How does one define success?
As the year concludes, I've been giving a lot of thought to the meaning of success. I would suspect by any tangible definition, 2013 has been a successful year for me personally.
I wrote a book that has been well received, commemorating the golden anniversary of 1963. It has been reviewed as a transformative work. One reviewer even suggested it warrants inclusion within every university history department.
The project has taken me all over the country, led to establishing ongoing relationships with several individuals critical to the history chronicled, and offers numerous possibilities for 2014.
But the critical success of "1963: The Year of Hope and Hostility" is not how I define success personally.
There is a seductive aspect to defining success when it is expressed by a myopic view of others. From entertainers, to athletes, to entrepreneurs, there is a tendency to view them as successful without the slightest understanding of what it took for them to reach the pinnacle of their profession.
How many would switch places with Nelson Mandela? In 2001, he was voted the most respected and trusted individual in the world, outdistancing such notables as Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Bono.
For all the public adoration that he has received after his passing, who is willing to give up 27 years of their life for a cause in which they were willing to die?
In the post-Christmas week that leads into the New Year, I suspect many will comprise their annual resolution commitments that include losing weight, working out, quitting smoking, or making more money. Such items usually denote something that is lacking or warrants improvement.
There is nothing wrong with such pursuits (if they can be achieved), but I question if these resolutions alone are fundamental to success.
The reason that the tangible benefits from my book do not define as success is because they are dependent on others. How my book was reviewed or how many sales it garners are beyond my control.
What was in my control was to take an innocuous conversation in 2009 and transform it into a book in 2013 that had yet to be written. It was the journey, not the destination, that determined my success.
In the final analysis, success is at best an abstract term, possessing multiple meanings depending on the individual. However defined, success must be something that originates internally, not beholden to external circumstances.
The danger of external success alone is that satisfaction can be fleeting. Once achieved it can leave one unfilled.
But internal success is the constant that can sustain one regardless of the outcome of the stated goal. Ironically, internal success can also propel one's perseverance when met with unexpected challenges.
Internal success has the potential to push an individual even beyond the limits that he or she thought possible.
Perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson offers that best definition of success:
To laugh often and much
to win 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.
And the path to Emerson's wisdom may be drawn from the final stanza of Robert Frost epic poem, "The Road Not Taken:"
"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
I wish all a happy and successful New Year!
Byron Williams is a contributing columnist. Contact him at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.