What I Need to Succeed

When I saw this tag sticking out of a houseplant at Lowe’s the other day, I was struck with deep, immediate jealousy.


Why didn’t I come with instructions like this? I’ve spent the better part of 43 years of trial and error figuring out exactly what I need to succeed. Some Cliffs Notes sure would’ve come in handy.

And just look at the length of this list. Three measly little things, plant, really? That’s all you need to do well in life? Well, you should be ruling the world by now, covering up the entire tri-state area with your flourishing fronds. But no, you left that to the kudzu.

But this plant inspired me to mentally draft my own list. Much like him, I also need a sunny room, water, and food. Except I need a variety of foods, preferably in solid form, and I need them much more frequently than once every two weeks.

But that’s just the tip of my neediness iceberg.

I also need shelter and safety (from natural and human dangers but also, unlike the rest of you lucky non-celiacs, safety from my #1 nemesis: gluten), clothing and shoes (and they must be comfortable, cute, and preferably festooned with images of animals). I need heat and air conditioning. Coffee. Music. I need to move every day, preferably in the form of Zumba or yoga or flailing about in a pool. I need to collage, to write, and to read. I need to hug small, fuzzy animals. I need enough money to house me in this little condo (which isn’t much) and also to pay vet bills and procure the aforementioned cute shoes, HVAC units, coffee, songs, books, art supplies, gluten-free snacks, etc. (which can get to be kind of much). I need to spend some time with friends and some time alone. I need to feel useful and productive. To love and be loved.

Looking back over this not-so-modest list of needs—which may be longer than the average human’s, but probably not by much—it occurs to me why none of us came with instructions. Our Things I Need to Succeed tags would be so long, they’d end up being like those microscopic-fonted, lengthy software user agreements that nobody has time to read. The universe figured Why bother? Make them figure it out on their own.

Determining what you need to succeed is only about a quarter of the battle. Next you have to figure out how to work all those things into your limited lifespan.

If I weren’t such a dilettante, it’d be simple. I’d budget my time and scrounge every free minute out of my day, and I’d devote it all to my obsession with one thing—say, synchronized swimming. And by now, I’d surely have a gold medal.

Gold medal mouse

Granted, it still wouldn’t be an Olympic medal, it’d be a plastic replica from some group like the Southeastern Regional Society of Synchronized Swimmers, in the Over 40 and Over 5’10” and Had a Hip Replacement and Named Maria Division of synchronized swimmers—but still. Imagine the sweet sweet glory that would be mine.


But no, I have to bop around from thing to thing and enjoy all these different hobbies such that, no matter what I’m doing, there’s room to feel guilty about all those other things I’m neglecting.

During my week of staycation over the holidays, I experimented with constructing the ideal schedule. I tinkered with it all week long, struggling to come up with the minute-by-minute formula for a perfect day. What I found is there aren’t enough hours in each day to do all the things I like to do.

I recently read some advice from Warren Buffet that suggested you write down 25 things you really want to do, then go through it and decide which five things from the list are most important to you. Then throw out the other 20 and avoid them at all costs and never look back, because those 20 are what’s keeping you from getting your top five things accomplished.

But how does anyone pick just five things they want to do? That’d be like saying you can only have five flavors of ice cream for the rest of your life. Even if you cheat and mix flavors (a certain unnamed friend of mine who buys way too much ice cream once told me that Breyer’s chocolate chip ice cream, when mixed with butter pecan, transmutates into a new, magical substance much greater than the sum of its parts), you’re still missing out on a whole lot of deliciousness. Ben and Jerry are out there on the front lines, inventing new flavors every day, and you’re stuck there like a chump, locked into that Neapolitan, because it was all the rage at the time.

That’s when I came to accept the fact that I’m doomed to a life of mediocrity and non-millionairity. I’ll let the rest of y’all super-focused, blinder-wearing, strawberry-ice-cream-eating people have all the dollars and the trophies and the glory. I’ll be over here juggling four books, five collages, and ten terrible poems, as I go straight from Zumba to yoga class, stopping along the way to pet all of the dogs and dodge all of the gluten molecules.


Hey, at least I won’t be bored.

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