Every day we are told that success is doing what we want, when we want, and how we want. Our highest goal, apparently, should be going exactly where we want and doing exactly what we want. Compromise is a sacrifice we should strive to avoid.
Can there be a greater measure of achievement than to take the exact trip you most want to take, watch the movie you most want to see, work at the practice you most want to be in, do the aspect of medicine you most want to do, or eat at the restaurant you most want to visit?
I just got back from a vacation hiking and camping with my family. If I was going alone, or even with only my spouse, I would have camped almost every night. I would have hiked all day long and eaten meals composed mostly of trail mix and peanut butter. It would have been an outdoor deep dive and a near-complete escape from people and the stresses of modern life.
My kids, however, were not excited about hiking or sleeping in a tent every night (my wife was with them on this). They also were not fired up about eating a diet of food that doesn’t require refrigeration. They were instead excited about window shopping, getting ice cream on the regular, checking in with their friends back home, watching netflix shows downloaded on their phones and singing Taylor Swift songs in the rental car.
You can probably guess what happened. We compromised. We hiked about half as much as I would have liked, and did twice as many non-outdoor things as the kids would have wanted. We camped some nights and stayed in cute B&Bs, hotels or motels on others. We ate some trail mix and granola bars, and we also sat down at some restaurants and ate a good amount of afternoon ice cream. We had days without wifi or a cell signal, and we made some stops specifically to let people download a few episodes of favorite shows.
No one got to have their exact perfect vacation, and you know what? It was the perfect vacation. I wouldn’t have traded my time there for anything. Everyone got enough of what they wanted to be happy, and we were all happy together.
It turns out that eating at restaurants everyone is “just okay with” can make for the best meals of our lives. Hikes together can create lifelong memories, even if some people participating would prefer to do other things. Listening to music you are, quite frankly, tired of can be a joyful experience if you embrace the happiness of those around you.
I don’t think success is having everything you want. I think success is being a part of an interconnected and interdependent group (i.e. family, community, team, etc) that does its best to balance everyone’s needs and wishes. The idea that getting exactly what we want as individuals should be our greatest goal is flawed thinking. The sacrifices we make to be together are the price of admission to a more meaningful life.