah traveled on a very determined path from poverty to reach well-known and admired fame and fortune through a popular talk show and many other ventures.

The article shared Oprah’s experience with simplifying her life and auctioning off many of her possessions. She decided she didn’t need all of this stuff she had purchased through the years (artwork, furniture, motor scooters) and was on a mission to sell most of the items and donate the proceeds to charity. Except for one thing, a large bathtub carved from a single piece of onyx.

There was a picture of it in the magazine. I can’t imagine how much something like that must have cost. The article detailed how difficult it was for her to get rid of the bathtub. She said to her it signified wealth and accomplishment; a statement that she had finally arrived. It meant that her hard work had paid off and she could afford to buy a bathtub from half-way across the globe that was hand-carved out of a single piece of stone; a statement that she had finally arrived.

At first I thought that to be a bit ridiculous but then I started thinking about the average person and the pursuit of the American dream. So many of us are stuck on some picture in our head of what success looks like. Maybe for you it isn’t a stone bathtub but a specific kind of car, or a house with a specific address, or certain brands of clothing, or a sailboat, or 10,000 Facebook fans.

But in reality “there” isn’t a destination. Success is a state of mind and a behavior.

As a young girl I used to look at houses out the car window as we drove through town. I used to dream about the kind of house I would love. Something big and fancy in a nice part of town. In a way, you could say that a sign of success for me would be defined as living at a certain address. If I could live in a house like that then I must really be doing well for myself.

It’s funny how life works. Through a fateful turn of events and the good luck of snagging a great deal on a bank-owned home, I now live at one of those addresses I coveted as a child. And the truth is … it’s nothing special and somewhat disappointing. A big house means bigger homeowner headaches, a bigger area to clean, and a heat bill that could feed a small village. Me living here has not helped the world one single bit. However, the one thing living in this house has helped me to realize is that success isn’t about what you have: it’s about how you are.

Now I define success differently. Success isn’t tied to a tangible material item like a bathtub carved out of a single piece of onyx. How will I know when I’ve “arrived?” My perception of success is a point when I am consistently putting my talents to good use; when I am able to think of the well-being of others more than I think of myself; and when I give more back to the world than I take. I am not there yet but I’m more mindful that this is the direction I need to go in.

How do you define success? Have you “arrived” or are you constantly disappointed with your perceived place in life? Perhaps it isn’t your place in life that needs adjusting.

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.