Thursday, November 12, 2015

Defining Success . . . for YOURSELF

Success! This word may only have one other word in the English language that immediately comes to mind rivaling it in use and misuse. The other word is “love.” And, yes, I said use and misuse. Allow me to use two quotes in this article to provide the preface and conclusion for my remarks.

First, is this quotation from Walter H. Cottingham, former president of the Sherwin Williams Company,

"Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings!"

I picked up this quotation from a daily email I receive from a friend who sends this kind of positive information out everyday. Greg Cordano is a man I hold in very high esteem, have great respect for, and, knowing his “back story,” appreciate who he has become.

Greg and I met in our senior year in college. That was the good thing. The bad thing was Greg transferred into the college in our senior year. Had he attended the college for more years, I would have had the opportunity to know him and appreciate him even more than I do now. Thankfully, Greg put feelers out and found me some 40 or more years after our graduation.

Greg went on to say the following about this quotation:

In life, to be successful, the individual has to use the intelligence that they have within in them at a given point in time!

There are a lot of "really intelligent people in the world" that are failures because they do nothing with their life!

If you want to achieve something in life you have to do something with your life! You have to make things happen in your life by design! You have to take personal responsibility for your own future! You have to set some goals, and "take action" in the direction of those goals! You have to take charge of your own life!

Students can be successful in school if someone would take the time to
teach them "how to do the job!" (Example: if the person does not know
"how to paint" he/she cannot paint a room!) Yes, "success" is a process!

I will point out at this time, Greg and his delightful wife, Mary, both served our society in the noble profession of education. They were both teachers in the New Jersey public school systems until they retired. I have nothing, but the highest degree of respect and admiration for the teaching profession. I especially honor those who are committed and go above and beyond the call of duty to help future generations prepare for their roles in society.

But, I have even more admiration for the really great teachers, like Greg and Mary, because they had to fulfill their mission against the odds. The odds I speak of are an educational bureaucracy that works against the committed educators and society. Unfortunately, the system is driven by politically and, too often, ego, greed and corruption inspired motives.

I feel qualified to say this because I was trained to be an educator, just like Greg and Mary, in the New Jersey school system. I completed my course work, accomplished the required in-classroom student teaching requirements for certification as a Kindergarten through 12th grade teacher. And, yes, I still have my certificate of certification.

I have to be honest, it was not my ambition or desire to become a school teacher when I began college. And, unfortunately, after four years, I was more convinced I didn't want to be a school teacher. Some might consider me as being a cop-out or a wimp. I knew I couldn't thrive or survive in “the system.” That's another reason I respect Greg and Mary. They found a way to put up with the system and do the best they could, often, I'm sure, with their hands (and minds) tied behind their backs.

Agree to Disagree

Another really great quality I appreciate about Greg is that we can have an open discourse on just about anything and agree to disagree without effecting our respect and appreciation for each other. That's an important facet of a really good friendship. Greg has a giant place in his heart for helping young people to be successful in life. He often quotes many of the well-known “motivational” and “inspirational” thinkers and speakers of the past century. It was my great fortune to have known a number of these people personally and even work with or interview some of them.

I have always been an optimistic and success oriented person, so I understand where Greg is coming from. I may have mentioned in earlier articles on this blog that in the 1980's I created, produced, marketed and distributed, to five English speaking countries, SuccessTrax, an audio magazine delivered on audio cassettes. Each program was 90 minutes long and covered a broad array of topics in the areas of personal and professional development.

Greg is and continues to be on target with his current mission to help young people develop the skills and knowledge of discovering their talents, gifts and abilities and applying them for a positive future. I commend Greg and Mary, both for doing this in their retirement years.

I agree strongly with this part of Greg's comments:

If you want to achieve something in life you have to do something with your life! You have to make things happen in your life by design! You have to take personal responsibility for your own future! You have to set some goals, and "take action" in the direction of those goals! You have to take charge of your own life!

I can support this through the experiences of thousands of people I've crossed paths with including the motivational and inspirational thinkers and speakers and my own experiences.

