Defining Success, Part Two

It has been brought to my attention that in this entry I paint doctors, wealthy people, and the like as money-hungry, heartless bastards; and people who go to college, in general, as people who give up their dreams and become too self-focused to give to their community. I do not mean this in any sense – I am merely using illustrations to put college degrees into perspective, with the hopes of showing that true success is not how much money you make, how much education you have, or how much power you weild. As with college, the people in the situations I paint are not inherently bad – you can take the elements of the situation and replace them with any type of profession and any level or type of education. It is the mentality of college = wealth = success that I want to abolish. If this is still not clear after reading this entry, please let me know.

“Success: To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Why is this definition of success so often traded for the more contemporary definition of success: high education, money, and power? When did this come about? How come the doctor with the big screen TV and a Ferrari is viewed as more successful than a high school dropout with a small family-run bakery? Maybe these are two extremes, but really: from a completely objective point of view, who are we quick to label as Most Successful in this day and age?

Perhaps we should look underneath what is obvious. Sure, the doctor may be very knowledgeable and hugely successful, corporately. But he may also hate his job, often snubbing and ripping off his patients because his only focus is the money. He is probably married with a kid or two, but he is so wrapped up in the job he doesn’t like that he comes home and watches television in his free time. Because of the abundance of money, the family can afford many conveniences. Perhaps his wife works as well to contribute to this. The kid or kids go to a prep school and are always working hard so, even at 8 and 10, they are guaranteed to get into a good college. When there is free time, everyone sits in front of the TV, or get caught up in their video games, and nobody ever talks to each other. When they do, it’s only because they have to, and usually they are irritable. They don’t know each other. Success?

On the other hand, the man with the family-run bakery usually has just enough to get by on. But that is alright, because running a bakery is his passion. He and his wife often bake together, and their kids (who are homeschooled), are very often around to help out as well. It is a great atmosphere, and the whole town loves to come, eat the delectable pastries, and be with this family. Sure, finances are not always the best, and they can’t always take a family vacation each year, but they don’t mind scraping by. They’re doing what they love and enjoy being an invaluable part of their community. Success?

Like I said, these are two extremes, but they are nonetheless realistic. I do want to say that I do not think that any elements in these examples are, in themselves, bad or good, so do not take anything personally. Just look on the inside and think about the situations.

There are three more things I have to say in this second entry about Success, all of which build on each other:

1. The Entitlement Mentality
2. Community
3. Love What You Do

The Entitlement Mentality

These days, people expect that a college degree will guarantee them a high-paying job. This is what I call the Entitlement Mentality. “I have a degree. Therefore, I am entitled to a job. Hey, employers. give me a job. I deserve it.”

This is very backwards thinking. “Here I am after four or more years of sitting in classrooms, and now I expect a job to fall into my lap because I’ve done so.” Yup. I don’t think there is much more that needs to be said on this subject; however, I’ll close it with this musing: why wouldn’t one use all of what one learned to go create an opportunity for oneself?


I know we cannot exactly reasonably have a hope for community like there was in the “old days.” And I will try not to go preaching my hippie mantra to “give peace a chance.” However, wherever we are there is some sense of community. People try to just go about their everyday lives being self-focused, but their efforts work against them. We are on this earth to coexist, to give to each other and not just receive, or live in mansions on hills all by ourselves. Since the beginning we’ve traded services for items, items for services, both for money, etc. Everyone offers something of value to someone else, and we share and live and grow together. Nobody wants to be jipped, and it’s wise to treat your neighbor likewise.

Like I said, I’m trying to not sound too cooky here. Even if I do, it’s true. Unfortunately, in this day and age we often don’t think about such things; we are too self-focused. Everyone seems to be in it for the money, not to give something of value to someone else. Every time I go to Taco Bell, I really see this demonstrated. The late-night employees, especially, are just there for the paycheck. They don’t care if I enjoy my taco, and they definitely don’t care that I am trying really hard to make them smile and they just stare at me like they wish I would go away. I do not appreciate this kind of service.

Building on the Entitlement Mentality, why not create an opportunity for oneself that gives to one’s community? It doesn’t have to be what first pops in our heads when we hear “give to community” – picking up trash or helping kids cross the road (nothing wrong with those, but that’s not what I am talking about here). It could be anything. If you really want to work at Taco Bell, think about how you really want to give people the opportunity to order tacos, and use your smile to give them an extra boost of energy whether they’ve had a long day or not.

