How do we measure success?

Sarah and Simon

Sarah and Simon

This blog was written by our daughter Sarah and first posted on her blog Killultales, which you will find here.

This has been on my mind a lot recently.  My insecurities about my own career ‘success’ were compounded this week by the the myriad (often self aggrandising) social media posts and news features on International Women’s Day (IWD) about women who have smashed the glass ceiling before they turned 30, who are changing the world in their gap year, who have become millionaires overnight, and more.

Naively, I was expecting IWD news stories primarily to be raising awareness of the opression of women being trafficked for sex.  To be drawing our attention to those women around the world who die during or after childbirth, or lose their babies, because they haven’t got access to basic healthcare for themselves and their families.  For those women who still don’t have the right to make their own decisions about work and family life, who are forced to marry young or to undergo FGM.

There certainly are issues of gender inequality in the UK, and these should not be ignored.  But the more I read about IWD this past week, the more I felt women were being encouraged to stop at nothing for the sake of achieving success in a way that society can measure.

Don’t feel bad about missing out on school plays, concerts and sporting events – the dads don’t… 
There’s social care for a reason, so get someone in to meet the needs of your family.  Don’t be held back by the age old assumption that the women will provide the care.
Don’t forget to prioritise your ‘me time’.  You need to have some down time from the busyness of juggling everything.

So what are we modelling to our children?  That we should pursue our dreams at all costs?  Not to worry about family, they’ll muddle through when we don’t have time for them and we’ll expect them to show up to celebrate our successes anyway?

We live in a country where one fifth of the population say they are lonely.  There’s a Minister for Loneliness.  There’s a Campaign for Loneliness.

Perhaps we have it all wrong.  Instead of celebrating women succeeding in a man’s world, we should be changing the measure of success.

Men and women who seek to balance personal and professional life should be celebrated, because that is really hard.

I read an article recently about a gentleman whose mother was diagnosed with dementia.  He left his job, rented out his home, and moved in with his mum to care for her.  He misses his job, friends and colleagues and is losing out in terms of career, but feels this is a once in a lifetime chance to show her how important she is to him.

I read an article about a barrister returning from maternity leave whose clerk now contacts Court in advance of her appearing, to request that the judge will rise at intervals to allow her to breastfeed or express milk for her baby.  This enables her to prioritise caring for and bonding with her child whist remaining committed to her clients.

I have a husband who has repeatedly taken jobs with reduced salary and career opportunities to ensure that he can be home in time to bath the boys every day and tell them crazy bedtime stories.  Not only am I enormously grateful for this, but the boys love spending time on their own with him and shun me at least once a year for “boys’ holiday with dad”.

Everyone should be supported in striving to achieve all that they can in their career.  We should stop measuring success in terms of fame, or reaching the top no matter what.  The things we might have to neglect in pursuit of this sort of success really matter.  Family.  Friends.  Mental health.  The loss of these compound the problem of loneliness in our busy society.

IWD 2019 got me thinking about the people who have had most impact in my life, who exhibit the characteristics I’d like the boys to develop.

They’re there in our everyday life: friends and acquaintances who take the time to ask how things are going; neighbours who pop by to check all is well because it’s been a while; strangers who stop to offer encouragement when someone is struggling with a teary toddler, to offer a hand when someone falls; people who volunteer their time at community groups to play with little ones or sit with the infirm, giving exhausted carers a breather; and listeners who listen.

There’s a million more things to say on this topic.  But, if you’ve made it this far, don’t worry, I’m stopping now!  May your week ahead hold opportunities for you to show support to those around you, and to benefit from the same yourself.


Ruth and Uel

They joined us two years ago. We called them Ruth and Uel. At first, they were easy house guests, happy to stay at home all day while we were out at the office. They enjoyed the sunshine streaming through the living room window and, as long as we gave them plenty of water to drink, all was well. We have quite a lot of visitors and, at meal times, Ruth and Uel sat close to the table and listened intently to every conversation. Just like their namesakes (known to some of you, I’m sure), they were quiet and unobtrusive. After a few months, they really needed to spend some time outside, so we let them stay in the back garden during the day, taking care to bring them inside every evening before dark. Then the summer heat came and we were able to leave them outside day and night without any problems. Finally, last spring, it seemed the back garden wasn’t really big enough for both of them, so we separated them and moved Uel to a nice spot at the front of the house. They are both well settled now and seem likely to be here long after we leave.

‘Wouldn’t it be nice to leave an Irish oak tree in the Netherlands?’ said Uel (the acorn donor, two years ago). Looks like we have exceeded that by leaving two! That got me thinking about what else we might be leaving behind when our time in Nieuw Vennep and Amsterdam is over: will our neighbours be saying; ‘I remember those Irish people – they planted two Irish oak trees’, or will there be something more enduring than that?