However, the areas I have some disagreement with Greg are these:

In life, to be successful, the individual has to use the intelligence that they have within in them at a given point in time!

There are a lot of "really intelligent people in the world" that are failures because they do nothing with their life!

Why would I disagree? I certainly don't dispute that a person should use their intelligence, regardless of whether it's below average, average, above average or even in the genius category. But, often, perhaps too often, people are judged as failures even though they may have a high degree of intelligence others consider being squandered or not being applied. This is true in many areas of human endeavor including, to mention just a few, music, art, engineering, science, writing, mathematics, mechanical skills, people skills, etc.

So, to say that people who are “really intelligent” are failures because “they do nothing with their lives” is placing unfair expectations on them and even laying a guilt trip on them. It is my conviction, and has been becoming more so as I grow older and wiser, that a major reason we have so many dysfunctional individuals and families in our society is because of the expectations others lay on them.

What? Am I saying because a child/person with the intelligence and ability to be a brilliant neurosurgeon, cardiologist, litigator, world class composer, college professor or any other profession or occupation and chooses not to apply the intelligence or talent to that end, is not a failure? Yes! That's precisely what I'm saying. Those are expectations laid on the individual by external sources like parents, teachers, professors, peers and so on.

Here is why I said in the very beginning the word “success,” like the word “love,” is a too commonly used and misused word. Who determines if someone with a 185 IQ is a failure because he or she chooses to pursue the life of a farmer, a fireman, a police officer, a surfer, a mountain climber, a checkout clerk at a Walmart or you name the endeavor? What weight, stress, pressure, judgment or negative esteem is being placed on the individual and by what authority does anyone think they have the right to do this?

Who Defines Success For Each Of Us?

I agree with Greg. We should help young people discover their intelligence, talents, gifts and abilities. We should show them how to utilize them to the best of their abilities as they choose for their own life. We should provide all kinds of opportunities and guidance for young people (and even older people, including in retirement years) to explore ALL the possibilities available to them. But, who says that because someone has the ability to become a “successful” litigator, he must, if he really enjoys being a short order cook in a greasy spoon? Or, she must exploit her musical talent that might enable her to become a world class composer or performing artist when she'd prefer to become a national park ranger?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, why should someone be dissuaded from pursuing something of a higher calling just because he or she may have average or below average intelligence, talent or abilities, but has a big dream. There are far too many examples of individuals who have achieved tremendous things when people felt he or she couldn't do much more than dig a ditch, stack boxes in a warehouse or run a cash register in a supermarket.

Who has the right to define success for anyone else? My book says NO ONE. If someone with a 180 IQ becomes the best car detailer he can become and he's happy, fulfilled and living the life and lifestyle he chooses for himself, is that not a successful life? If another individual with a PhD in biochemistry really loves baking and decorating cupcakes and watching people enjoy them and she enjoys what she's doing and is living the life and lifestyle she is happy and fulfilled with, is she not successful?

However, what about if someone with a lower IQ has only very basic skills and is considered barely functional. He may fool everyone and work in a retail store, making patrons happier because he learned some basic musical skills that, perhaps, no one thought he was capable of. He enjoys seeing the patrons smile and he can be friendly to them. Is he not successful?

Success is an often misused and wrongly defined word because people have their own definitions of success and then lay those expectations on everyone else.

There are a lot of people who might judge me as being unsuccessful because I don't live or meet (my life, lifestyle, my bank accounts, my net worth, etc.) up to their expectations. At the same time, there are others who tell me they admire and even envy me for the same reasons. Guess what, none of them walk in my shoes nor does anyone else have to walk in my shoes or your shoes.

When I look back at the personal accomplishments and achievements over my lifetime, I'm amazed at all I've done. If anyone would have told me when I was starting out I would accomplish what I have, I would have thought they were wacky.

Actually, it was quite the opposite. I had one of the teachers I regarded most highly and my guidance counselor in high school betting on when I'd flunk out of college. (It was during the first semester, by the way). In fact, I accomplished some significant things during my undergraduate college years in addition to graduating as the “Outstanding Senior Man” in my class.

