preface: this is a topic i’ve been thinking a lot about. i’m interested in your opinions on the definition of success and how to reach it. please add your views to this post. challenge my post if you dare! 🙂
what is success? i know how we usually define it–wealth/power/sex/fame. if i say that joe is a successful guy, i picture joe leaving his home on the beach, driving to work in his silver z3, thinking about the diving trip he’s going to be taking to the cancun in a couple of weeks, and maybe also thinking about the new starlet girlfriend he’ll be taking with him. Or maybe joe’s got a family, and lives in 20000 square feet, and takes his wife and kids and his boat up to waterski on lake powell on the weekends.
i think that when we seek after success what we really are looking for is happiness. the world equates success with happiness. i mean, if you’re dating or married to tom cruise or liz hurley, you can’t be miserable, right? if you’ve got designer homes or penthouse apartments in manhattan, london, maui, and malibu and your own jet to get to all of these places, aren’t you at least a bit happier than the rest of us?
all you have to do is look at the supermarket tabloids or the more legit news sources to see that those who have it all, like nicole kidman, river phoenix, the kennedies, members of the british royalty, et al, don’t seem any closer to happiness than the rest of us. they have the advantage of wallowing in their misery while being rubbed down by a private masseusse next to their pool lined with marble tile imported from italy on their estate. 🙂
after long online chats with josh and aaron about this topic, i’ve come up with a few ideas about the nature of success. first of all, success should be defined in terms of happiness instead of in the traditional terms described above, because i think that happiness is the ultimate end. i find this encouraging, because i know a number of poor but happy people (don’t get me wrong, poverty does not equal success). anyone can attain a state of happiness regardless of their connections and material possessions. i think that people find their contentment from different sources: from doing the work they enjoy with diligence and integrity; from following their passions; through hours of quiet contemplation and meditation; and through closeness to their parents, spouses and children, or through teaching or serving others.
second, the only lasting happiness/success comes from helping others. this is my personal opinion. perhaps this does not apply to everyone. based on my own personal experience, having stuff only makes me want more stuff (replace stuff with sex and attention and i get the same) and gives me only momentary satisfaction. the time i invest in friends, family, students, and even in people i barely know has always paid the greatest dividends in terms of deep satisfaction. much of the drive in creating this site and writing these posts has been in the hope that i can reach out and make a life or two better.
to me, the truly successful people in this world are the people who willingly sacrifice their lives in the service of others. the gandhis, the dalai lamas, the mother or father who find joy in their child’s delight, the retired jewish guy who works the soup kitchen on christmas so that the christian volunteers can spend the day with their families, the guy who spends hours with me and and other struggling students each week so that he can pass his passion for the bagpipes on to a new generation, the guy who drops law school for elementary education and then rejects a job at the well-funded elementary school in the posh side of town to teach in the crime-ridden low-income area–these people set the standards for success in my book.
one exception to this rule that i can think of is people who have all-consuming life-long missions. i don’t know if these people are happy or miserable, but i have a feeling that they would be miserable if they didn’t follow their near-instinctual drive. these people may climb everest alone without carrying any oxygen, preach salvation to people in cameroon, win marathons, paint pictures, build business empires, raise hundreds of foster children, free nations, create websites, etc. i think that these people are immune to what other people think about them. they are the sole arbitrators of whether or not they achieve success.
i just looked over this post and it’s a beast! i’ll be surprised if any of you make it this far. i’m going to close with some words from a rush song: “we each pay a fabulous price for our visions of paradise.” there’s always a tradeoff, but if we reach ture happiness, then are we really sacrificing anything? it seems like the price paid to get there would only make it that much sweeter::