• Maya Henry

Redefining Success: A Short Essay by Maya Henry

Updated: Jul 12

A new year always comes with reflecting back on the past 365 days in some way or another; for me, I welcomed 2021 by sorting through the hundreds–and I mean hundreds–of emails from virtually every organization, store, charity, or other, for lack of a better word, thing, with a mailing list I had somehow wound up on. As I lazily skimmed email after email of generic greetings and pixelated images, one emotion found itself at the forefront of my sentiments: disappointment.

To clarify, disappointment in myself.

You see, as I wearily read through the emails, I couldn’t help but reflect back on the dozens of opportunities I had missed out on in 2020. This feeling of dissatisfaction only grew more bothering as I called my cousins, friends, family, and classmates, and listened to them as they reflected on the amazing things they accomplished with the extra time they had thanks to the country’s extended quarantine.

Cousins had learned an instrument, classmates had taken an extra math class, friends had started local baking businesses. And me? It felt as if I had just barely survived.

And me? It felt as if I had just barely survived.

The thing is, prior to hearing about what everyone else accomplished, I had been more than happy with what I had done the past year. I was proud of where I was in all aspects of my life and reflecting back on 2020, I wouldn’t have added anything. I simply don’t think I would have been able to handle it.

Though I was proud, listening to what everyone else had completed made me feel so inadequate, and left me yearning to have done more. I was disappointed in myself–not in what I had done, but in what I hadn’t. After many 2 am sob sessions and mirror pep talks, I realized I have grown up in a world where “more” has always been synonymous with “better,” and “best” has always been tied to “most.”

No matter how much I had done, how far I had come, I had given myself time to rest and heal, and to me, that was a weakness of the worst sorts.

Perhaps the most difficult part of it all is that I know I’m allowed to be tired. I know I’m allowed to have an off day. An off week. A month. I know I’m allowed to relax and recuperate, and without guilt avoid the slowly-dimming “Untitled Document” I’ve had pulled up for a week because today is the day I’m going to sit down and write a poem so magnificent it will make up for the past month of avoiding pen and paper as if it was the plague.

I know I’m allowed to be tired. 2020 was exhausting, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 2020 taxed every part of me and my community to the point where waking up in the morning in one piece became a daily cause for celebration.

I know I’m allowed to be tired. Yet there is something in me that relentlessly shames me for being as such. The same thing in me that labels taking care of mental health as lazy; doing poorly on an exam as a failure; staying in the same hoodie and sweatpants combo for more than the weekend as unworthy.

I’m standing in my own way. I’ve been blocking the door that separates me and self-love and self-worth and self-healing and self-listening and selfishness with it comes to my time. And for the past year–really, the past fourteen years of my existence–I have tried to fool myself into believing that I couldn’t move out of the way and let myself pass through the golden gates if I wanted to.

In 2021, I’m going to begin to redefine “productive.” Reclaim “successful.”

In 2021, I’m going to begin to redefine “productive.” Reclaim “successful.”

In 2021, I’m going to inch through that door.

Maybe I’ll make it to the other side.

Chances are, I won’t.

I’m still going to put one foot in front of the other and draw closer.

I’m going to sleep in on weekends and go to bed early and not feel the need to compensate for the hours of potential studying I missed while I was dreaming of the time the pressure I put on myself is inevitably over.

I’m going to watch compilations of Gordon Ramsey spitting out poorly seasoned risotto and not set timers for how long my blissful state of mind can last.

I’m going to let myself disagree with the harsh critiques on the poem I sent to that friend after a month of hiding my tail between my legs.

I’m going to let myself live more than I did last year. And I know that’s not saying much. And I know there will be nights where I convince myself that another hour on a take-home DBQ is more necessary than catching up with friends I’ve been too afraid to talk to in months. I know I’ll inevitably force myself to sit down and produce a poem that reads so forced and faulty that it’ll bring tears of unequivocal disappointment that I’ll hide from my mother or blame on the sad movie I never got around to watching (I was pushing myself to take an extra practice test when it was in theatres). 

I know I might not make it through those doors this year, or next year, or the next or the next. In a world so dedicated to finishing; finishing high school with a GPA above a 4.0; finishing college with publication credits in a distinguished magazine; finishing your passion project while finishing your day job while finishing raising a family while finishing your to-do list for the next ten years of your life; in an environment raising children to believe that rest and confidence are earned with hard work, not given with one’s first breath, even beginning to draw closer to those doors is more than enough.

Maya Henry (she/her) is a happy crier, cherry tomato enthusiast, and opinionated Cancer who changes her opinion on the Oxford Comma monthly. More of her work can be found on her website.

Instagram: @mayaluciahenry

Personal Blog: https://mayaluciahenry.wixsite.com/theoutlet

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