Can we define success?


Bird Droppings January 24, 2013
Can we define our own success?

Yesterday in a teachable moment I drew upon my experiences and while discussing the phylum arthopoda and one of my favorites the black and yellow garden spider, Agriope aurantia, or writing spiders. I then proceeded to offer a Creek Indian view of early morning. Few see this unless you go out early in the morning. I will often go and sit watching the sun rise in the east. If you look carefully through the weeds and grass in the wee hours of morning you can see gossamer strands of spider silk literally touching everything. Creeks will call this the web of life where all is connected and as I told the story for my teachable moment this group of ninth graders all were silent listening.
I left yesterday with several critical calls to make, errands to run and several feelings of people I needed to see and or talk with. As I traveled about going to a meeting a day late for a former student to start there were quite a few people along the journey. I spoke with a retired Air Force electronics expert who had two years ago undertaken a vision quest with the Blackfeet tribe in the western US. I ran into several former and present students, parents and friends of mine. I would consider yesterday very much a success. As I went through the day yesterday I thought about what is it the idea of being successful? Is there some magically way we can tell if we are successful in what we do?
Going deeper in thought I would like to consider myself successful at what I do and I think most people would want to feel this way. Wanting to be successful however has its basis on how you define success. It has been nearly twelve years since a fellow teacher handed me an article by Sydney J. Harris, a prolific writer and columnist from thirty five years ago. Harris at one time was syndicated in over four hundred papers.

“You only have to be a little bit better than most in what you do. Just a little smarter, just a little steadier, just a little more energetic, or whatever other prime quality is demanded in your field. If successes admitted this, they would not have cause to feel so conceited; and if the aspirants recognized this, they would not have cause to feel so left behind at the starting line.” Sydney J. Harris “Success is just a little more effort” from his column Strictly Speaking

As I read this passage I realized how true it is. So often it is one more step, another few words, fifteen more minutes that make the difference between success and failure or in being just average. In high school it is sadly getting seventy percent and passing is considered successful by far too many and some do not succumb and try to attain better. It is not that difficult to be a little better than most but we often see that as too much work or effort. This is not strictly limited to students teachers as well fall into the taking the easier road syndrome as well. If a teacher choses to only do seventy percent just what is needed and is working with seventy percent students that equates to about forty nine percent of what should have been learned and is a failure in most societies. I often wonder and I am a procrastinator myself what constitute too much effort or too much work.

“The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.” Pearl S. Buck

Being of a monastic nature I find some days this to be difficult, to include others. However we need others to succeed in life and to move ahead if only to provide support. Succeeding is more often than not an effort of a group rather than just one person.

“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

I have heard this quote so many times at commencement speeches in lectures on success by motivational speakers and yet each time a little more of it sinks in. Perhaps Emerson was ahead of his time as I read his words the last two lines; it becomes so significant that success is having made another’s life easier a very powerful statement in our selfish society of excess and greed.

“It is only as we develop others that we permanently succeed.” Harvey S. Firestone

Success is how we leave others as we walk away, the difference we make the level at which we make change in the environment around and in some instances our ability to not make change and still accomplish something.

“My definition of success is total self-acceptance. We can obtain all of the material possessions we desire quite easily, however, attempting to change our deepest thoughts and learning to love ourselves is a monumental challenge. We may achieve success in our business lives but it never quite means as much if we do not feel good inside. Once we feel good about ourselves inside we can genuinely lend ourselves to others.” Victor Frankl

Seeing ourselves clearly, honestly, and learning to like to even love ourselves is crucial to truly succeeding. Success is about us and how we affect the world and others. Success can be a minute difference we make in what is happening around us. Success can be a simple elevation of a friend or attainment of a goal. Success is effort yet success can be attained with the heart as well as the body.

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer

As I was reading quotes and articles today to write this morning it was interesting how success was defined by various people down through history. Many wealthy people defined success in terms of accumulation of wealth and yet others looked at the word as a gauge of human involvement. There are numerous different approaches and comparisons that are available as I looked, accomplishment, outcome, and achievement were all listed as definitive words for success as I read.
As I think back to two of the quotes I used today Dr. Schweitzer spoke of happiness as the key, this man was a musician extraordinaire he played in concert halls all over Europe and used those funds to run a hospital in Africa in the 1930’s till his death many years later. His success in life was his practice of medicine where he was needed. Emerson as he indicates defines success as that difference you make in another’s life. As I look closer at myself I truly believe success is a word needing others to define. It is about your impact and difference you make on others and success is not measured as much in volumes as in quality. If we take quality as defined by Phillip Crosby which is exceeding expectations and draw a loose simple parallel. Then success is exceeding others expectations. A week is drawing to an end and as I have for many years now ended my daily entries please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

Wa de (Skee)
bird

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