Are you a success?
How would you define success? What’s more, are you a success?
“S-U-C-C-E-S-S — that’s the way we spell success” was a frequent chant by my high school cheerleading squad during our basketball games. And, in this case, it was to encourage our team to win the game. But over the years, I came to understand that success had additional and deeper meanings.
My first understanding of that word was when I was in school. I was a success when I got 100% on my spelling test and got a gold star. I had completed the task perfectly. And so the bar had been set. When I failed to get 100%, I didn’t get the gold star. It made me feel as though I had failed even though my score was still high. And at home, my parents demanded to know why I hadn’t gotten 100%. They were upset. They were angry. I realized that I had done something wrong, at least in their eyes. I put more and more pressure on myself to study and study and study for those tests. And the stress mounted. In the evening, a whip-poor-will calling in the woods outside my window would keep me company with its call as I tried to remember what I needed to know for my upcoming test. I grew to hate test taking, anxiously waiting for the test to be over.
In high school and college, I excelled in writing papers. That was a totally different experience for me and I finally could look forward to that form of evaluation of my knowledge on a particular subject. Also, I could work on it over time so the pressure wasn’t there. I could jump into a topic and explore it. That was great!
Over time I grew to realize that being successful means more than a grade on a test. It means setting a goal and reaching that goal through honest hard work. It could be running a race and doing the best I can do, not necessarily coming in first. It could mean fixing an engine that had ceased to run or baking a souffle that doesn’t fall. For older people, success may be defined as the ability to get out of bed unaided in the morning or being able to take a walk even with persistent pain. Whatever we focus our mind and body on has the potential for success upon completion.
Being successful at a task can give each of us a feeling of joy, a feeling of completion, maybe even cementing a desire to repeat the task to improve on the result. We feel proud of ourselves, gaining more confidence and handling future disappointments better. We are more willing to try something new. But what about being a successful person? That’s a bit more complicated.
In our culture, there is a tendency to see wealth as proof of success, but that only describes a financial state. It may have been inherited, not requiring much hard work at all. When I was young I thought that people who had lots of money were successful; I did not realize what being a successful person really means. Actually, having lots of money is not a requirement at all.
After some thought I concluded that not only does a successful person set a goal, honestly work hard and actually achieve the goal, that person needs to have and show compassion for others who did not quite make it. Being persistent, determined and quick to learn a skill is among the required qualities as is being a people person — kind, polite and considerate. Forethought — the ability to see the possible consequences — is essential. Being a quick thinker, able to adjust and adapt to changing situations, is a plus. A successful person is a leader — able to gather people to focus on a common goal. And that person also has the ability to accept failure as a precursor and initiator for improvement, seeing the lesson derived from that experience. There’s no need to blame others for any failure.
But with some, success can have negative effects, becoming a vehicle for boasting, using the power of success to belittle others. It becomes the instrument of bullies. Also, we can become so focused as to become driven to an unhealthy degree, possibly prioritizing the goal over everything and everyone else in our life.
Mother Nature gives us examples everywhere of success. The seed that sprouts, grows leaves and blossoms, producing seeds for future generations is one such example. And what does it require to achieve that goal? It needs the heat of the sun so it can produce leaves which can manufacture the chlorophyll it requires. It needs healthy soil filled with microbes, mycelium and minerals to germinate and grow into a strong and sturdy plant. It needs water so it can transport nutrition through its roots and stems to its leaves. And it needs oxygen to be absorbed so it can release the carbon dioxide we need to breathe. It needs these ingredients in order to survive, in order to be successful.
Whatever positive action we use our mind and body for can qualify as success as seen through the eyes of the beholder — us! In that light, we can all become successful people. And we can experience the joy that comes from achieving success.
As the plant blossoms with a bright and beautiful flower, giving joy to all who see it, we too can blossom through our successes as we live our life, each and every day — loving where we are and loving what we’re doing. It’s really about sharing our gifts with others and sharing a positive attitude as we live our life. The feeling of success comes from within us, deep within us.
So, I ask you again. Are you a success?
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Debby Havas is an author living in Jay. Her writings describe her experiences in the healing energies of Mother Nature.