On Success, and how to make it yours...
We live in a society which has a very limited and narrow definition of success, and it’s usually measured by money, fame, and beauty. To be successful means to have all three, and on some occasions (many!), the standard of beauty is set by the other two.
Throughout the centuries, these canons have been redefined many times: beauty has morphed from plumpness and roundness into thinness and angles; money has morphed from spices, water or cocoa beans into gold and oil. Fame has been highlighted by unlimited concepts, from piety to outrageous behaviour, from unrepented violence to infinite kindness.
Each culture and age redefine these three pillars as they see fit, and thus the model remains. Can it be escaped? Perhaps it can. Perhaps we can re-define success at a personal level, rather than following the cultural norms. It might sound dangerous, but if you look at it from the perspective that your definition of success belongs only to you, and has zero impact on others, then, why not? Worst case scenario, it will increase your self-esteem and make you a happier individual.
So, how can redefine personal success? Here’s a great example of someone “famous” I admire greatly, who was able to define success in different terms:
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
We can use Emerson’s poem to soul search. Imagine today’s your last day on earth and you have to impart your wisdom on what has made you the best version you could be: what did you do great? What did you let go of? What made you happy? What made you sad? What was your gift to others? What do you value most?
Make a list with all these moments or virtues that make you feel you have succeeded, no matter how small it might be. Ignore the voice in your head that might be saying “that’s not what others think” or “that’s not so great”. You are you, and you will be your best version and most successful at being you. That doesn’t necessarily mean you are perfect, are done learning, or done changing/improving yourself. It only means that you can aim at being or staying successful by remembering this poem-recipe you will be writing next. Use Emerson’s poem as the starting point, and re-define what success means to you. Here’s my version:
To farewell and welcome people as easily as you send-off agonizing humidity, and greet heavy summer rains on your bare skin;
To plant a seed, and watch it grow, feeding and nurturing others;
To be the recipient of a dog’s fond stare, and offer a flabby tummy they perceive as the most comfortable pillow;
To create; and translate an idea into something, be it art, be it folly;
To remember our own wondrous or sordid stories, and see change, yet still recognize our essence;
THIS is to have succeeded.
-- B.M. Whitton