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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Nothing to Sneeze At: Different definitions of success

History is littered with what we now consider odd symbols of wealth or success.  Being fat used to be a sign of being wealthy especially in accent times, where plentiful or readily available food wasn't always guaranteed.  The ability to sneeze upon demand oddly was one too.  Sneezing was thought to be a way of clearing one's mind.  Those with idle time and/or the money to afford snuff--which could induce sneezing--were typically aristocrats.  Interestingly enough, sneezing in conversation was typically considered a sign of disapproval.  Hence, "not to be sneezed at", indicated that something was worthwhile.  Anyway, when we think about the phrase, "nothing to sneeze at", we think of an amount of money that is significant.  But really you could apply that phrase to any measure of success.

When we measure success, we most often think of how much monetary advantage someone has gained.  However, as we know that is but one measure of success in a person's life.  From my perspective, there are many measures of success and not all traditional.  By it's nature, traditional implies long established or understood.  So, let's start with the more readily thought of measures.

MORE TRADITIONAL MEASURES OF SUCCESS
  • Wealth
    • A person who has a lot of money, especially if they've largely earned it themselves is typically considered successful.   Gaining or accumulating a small fortune is not an easy task for most, so society looks upon it as a sign of accomplishment.
    • A person is considered 'successful' if they can provide a comfortable (aka free of money concerns) for themselves and family.   Being able to provide that in death is also a sign of success. 
  • Power
    • Being able to shape events and shape the world around you is another common sign of success, especially considering those with money can more easily buy influence.
    • Power, often, but not always, comes in conjunction with having 'made money' or the ability to do so.
    • I believe in society we tend to admire those who are able to exert control over as many of us feel like we are powerless in the worlds.  Typically those who are able to do so have a better chance of making sure they and their friends are 'taken care of' and we hope that they can take care of us (those whom they lead or 'rule' over).
  • Awards or Achievements
    • Not everyone can be the best or win at something.  We tend to recognize achievements, especially those that are rare and/or above and beyond the norm as indicators of success.
      • In the NBA for example, there is only one person who is considered the most valuable to their team per year.  So, to get that award really speaks volumes about your success, especially where it relates to helping your team.
      • The Noble Peace Prize likewise is award to person or group every year.  So, if you are nominated and win it, it typically speaks volumes about how people value your efforts towards advancing peace.
    • Typically, but not always, an award or achievement is forever.  Therefore, not only will you be recognized at the time it is given, but you will go down in the 'history books' when you achieve or are recognize for greatness.
  • Fame
    • Typically, but not always comes with wealth.
    • Often is associated with some degree of influence or power.
    • Tends to come with, but not always, awards or accomplishments.
    • Is a sign of 'relevance'.  
      • While it is probable that being rich will tend to make one more memorable, it isn't a guarantee thereof.  While wealth my guarantee some publicity in one's own life or the life of one's own life, it is no guarantee that generations hence that you'll be remembered or even thought of.
      • Once we get past survival thoughts, I believe there is a spiritual yearning in many if not most people to feel like they matter.  
  • Successful influence.
    • Even if we don't 'succeed' according to the world's other measures of success, we may be considered successful if our children that we've raised have achieved one or more of the previous measures.
    • We ourselves can gain some measure of pride if we can claim that we helped our children (or players or students/spouse) to succeed.  


LESS TRADITIONAL MEASURES OF SUCCESS
  • Sacrifice
    • This may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes success is sacrifice, especially if that sacrifice was not in vein such as in examples below:
      • A soldier who dies in the service of his/her country, can through his/her efforts be part of a larger success in military victory and/or keeping us safe.
      • A fireman who dies in the line of duty--such as on 9/11--while leading other to safety has succeeded in making the world (or his/her part of it) a better place.
      • A police officer who dies in the line of duty, but helped keep his/her town safe by protecting the citizenry in the process.
    • Sacrifice can mean giving up of our hard earned time or treasure to help others succeed.  If we by our sacrifice help others to succeed, then we have achieved a level of success ourselves.  Successfully passing it on.
  • Survival
    • This can take many forms some include:
      • Literal physical survival such as in a battle (such as in war or a personal fight like cancer). 
        • When pinned being enemy lines, being able to make it out alive can be success (a miracle)
        • When you are deemed to be terminal and given only a short time to live, beating the odds can be a huge success story.
        • When you have a hard-core addiction, especially one that could be life-threatening, it may not seem like much, but success can be as simple as making it alive and sober another day.
      • Keeping a roof and food over your head in a bad economic downturn.  When you don't know how you'll make it, being able to look back and say, "somehow I made" it is a sign of success at navigating the storm.
      • Emotionally surviving after an attack or repeated abuse.  Sometimes having the strength to endure and to recover without getting destroyed or destroying yourself is a miracle.
      • Spiritually surviving trying circumstances (such as loss of job, family members or home).  Keeping the faith despite the world around you seeming to collapse is not something everyone does.
    • People who haven't been through the rough times, cannot always appreciate that success in life can be as simple as surviving.
    • Survival can be a success on the way to other successes (thriving). 
  • Simple Completion
    • In some ways this can be considered a success or a point just past survival.
    • Some challenges are so great that we don't have to be the best to be considered a winner or success.  Examples are as follows:
      • Finishing last place in a marathon is in itself a success.  Many people either don't finish or never have tried in the first place
      • A baseball player who makes it to the major leagues for a short stint, never to taste that success again can be considered a success.  Especially if/considering:
        • That player was not considered to have the talent level to make it.
        • For all those who have played the game, it is a rare class of people that even touch that level of success, even for a moment or brief stint.
  • Serenity or Spiritual Peace
    • We may not have the recognition, the worldly 'successes', the praise, the glory or even the simple notes of appreciation, but there is something to be said for being at peace with your Higher Power.
    • Many people live their whole life, never having achieved any level of serenity or spiritual peace, so achieving it is achieving a success that no other worldly success can match.
    • Serenity or Spiritual Peace can help us whether storms or lack of 'successes' in other areas of our lives.
    • The importance of it best captured by this verse: "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36)
  • Successfully Leading/Supporting 
    • Our children, students or players may never achieve pinnacles of the traditional measures of success, but that's okay.  Not everyone can be the richest, most famous, most accomplished or powerful.
    • Our spouse may never be achieve the pinnacle of success, but if we have supported him or her and encouraged him or her to be the best they can be, that is a measure of success.
    • In a world in which many people crash and burn and fail, leading those under us to well-adjusted lives is in itself "nothing to sneeze at".  We can't guarantee them 'worldly success', but we can give them the tools to be well-adjusted. 

In this world, we are often pushed by those close to us to succeed according to worldly standards. We are pushed by who are well meaning and by those who live vicariously through us.  While it can be a good thing to strive towards the traditional or worldly measures of success, it is important to never forget the more basic and less traditional measures, thereof.  Doing so, I believe can help us to be more grounded and can keep us from getting discouraged when we aren't succeeding as well as we'd like by the traditional measures.  But, I believe in all our successes we should remember the following:
  1. Never forget those who helped us along the way (especially and including our Higher Power).
  2. It is okay to have some pride in our successful efforts, but it is important not to be too prideful.
  3. Worldly 'success' can be fleeting, so appreciate it while it is there, but always be aware of the the less traditional measures of success which tend to be longer lasting if not eternal.
  4. The measure of who we are is we do with what we have.  (Vince Lombardi)  We are not guaranteed worldly success by any measure, but I believe we are guaranteed being considered a success by our Higher Power if we do the best with what we are given.

Thanks for reading,
Rich