There was very little contest on what I needed this week to motivate myself (besides a good Kdrama, of course). Starting today, hundreds of thousands–even millions–of American High School students are finding renewed faith in whatever God or power they believe in. The reason? AP Testing. The moment these calculus, chemistry and physics students have been working towards has arrived, and on some level every examine-ee is freaking out. These tests determine college credit, open doors and sometimes make the difference between an acceptance letter and heartbreak. More than that, though, it’s a goal they’ve focused on all year. I myself will take the AP Chinese Culture and Language exam this Thursday, and all the stress of “am I prepared enough” has spurred on some interesting reflections of success in my life.
Being human, I desire to lead a successful life. But what, the anguished soul cries, does that mean?! Is it recognition for what you’ve done right? Is it the achievement of your goals? Is it impacting those around you? Money, fame, power, what? And if I don’t get a 5 on this test, am I a failure?
A few different real life examples can tell us what success is not, at least:
- It’s not recognition of action (fame). To say so would be to say the multitude of those who risked–lost–their lives protecting Jews in the 1940s were not successful humans. That the man who anonymously donates $1,000 to help a student pay for college is a failure. This one’s hard to prove because if we know all about how they were successful, then they have been recognized. Awkward. In my opinion, however, the value of an action lies in the action itself, not the result–I’m a Deontologist, not a Consequentialist. But Lloyd C. Douglas took this idea a step further in his book Magnificent Obsession. His concept is that the act of telling someone else actually detracts from the success and power of the act. I don’t know about that, but it certainly does add a new element of pride to the equation.
- Success is not the achievement of your goals (money, if that’s your goal). Wait what? But I thought my 5 AP score determined the rest of my life, value and success! No. Just no. Earnest Shackleton set out to cross the Antarctic in early 1900s. Instead of achieving that, he spent a year and a half fighting to keep his crew alive. He never did cross the Antarctic, but not a single crew member died during the ordeal. That, to me, is success. You won’t get everything you want in this life, and if your success hinges on achieving your goals you’re in for a lot of heartbreak when some of them don’t work out.
- It’s not impact and influence (power). I’m not a public speaker, I don’t like being the face of anything. I like to think I can be impactful, but to be bluntly honest my words get so jumbled in my head I often wonder if people even understood what I said. That said, I also consider myself a terribly successful individual. If all I do is get up in the morning, fight back the dark voice in my head and commit to trying that day, I have succeeded. I haven’t yet done anything to impact the masses–or even a single person–but myself. But I am successful.
That’s because I believe success is a mindset. Success is a contentment and peace you really just need to choose to have. It means standing up every time you get knocked down. It means missing your goals, looking at the mess and saying “that was a mess. Better luck next time, and boy did I learn a lot!” There’s absolutely no reason, if you’ve recognized what you did wrong, to dwell on it rather than change it. In a religious sense, Christ suffered so we don’t have to, if we’ll just pick ourselves up and try again next time. Success is growth, and if you haven’t given up then you’ve succeeded.
What defines your success?