Reject Success, Embrace Wonder

Jesse Meadows
4 min readSep 27, 2021

I don’t “have my shit together” and I’m not trying to hack my life — I have other priorities.

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

The hero’s journey is perhaps our most ubiquitous cultural narrative: the protagonist, our hero, goes out into the wilds, suffers, learns, finds something, and brings it back home to share. Most of our modern day hero stories center around success, like a superhero who stops the bad guy and saves the world, but I would argue that is not the only way we could view the hero’s journey.

We could also think of it as the pursuit of wonder — that moment when you see something you’ve never seen before, or learn something new, and the moment when you share the wonder you have found with another person.

Watching the lights spark in someone’s eyes when they realize what you’ve realized, this is part of the experience of wonder, too. You don’t have to save the world. The goal doesn’t have to be success. It can be wonder instead.

We are trained from birth to consider success the ultimate goal, the alternative to success being failure. But there are other ways to think about failure, too.

“The queer art of failure turns on the impossible, the improbable, the unlikely, and the unremarkable. It quietly loses, and in losing it imagines other goals for life, for love, for art, and for being,” writes Jack Halberstam. He sees failure as a kind of resistance, a rebellion against capitalism’s requirement that we succeed.

By the standards of the Protestant, capitalist culture I grew up in, I am a failure. I have not lived up to the career expectations placed on me by the “academic giftedness” of my youth, I have not married a man, I do not own any assets, and I have not had any children. I am tolerated, but not celebrated.

But success, the kind that this culture recognizes, does not sound like anything I want. My ambivalence about money is perplexing — people can’t understand why I don’t try to make more of it, why I have “settled” for making just enough to survive. But I embrace my “failure” at capitalism because I value other things more, like art, and learning, and my own health. Trying to succeed on society’s terms drove me to illness, and it probably would have killed me early if I hadn’t stopped.

Jesse Meadows

writer + digital artist doing critical adhd studies + re-politicizing mental health | they/them