Love What You Do

Do yourself a favor, and others too – love what you are doing. This doesn’t mean that you have to feel a deep, burning passion every time you think about your job. There are a couple of aspects of what this does mean:

It means: don’t pick a major just because it’s glamorous and/or pays well. First of all, it’s not glamorous. No if, buts, or maybes. There is no such thing as having a glamorous job, period. As for paying well, that is all fine and dandy if you are the kind of person who is willing to do a job they dislike in order to have the time and money to do the things you like. Except that this is at the expense of the people (in the community) whom you are servicing.

It also means: in all seriousness, go live your dream. If you can’t pick one, go try some out till you discover what you love the most. Go live your dream because you have passion for what you are doing. Live it because you only live this life once. Live it because passion is what makes people good at their jobs. I could go on.

My friend Jane and I were talking the other day about how it’s not even what you do that makes you who you are, but how you do it. And if you do something you love, you will love what you are doing – and vice versa. An example Jane pointed out was the woman who pierced her nose: “She isn’t just a piercer in a tattoo shop; she is an incredibly skilled person who performs a service that cam be empowering for the people she serves. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, I have met some pretty lousy managers, governors, biologist, and architects. Not to say I haven’t met some pretty rude and questionable piercers. But I would rather be a good piercer than a bad biologist any day.”

So: why not create an opportunity for oneself that gives to one’s community, that one has a passion for?

To do so, I believe, would be to be unarguably successful.



6 responses to “Defining Success, Part Two

  1. I understand what you’re trying to say here, but I think you’re overlooking the fact that some people’s dream is to be a doctor/lawyer/biologist–not because of the money, but because that is the area in which they are gifted and they are passionate about using that to serve the community. I can be very cynical/mistrusting towards people in these fields, though, because it is assumed that they’re only in it to get rich.

    If a person’s dream is to become a doctor, they should go to medical school. If a person’s dream is to run a bakery, then, no, they don’t really need a bachelor’s degree. That doesn’t mean that one of these professions is any better or easier than the other.

  2. Rebecca – thanks for pointing that out! A couple of people now have mentioned to me that in this entry I seem to show a negative bias towards the big, successful, money-power-education fields. And I see now that I did not do a very good job of disclaiming otherwise! There is a cynical stereotype against such people as doctors or lawyers, and for the sake of making a point, I played upon it. I believe I will put an italicized disclaimer at the beginning of the entry.

    That said, you are completely right. “That doesn’t mean that one of these professions is any better or easier than the other,” is a good way of putting it. 🙂

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  5. Jessica,

    I am awed by your ability to express your opinions through the written word. In this day of texting with all of its’ aberrations it is quite refreshing to read something with meaning written by a young adult.

    We met at the hostel in Ashland when I brought our homeschool group to stay the night. I was the woman who put her foot in her mouth regarding your future plans!

    I love what you have written. I have some books that you would probably love to read because they are directly in line with what you think. In fact, quite a few of the points you mention are exactly what we are teaching to our youth.

    I want you to know that in my area, we are building community. In fact, we learn, discuss and apply community. Everyone volunteers to mentor the youth, from the babies to the 18 year olds. We use our own money and study, read and train. Some of us are learning about the agricultural side of georgics (look that one up) so that as part of our community we can be self sufficient.

    We continue to study and learn about the communal lifestlye and while each family is autonomous, we see that as a whole, we are dependent upon each other. Each of my friends fills the ‘aunt’ role in our community and the men the ‘uncles’. Our children are ‘cousins’. We know that we must first understand our roles before we can master our duty so, we keep studying.

    We read and discuss what sort of structure we need in order to maintain our community. We have already codified that structure into a constitution that we agree to live by as part of the community.

    So, it is possible, communities are still alive and happening today. There are amazing people doing amazing things right here in Oregon. I personally know of many small ‘communities’ just like mine all over the west coast. These ideas are speading across the nation as well.

    Thanks for writing and thanks for letting me share!


  6. Julie,

    Thanks for reading and commenting! It makes me happy that there are still people striving for community; that is just so cool.

    Also, I would love to take a look at those books if you could recommend a few titles. 🙂

    Thanks again! It was SO nice to meet you at the hostel… you are amazing.

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