Thursday, October 11, 2012

Success - it's different for everyone.

I wrote the bulk of this post a couple of days ago.  Before I read that horrible, entitled letter from that CEO and blogged about it.  But it turns out that just illustrates my point.


It's a powerful word, isn't it?  If you have it, you are a good person, if you don't, somehow you are failing.

But what is success??  This is something I've pondered a lot over the years.  Our culture has a certain definition for it.  And from that particular point of view, I have not attained success.  I am not making a lot of money, known by a lot of people, or better than all others at the thing I trained for so many years to do.  That's a hard thing to deal with.  But I'm glad I did deal, because through that sense of "failure" (which I no longer see as such), I've come to the conclusion that you have to decide on your own definition of "success" to be truly happy.

I think we would all agree that our culture has created defininitions for people who are "successful".  Those are the people who:

1)  are known by the most people - the famous and infamous.  Movie stars, prolific writers, religious leaders, politicians and serial killers (let's admit it, the serial killers ARE successful at what they do - it's just not a good thing that they do).  You win if more people know you are alive.

2)  make the most money.  If you have a lot of material wealth, our culture thinks you are "successful."  No further explanation is necessary.  If you disagree with this point, I challenge you to prove it.

3)  do one thing better than most of the other people who do it.  If you are a sports star, a famous musician (okay, I can think of some famous musicians who are not actually better at what they do - but I'm more thinking classical than rock), or a really good businessman, then you are considered successful.

Of course, all of these categories overlap - and there are other categories for sure.  But you get the picture.

I read something somewhere that said to be truly successful at something, you had to practice for 10,000 hours - so if you want to be a hockey player, an oil painter, a writer or a cellist, then you need to practice your skills for that amount of time. 

And here is where I will never be successful in my culture's terms.  I have absolutely NO desire to put 10,000 hours into any one activity.  I love to do a variety of things.  I like to be creative, artistic, scientific, I like to ponder philosophy, religion, life after death, politics, economics (well, less on this one, because economics are ulitmately irrelevant - okay, now you can send me a Facebook message telling me how I am wrong on that point), quantum physics, parapsychology, etc.  I like to garden, play the flute, do yoga, draw maps, take photographs, sing, do math, read, be in nature, go to museums, travel, see movies, etc, ad nauseum.  I have broad interests.  And I don't want to spend that amount of time on just one of them.  I am happiest when I have 10 books going on different subjects so I can read whichever one is calling to me at the moment (to tell the truth, I rarely finish any of them - just the really good ones ... the ones that truly speak to my soul.  And very few of them are fiction).  God forbid I have to do the same task over and over again for 10,000 hours - that would be hell.  Allow me to do a little of everything and I am happiest.

So what is success to me?  Being broad-minded, being able to do a variety of things, and being happy.  That last one is the real definition, don't you think?  You are successful if you are happy.  If you are not happy, what is the point in attaining any other kind of success?  So, do what makes you happy.  We need everyone to do what makes them happy - and thank goodness people have different interests.  Some people want to build rockets, others want to dig ditches.  But do what makes you happy because nothing else at all matters than being happy and loving life.

And if you do what really makes you happy, the universe usually steps in and takes care of the rest.

If you haven't seen it yet, you should watch "Being Elmo".  It is a lovely, good-hearted movie about the man, Kevin Clash, who created the character of Elmo on Semsame Street.  It is a really good example of the kind of person I am not - the kind who has a passion for one thing and pursues it doggedly!  He is successful from our culture's point of view, and it is very clear that this man has a huge heart and a love of children.  But they don't talk about his family life at all aside from a reference to him not spending enough time with his daughter and being divorced from his wife (with the good comes the bad).

You can order it from your local library, or it is on Netflix right now.


  1. Hey Sandi,

    This was great, thanks for sharing. P.S You read that thing about 10,000 hours in "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell. xo

  2. Hey Erin! Yes, yes, I did read it in "Outliers" - which, ironcially, I never finished reading. I've tried reading 3 of his books - all well written and interesting, but apparently not interesting enough to keep me going to the end. ADD? Perhaps.


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