Success. What exactly is success? Society today often defines it in terms of status, monetary gains and accolades. In the cystic fibrosis community, success is oftentimes highlighted in people who excel in physical triumphs, professional excellence or trailblazing ways. Don't get me wrong, these members of our community absolutely deserve time in the spotlight for all of their hard work and achievements, but I find that this alienates many of us who achieve success in different -- perhaps unconventional -- ways outside of societal norms. I think the time has come to redefine success and what it should look like in the CF community.
Living with any chronic illness comes with its share of challenges. But at the end of the day, everyone has his or her challenges, and we're not that different from other people.
What's most important is that each of us defines success on our own, regardless of the examples society has given us.
Here is what success looks like to me (in no particular order):
- The ability to be vulnerable and accepting. Fact: Life can be tough. It is only by allowing ourselves to feel the hard times and acknowledge that sometimes things can be downright terrible that we are able to work through the hard stuff and -- even better -- allow others in to help us when we need it. There's no award for acting like a hero or pretending that everything is always great, but there can be great rewards in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and accepting a little help once in a while.
That being said, I find it to be equally important that we don't let CF (or the hard times) define us. CF is only part of who I am. It does not consume me. It has undoubtedly helped contribute to whom I've become, but I don't dwell on it or feel sorry for myself. I am so much more than a person living with a chronic illness and I try to focus my energy on my other attributes.
- Having perspective. A part of what keeps me grounded and humble is keeping focus on the silver lining. If you look hard enough, there is a silver lining in even the hardest of situations. When I am at the hospital, I love having a view of the hospital's helipad -- not because it's cool to watch the med flights -- but because it is a constant reminder that things could be so much worse, and that I have a ton to be grateful for. There is no denying that life with a chronic illness is tough at times, but how we view and respond to those challenges is 100 percent up to us.
- Believing in a greater power. It doesn't have to be anything religious, but connecting with something larger and more powerful than yourself can bring you such inner peace -- especially during the hard times. I personally find nature to be particularly powerful. Being out in nature keeps me grounded, and reminds me just how small I am and what a gift this wonderful world is.
- Acting with humility. How I treat the people around me is a direct reflection of how I am feeling on the inside. Being a kind human being is far more significant than being wealthy or at the top of my game. It is also the gift that keeps giving back. At one of my lowest points, when it felt like CF was taking over, I was so overwhelmed by my thoughts and needed to get out of my own head -- and fast! So I began performing small random acts of kindness, and the more I did, the happier I became. It was actually quite amazing and ties into my final point …
- Feeling fulfilled. Finding something that makes my soul come alive is the jackpot -- and doing something that contributes to the greater good is even better! I believe that each and every one of us has been put here for a reason, and that using our gifts to make a difference (no matter how big or how small) in the world around us is how our own personal success becomes contagious and creates a ripple effect. Whether it be the world-at-large, the CF community or just your tiny nook of the earth, you can make a big difference!
So, it doesn't matter whether you're out running marathons or making the most of life on disability, we all have an equal opportunity to be successful. It is not what we do that defines us, but who we are.