Measuring Success

Avery Ashwill - Brazil

February 26, 2013

I came to Brazil with a yard stick. Physically, no, that would be absurd, but mentally, yes. I had this idea that I would use this yard stick to measure my success. There were three elements that I decided should count for one foot of my yard stick: apprenticeship, host family, and personal growth.

So I arrived. And I waited. I waited for things that I could write off in my journal as success. I waited for events that could count as an inch on my yard stick. But they never came. And here’s why. My standard unit of measure was way off. Turns out they use the metric system down here. All jokes aside, my definition of an inch was so grand that it was impossible to reach. But before I could change my definition of an inch I had to learn some lessons first. Lessons like: success isn’t always quantifiable. And that success is almost never generated by one sole event. I see now that success is not only a compilation of moments but also a myriad of emotions.

So now, instead of looking for things I can put a checkmark next to as a forum for succes, I try and write down one thing a day that impressed me, surprised me, was new or felt important. I consider the fact that I’ve had dreams in Portuguese a success. And I don’t think it’s a bold claim to say that my teenage host sister giving me a hug and a kiss before bed is a success. Being invited to walk down the beach because I’m considered good company is definitely a success. And confessing that I don’t like acarajé, a typical Bahian snack, without coming off as snobby, is, in fact, a huge success.

These things may not sound like a lot, but often times I find that shifting to the little things that felt good during the day can help relieve some of the stress surrounding the presumed failures. We have to understand that not everything we do is a recipe for success. Sometimes, tweaking ingredients is the only way to come up with a flawless cake. And often times, when our cake fails to rise, instead of looking at the limp dessert, we have to close our eyes and appreciate the extra bit of sugar and vanilla that went into that particular endeavor.

But this isn’t about baking. This is about finally starting to see the success in my year in Brazil. This is about when I stumble over a phrase, remembering my dreams. This is about when I sit up late at night wondering why I’m in Brazil, thinking about how sweet it is to have people that enjoy spending time with me. This is about when my apprenticeship looks bleak, finding comfort in knowing that I work with people I respect and who respect me. Maybe you think a yard stick is too long or too short of a measure, but considering all the success I have daily, I would like to modestly propose that a yard stick is the perfect size.

Avery Ashwill