Redefining Success


A good week. Blustery. Overcast with shouts of sun. I translated like a machine, albeit perhaps taking a little more joy from the process – for I love translating, truly do, stitching together words, assembling and rearranging sentences as if sewing together a patchwork quilt. Seeing where each one fits – like a cryptic crossword or a particularly thorny game of chess.

I wonder if, years from now, reading back on my recollections from these months and the repeating ribbon of weeks – tube, translate, tube, a pocket of hours for dinner, sleep before it all begins anew the next morning – I will still recall the faces of those who populate my working days, still remember the cadence of their voices and the familiar rhythm of my editor’s footsteps, bounding into the office with enthusiasm to rival a puppy. I wonder if I’ll remember how much I loved my daily walk through Regent’s Park, how I worried sometimes, or sneaked out early when the work was finished, slinking down the stairs and straight out of the door catching nobody’s eyes. That’s the peculiar and forgettable thing about the present: it feels so solid and permanent, as we’re living it, even though change could be just around the corner. It so often comes suddenly and all at once – like a meteor racing across the sky, a firework blooming into the black of night, a blossom tree shaded pink overnight.

Professional life has been hard lately, the feeling of being stuck in a rut and a consequent low mood that reminds me of those days in early January when the sky is hued like mildew and the pavements are laced thick with mud. There have been bouts of difficulty that have forced me to take stock and acknowledge my limitations, but these doubts have been interspersed with moments of pure joy and I’ve been reminded of how so much of life is not clear-cut, not smooth and perfected like the sheet of ice on a winter lake or the airbrushed pictures in the magazines. Variety is the spice of life, they say, and as I age, I’m realising how true that is. Life is about the shades, and the greys, the borders and the edges. It’s rarely black and white.

So much of life, especially in London, is focused on work and success and I’ve been trying to remind myself that, in the grand scheme of things, that’s not really what matters. My life outside of the office is rich in wonder – family, friends, his comforting arms, good homemade grub, morning coffee and evening wine, reading novels so gripping that I forget I’m smashed into five other bodies on the Circle line. Writing, taking photographs, buying bunches of baby’s breath and arranging them on our scratched pine dresser. I am loved. I am so lucky to have the support of so many people, my sweet M and friends scattered across the globe like thumbtacks on a map, and a job and a home and legs to carry me.

This week we had dinner parties, two in a row. A pair of old friends arrived at dusk for noodles and fizz, courses punctuated by laughter and memories, plans for the future and recollections. The next evening, his Finnish friend visited for a singing lesson, bringing with her a native delicacy – Astrid’s cake, chocolate dusted with icing sugar – which we preceded with veggie chilli and giggled until our stomachs ached.

All this to say – success, in the cookie cutter sense, isn’t everything. You are not your job or your income or your degree grade or the people you choose to spend your time with. Just as you are not the way you look, your insecurities or your resume. I find it difficult to remember this sometimes – other times, I know for sure that the marrow of life is the small, good stuff: the dinners, the mornings of tangled limbs and mugs of tea, the afternoon walks, the things that fill you up with happiness and make you forget the hard parts. Now the task is to remember this all the time. I’m on my way to Birmingham, writing this curled up on the train as it races past golden fields and sun-soaked meadows, to celebrate a birthday. So I think, today, I’m doing alright.