The Telegram (St. John's)
Look at you
Quick, name the three main indicators of success.
If you were quick, I would bet all my debt load that you immediately shouted “fame and fortune!” Right? That’s if you were quick about it. But you may have had to hesitate on the third indicator.
When I thought for two or three moments I realized there was a lot more to this little exercise than meets the eye, especially mine and probably yours. Consider that your eye and mine are fairly typical of the modern Western civilization eye, God help us. The definition of success is bound to be a little warped.
Understand I’m tackling this difficult subject only for your greater edification. There are lots of other things I would rather be doing. Fishing.
It strikes me that a proper understanding of the term can only be reached through examining the lives of people who are understood to be successful. If I were to ask you off the top of your head to name a successful person, you might be forgiven for immediately thinking of someone who has reached the pinnacle of his or her profession or calling or vocation. The name Donald Trump might come to mind, although I’m not sure you would be forgiven for that.
All things considered, he is arguably the most powerful man on Earth. Can’t rise much higher than that. But when you do consider all things, it is difficult to sink much lower, given the name associated with the criteria. He is not Justin Trudeau. He is not even Angela Merkel.
Obviously the criteria have to be modified and carefully stated. Suppose we said that one reliable indicator of success is the degree to which he is admired and respected by his fellows. Sounds good, although it immediately dismisses Trump, especially if we add the rider “universal.” Of course he is rich, if it’s a key to success.
On the other hand, it will include Wayne Gretzky, especially for people in the sporting fraternity, hockey division. Music and the visual arts? Hmmm.
I’m told there are porn stars who are widely respected and considered highly successful. Perhaps the respect net has to be cast a little wider.
I’m not doing well with expounding on this success business and what and who it is or could be. What is the universal criteria for success? Or is there any such thing?
I think there is. But the criteria have to be so all-inclusive that they are rarely found in one individual. In the last dozen decades or so, I can think only two.
Perhaps the greatest “success” story of them all in human and political terms has been Nelson Mandela. No one is more universally admired. Yet he, too, has his detractors.
Winston Churchill is rightfully credited with saving the world from Hitler. Yet shortly after the Second World War ended, the British people would not elect him as their peacetime leader. Perhaps we should cut Brother Trump a little slack. Cannot believe I am saying that name in company with the other two, and in that context.
In retrospect, I think I may be looking in the wrong places for a meaningful definition of success. Or someone who exemplifies it. Much like some people who look straight up when you ask them where heaven is. Same mistake. Like heaven, success is a highly subjective and individual concept. It only has meaning when seen in specific contexts and situations. One size does not fit all.
You want to find someone who has made a success of her life, don’t look only to the rich and famous. Stop searching the heavens. Look to the one nearest to you, or the lady next door. Consider a woman with six or eight children who refuses to leave them to the abuses of the father. She will not abandon them, although a large part of that abuse is heaped on her. I remember a woman who stayed with her elderly father long after he was confined to bed. The house caught fire one night. Her body was found kneeling next to his bed. She stayed to comfort him to the end. Her life was one great success story.
Our friends include people who care for others because the need is there. Often no one else knows about it. I also know people who regard their lives as failures because they compare themselves with others, and see nothing in their own lives as worthy of mention.
Could you, at this moment, identify from those around you people whose lives are certainly successes? Chances are you have already missed the most obvious one.
What is the universal criteria for success? Or is there any such thing?
Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is email@example.com.