How do you define it? What does society say, and what does that say about our values? How is success changing and what do we want it to be? Is success something to strive for? Does this question pertain to our economic situation? Our perception of safety?
While I was a high school student, we once had a motivational speaker who came ostensibly to tell us not to do drugs (he was a former Mr. Universe and claimed not to have used steroids). Aside from the occasional mention of drugs, though, his message mostly seemed to be about success, and he had a tidy definition of it: from $0-$50,000 a year was a low level of success, from $50,000 to $100,000 was moderate, and $1,000,000 a year and above was just grand. Even I, math-slacker that I was, winced not only at his gap-toothed arithmetic but also at his puny standards of personal fulfillment.
I see success as being of service to my fellows and living a life free of discord, strife and discontent. So humility, service and serenity are my wealth and I attempt to accumulate them like any ruthless businessman. Some days, I see that I am fairly successful and others I teeter on the edge of bankruptcy, about to lose all.
I asked myself, how will my views of success compare to a Palestinian, Sudanese, Rwandan or any one who is oppressed and denied that which God has ensured? How will my success compare to those that would surely define it simply by the fact that they have lived another day?
This month I want to share a story with you. I will leave it to the discussion to talk about all the layers of thoughts about success that are in it.
Once a long time ago, or maybe yesterday, there was a young man who was a complete failure. Among the Yoruba people almost everyone is a farmer, even if they also do other things as well. This man was a horrid farmer who could barely raise enough to feed himself and trade for the few things he needed in the market.
Success then has a relative dimension that is based upon our individual values and the values of the societies we live in. Much of our dismay comes from the conflicts between our personal values and the values of the groups we belong to. To be successful is to accomplish the goals you set for yourself. For society to say you are a success, you must accomplish the goals it sets out for you.