I founded a radio station at the college that's still operating 49 years later. It introduced at least a couple thousand students to broadcasting. Many went on to have successful careers in radio and TV because of the radio station I started. I went on to complete a masters degree in Television and Radio at the most prestigious university at the time offering that degree. I became a production engineer and producer for the Secretary of the Air Force. I was part of a small team that produced the most widely syndicated musical radio program of that time, aired around the world, for the Air Force.

In fact, while the kid who was supposed to flunk out of college during the first semester was flourishing, some of my high school classmates who were, by all measures, smarter than me, flunked out of college and many didn't have near the life I've had. But, the question remains . . . was I successful or more successful than others I was measured against? Were they successful? Like beauty and art, I believe success is in the eye, mind and heart of the beholder. It's above my pay grade to determine or judge if someone else was, is or will be successful.

How About You?

Here is the other quotation Greg sent me the other day:

"Success is liking yourself, ---- liking what you do, ---- and liking how you do it!" (Maya Angelou)

Here is Greg's follow-up discussion on this quote”

Success is all about discovering your talents, skills and abilities!

Success is all about taking organized, determined, focused, professional
action in the direction of your goals!

Success is up to you, and what you accomplish on a daily basis, and what you bring to your life!

Right now, YOU have everything to be successful in your life!

Thank you, Greg. This puts things back in perspective from your earlier thinking. Success is all about YOU, Your life and Your goals. Education is not about making anyone successful or telling anyone what they MUST do to be successful. It's about giving a person the tools he or she needs to do whatever he or she chooses in life. No one has to be a rocket scientist, a classical music composer, a jet fighter pilot, a master chef, a bestselling author, an investment banker, an entrepreneur, a plumber, a farmer, an auto mechanic, an Olympic champion, a beauty contest winner, an insurance salesperson or anything else, just because they are smart, talented and gifted enough or have the abilities to do any of these things.

You and everyone else simply needs to have the tools to figure out what is right for yourself and shown how to look for and see all the opportunities available. Forget about what parents, teachers, professors, peers, etc. attempt to tell you or how they try to direct you or what expectations they lay on you. Forget about all the people saying you have to have a college degree to become “successful.” I can give you many examples of people who didn't let a college degree or the lack of one hamper them in any way. Your life is not about them or their expectations. It's all about you and what you want from your life.

Take some time, as I have, and examine your own life. Look for the accomplishments and achievements you may have never given yourself credit for before. Revel in them. Take pride in who you are and your life and lifestyle. Don't accept anyone else's expectations or value judgments. If you're happy and satisfied and you've lived your life the way you chose to, then consider yourself successful. You're in a small minority of people who are successful on your own terms. Too many people are still trying to live their lives up to someone else's expectations. There's no percentage in that.

If you're not satisfied with where you are and where you've come from, guess what? If you're reading this, you're NOT DEAD, YET! Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow are yours to do with as you please. Stop doing whatever it is that is not working toward your personal satisfaction, contentment and feeling of personal success and start doing whatever it is that will. Change is often difficult, but you, me and everyone has dealt with change all our lives. It's mostly change we had no control over or choice in. So, how much more difficult can change be if you have the steering wheel in your hands?

Share this article with friends, family and colleagues. Most of them probably need it. You'll be doing them a favor. Let me hear your thoughts. Share them as comments here on the blog, so other readers can gain insight and inspiration from you. If you're not a regular subscriber to the blog, you can subscribe by email at the top right of this column. Like the Living Free Facebook page and become a follower on Google+. Help me to help others learn how to live freer and happier lives.

Live free and be happy. EH

1 comment:

Richard Rosen said...

Well said Ed to give yourself credit where it is due, to take pride in who you are, your life essence and its expression.

Pride has a bad rap. It too often has become linked with ego-exaltation. But pride deserved is self-respect. No false humility please. It is written, “Give honor to whom honor is due.” I say personalize this; allow yourself to recognize effort, work and outcomes well done.

This extends beyond the mere material accomplishments of living. More important is the character of honor created and the soul of nobility formed. From this all else of worth follows.