A Fresh Take On Success

One of philosophy’s charms for me is the opportunity to think, as if for the first time, about the meaning of ideas essential to good living. What is persistence? What is possibility? What is belonging? What is empathy? What is joy? This constant reexamination widens our perspective and guards against our falling into the trap of stale assumptions and preconceptions. I can think of no idea that begs for rethinking more than the idea of success. What is it? I’ve been mulling over the meaning of this concept for some time. Early one morning, awake and ready, I sketched this picture of success: 1) Knowing your own mind and heart. 2) Enduring sickness, ultimately without much hope, and continuing to try without complaint, putting a best foot forward. 3) Feeling afraid and saying so—unafraid to ask for help. 4) Never saying “I’m so busy” as if others don’t have responsibilities. 5) Assuming no sense of entitlement. 6) Leaning into each day with gratitude, realizing that our lives exist only as a dream for most of the world…if the dream can even be imagined. 7) Saying the words “I am sorry,” willing to work on self-improvement. 8) Refusing to play by the rules when the rules are wrong. 9) Not pretending your suffering away, facing it head on, and coming out the other side. 10) Viewing a leisurely picnic as a marvelous gift, an accomplishment. 11) Opting for a gentle approach when hard and tough appears easier, safer. 12) Standing tall for those without a voice. 13) Participating in a conversation that warms as an embrace. 14) Like a baseball pitcher with a good fastball, you keep bringin’ it, every day. 15) Listening openly to people with whom you disagree. 16) Offering kindness when responding to someone who has wronged you. 17) Calling the universe home. 18) Despite painful awareness of suffering both near and far, choosing to love the world anyway and creating a life in the light.

My friend Floyd, still bringin' it, with a smile, in his eighth decade.

Not one thought of money occurred to me while painting this picture. I can’t overstate the dire consequences for all of us in defining success in financial terms only. Zeroing in on the dollar as the key to success skews the meanings of education and happiness, devalues relationship, widens the gap between rich and poor, and saps compassion.

I’ll keep working on my perspective on success. What does success mean to you? Will your understanding guide your actions well?