Paul and I spent the New Years weekend with my friend Linda, her sister Adele, her son David, and his daughters, Kaitlin and Bralin. We had a loving and fun time playing board games, and eating and visiting. On New Years morning Adele and I were doing dishes and talking about weight and appearances. We were on the same page as far as being tired of the emphasis put on women’s appearance, and how society says we’re supposed to look.
As we discussed thinness, clothes, and hair, I found myself remembering how important appearances were to my family. The message was, and still is to a certain extent, that success is judged by external qualities. If a person had a good job, a nice car, was thin and wore nice clothes, had a good education, was wealthy, and had a lot of stuff, they were considered successful. Not too long ago, my mother was talking about a couple of my cousins’ children. In describing them, she said one had a big job as a head coach, and the other was a doctor who had married a doctor. She remarked how successful these two boys were.
I said, “Wait a minute. How do you know they’re successful?”
Her response, “Because they have college degrees and big jobs.”
Stymied, I asked, “So, does that make them successful?”
“Why of course. They have everything they want.”
I realize how easy it is to equate success with what the external looks like. This culture prizes youth, thinness, wealth, education, nice houses, pretty cars, and lots of stuff. Having these things can be a measure of success, but it’s limited to what we have and what we look like, and has nothing to do with who we are. When we get caught up in the trappings of societal norms, and what money can buy, we can lose sight of what’s really valuable, like compassion, joy, contentment, self-love, quietness, contemplation, meditation, and kindness.
I’m not saying my cousins’ children are not successful, because they may be wildly so. However, I use an internal barometer to measure the level of success that allows me to be at peace in the midst of it all. If you have it all but are not happy in life, I would think that what you had would not be a true measure of success. You might be successful by the world’s standards, and if that’s what matters, then I bless you and wish you well. But, for those who are wanting more than what the world offers, there can be other yardsticks for success. I am by no means the be-all, know-it-all, or end-all about life and what matters. I can only speak from my heart and my truth. So, when I’m considering the measure of success, I ask these questions.
Do I like and appreciate the fullness of who I am?
Can I go with the flow of life, instead of fighting what’s present?
Do I practice self-care and compassion for creation?
Am I involved in humanity and in making a difference on the planet?
These are just a few signposts that I believe measure true success in life.
My brother was telling me the other day about one of his good friends who had committed suicide. He could not understand why this man would not want to live. He told me the man had everything: money, personal possessions, freedom, and good health. I said, “Yes, but that doesn’t mean he had peace of mind.” We can have it all externally and be unhappy, because we have to live with self. When I look in the mirror I see me, I take myself to bed, to work, on trips, and out to play. I may change locations, jobs,and/or relationships, but no matter, I’m still there. I can’t get rid of who I am, and I know within when I am content living with me. There is nothing on earth that can take the place of self-love and acceptance for life as it is, and when I have that I believe I am successful.
by Ralph Waldo Emerson
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the
affection of children;
To earn the approbation of honest critics and endure
the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give of one’s self;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and
sung with exultation;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived —
This is to have succeeded.
Now that you know what Ralph Waldo Emerson and I use to measure success, I’d be interested in your idea of what it means to be successful? Won’t you please take a few minutes and complete this poll? I’ll post the results next week.