When I was younger, I longed for some kind of emotional moment in which I finally got everything I ever wanted. I would receive that letter telling me that I got a full ride scholarship to Eastman (which I now know is actually impossible), I would cry, and then I would know exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I would win the big competition and get to call my teacher and my parents and celebrate over the phone. I would get a dream job offer and get to start looking for a house to mortgage.
But it doesn’t work out that way. Sure, it works out that way for some people – very few people. And it works out that way on TV. But life is work. Even if I had gotten into Eastman, I still would have had to get my degree, practice my butt off, apply to grad school, etc. Even if I won a big competition, no amount of external validation could make me confident. Even if I get a job offer, I will still have to get tenure, make my students better, improve the University I work for, and more. I will be working for the rest of my life whether I achieve some kind of perceived “arrival” or not.
Whenever I climb a mountain and reach the top, I usually just see more and (sometimes) higher mountains in the distance. Because achieving that goal had been my sole purpose for so long, that view of higher mountains can sometimes be disheartening. When I put my entire being and every ounce of my energy into something, it feels like it should be the pinnacle of achievement. Then, when it turns out there are other goals to be had, it can feel like my accomplishments are insignificant. But they aren’t.
Because life is work, all work is significant, and work is also life. Things that I achieved as a teenager can seem insignificant to me now in my mid-20’s, but those things helped to form my habits and values. This is equally true about the things I worked for at which I did not succeed. Every application, every recording, every personal statement, every hike begun, and every attempted race are work and therefore they are significant.
Life is not necessarily achieving. Life is not getting that scholarship, winning that competition, or receiving that job offer. Life is not your resume. These are just milestones, stepping stones to the rest of the path. Life is work, and that is all that matters.