Measures of success

There are a lot of definitions of success, and consensus over what is successful seems elusive. As a society, at least from where I sit, it looks like while we consistently see some things as signs of success, we do acknowledge that different things are regarded as measures of success in different situations. But I also see evidence that there are some things that are definitely not considered to be signs of success. 

For example, I’m pretty sure that no one sees it as a sign of success if you rely on Centrelink payments as the large part of your income. I’m reasonably sure that people who have managed to acquire a mortgage to buy a house are considered more successful than those who rent by many. A lot of people seem to think that if a child struggles at school they are not seen as being successful. There are levels of stigma applied all over the place in our society that determine how successful a person is perceived as being by those around them. And then there is the whole commentary around success and effort…. “you worked so hard- you deserve every success”….. well meaning, but loaded with assumptions and implications.

I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing lately, as I stay home – in our rented house – educating two of my children who just don’t manage well at school, relying on Centrelink payments to get by. Perhaps my reflections are based on incorrect assumptions on my part. Maybe the way I think people perceive me is not accurate. Maybe people just don’t know things about me as they form their opinions. Sometimes I am aware of this as I am told by someone that they think people on welfare should be assessed more harshly…. and I realise that person doesn’t realise I am “on welfare”. Or I hear conversations about how irresponsible people who have large families are. Or my least favourite combination of judgement, which goes something like…. people who have heaps of kids with disabilities and can’t even afford to buy their own home are raising kids who don’t have a hope of amounting to anything.

Ironically, at the same time as there are others who would judge me as unsuccessful, there are some who look at my writing and think I am successful in some ways. I am sometimes told I am a great parent, when- to be completely honest- I hardly ever feel like what I think a successful parent is!

So much hinges on our perceptions, our values, our ideals. What we use to measure success becomes such a subjective issue. Yet we still persist in doing our best to classify, clarify and categorise ourselves and each other.

Being aware of this, as I stay home – in our rented house – educating two of my children who just don’t manage well at school, relying on Centrelink payments to get by, I find myself asking some tough questions.

Are we as parents defining success the right way? Are we expecting the wrong things from our kids?

See, I don’t see my kids who do attend school as any more successful than my kids who are being educated at home. And I don’t perceive that they have any more or less chance of being happy, productive and decent human beings than anyone else. But is that success?

I don’t perceive myself as being any less successful than those I know who are paying off their own homes simply because we made a decision early on in our lives not to commit to home ownership. But is that success?

I don’t see myself as being more successful than my husband because I have completed more tertiary education than he has. But is that success?

I don’t see my Autistic kids who use verbal language to communicate (most of the time) as more successful than an Autistic person who uses typing or picture boards to communicate. But is that success?

What is a good measure of success?

Having something? Being something? Doing something? Being perceived as something? Giving up something? Not doing something? Not being something? Not having something?

Or are we simply successful if we set out to achieve something …. anything… and we manage to achieve it?

Or…… maybe success is not any of that. Maybe success is not even a thing! In the grand scheme of things who is to say “success” is even important?

Maybe instead of seeking success we should be striving for progress, or growth, or change, or simply contentment.

Might we be wise to stop looking for things like speech and other developmental milestones as measures of our childrens- and our- success?

Might we be wise to stop looking at things like conformity of behaviour and appearance of “normality” as measures of our childrens- and our- success?

Might we be wise to stop looking at other peoples opinions about our families as measures of our childrens- and our- success?

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This image is an ageing and flaking yellow painted fence with words printed over the top of it. The words are taken from the paragraph below the image.

Our Autistic children are not the same as other people. There is nothing wrong with that. They are not the same, and they should not be expected to appear as being the same. No one should be attempting to apply the same measures of success to our Autistic kids as they do to non-Autisitc kids, unless their idea of success is to be alive and to be growing and happy.

As parents it is our job to realise this, and to advocate for our children accordingly. Just the same as I reject others opinions of my success, I must stand up for my children and show others I reject their expectations and the measures of success they try to impose on my kids. No one should spend their life trying to meet other peoples arbitrarily determined unrealistic and unreasonable expectations of them.

By advocating for a change in the measures of success applied to Autistic people I hope I am empowering my children to do the same, and in some way making their lives easier.

One thought on “Measures of success

  1. Thank’s for this, success is often in my thoughts. I’m pretty good at defining what it isn’t but haven’t come up with a clear idea of what it is. I also find myself automatically accepting external definitions of success though I don’t believe in them; ie if someone says something judgemental I am hurt, defensive & try to justify myself. It is hard to change what seems to be a core belief!
    Posts like yours help, reinforcing the idea that there is a better way.

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