On the Corner

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by Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief –

When we hear someone described as a “success,” the next sentence usually has some number in it. More often than not, the numbers are preceded by a dollar sign—or to the number of employees they direct—or the size of their congregation. I think this is pretty shallow. Don’t you?

We continue to be confused by means/ends issues. Money contributes to the means by which we can achieve a goal. It is not the goal itself and is not the sole means.

I’m not saying it’s altogether wrong to use numbers in a definition of success. Just shallow. If I were to look up the word in a dictionary I’m pretty sure I would discover words like wealth, or business achievement at the top of the definition choices. It just doesn’t fit me.

Some people actually believe one can “dress for success.” I’m not sure that term can fit most Salvation Army officers—especially with their polyester uniforms. While we’re talking about officers, I don’t think successful officership is measured by appointment to administrative positions, or rank. I’ve known a few who were “promoted” to their level of incompetence—thus demonstrating the validity of the Peter Principle. One thing that really disappoints me is when I inquire of an officer how the corps is doing and the reply describes the size of the corps budget—as if this is a significant indicator of the “success” of the person.

I’ve heard the term “spoiled by success” used in relation to some I’ve met along life’s journey. I suppose this means they got “too big for their britches”—or that the labeler is somewhat resentful and envious of the person now directing him or her.

The school across the street from my house has a sign on the fence trumpeting its number on the statewide achievement test—“an 864 school.” I suppose they do this to make the parents feel wonderful about the instruction being received and the “fact” that all the children are above average. This assumes, of course that the measuring device somehow predicts accurately the quality of the instruction. Personally, I think it predicts more accurately two other factors: one, the income level and stability of the families; and two, the amount of time the parents spend helping the children with their homework and also modeling engagement with other intellectual pursuits. In no way do these numbers reflect the quality of the relationship a student might have with the teacher.

Being a “success” is a lot more than income acquisition. In fact, I don’t think it has anything at all to do with matters that pertain to numbers. Don’t you wonder why some wealthy celebrities mess up their lives? Money, fame, and power are insufficient in and of themselves as criteria for success.

So what might identify such criteria? Here are some I thought of.

To recognize that success is a term to describe one’s complete life not simply parts of a life.

Success demands longevity. It’s not ephemeral. It’s lasting. To understand that being successful is a life-building activity.

To be at peace with one’s personal resolution of mankind’s spirituality and relationship with God. To find beauty in believing.

God’s spirit speaks to our human spirit and cautions and encourages us. While God does not like to be ignored, he loves us anyway.

Joseph Radzinger, the German priest recently elevated to the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church as Pope Benedict XVI, suggests we can achieve this peace by “rediscovering the human face of God in the face of Jesus”—that Christianity is not a legalistic book of rules but instead, is a “love affair with Jesus.”

To enjoy the ebb and flow in the tension and equilibrium of life.

And in the joy find perseverance in the ebb and hope in the flow. Maintain a balance and reframe problems as challenges.

To laugh heartily and often. To find the humor in daily events and give joy to those around you.

Honest humor expressed without hostility or abuse spreads joy. It’s contagious.

To find pleasure and inspiration in the mysterious splendor of creativity.

To revel in the beauty and complexity of a flower, a child’s laughter, the sunrise, the radiance of a mother’s face holding a smiling child.

To contribute something of some significance to our world, and when finished, to leave it a better place.

Work to build up those around you. Use honest praise lavishly.

To gain a measure of honest respect from those around you.

Look with the same honesty at criticism. Accept it where it is appropriately applicable.

To struggle to actualize one’s potential.

To be all you can be means to live a complete life.

These are some of my thoughts on what it means to be successful. I’m sure additional criteria could be noted. My intent is to explore my conceptualization of the meaning of the word “success” in a time when its meaning seems to be changing. It occurs as a result of the pressures of western culture, society’s increasing isolation, and the growing worship of numbers and dollar signs.

What criteria might you use?

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