Success unplugged

Success unplugged

Second thoughts

Success unplugged

Success is that one destination every man wants to arrive at. Yet, it has always been the most elusive of all intangibles in the world. But, what are the pointers of success? Are they wealth and fame? Or, is it something more than that? Dorothy victor attempts to outline the depths of its meaning.

Not long ago, one brilliant summer morning in 1923, a prominent hotel in Chicago was abuzz with a very important business meeting. Among other dignitaries, nine of the world’s most successful financiers were presiding over it.

These renowned men at that time were the president of the largest independent steel company, the president of the largest utility company, the greatest bear on Wall Street, the president of the largest gas company, a member of the President’s Cabinet, the president of New York Stock Exchange, the president of Bank of International Settlements, the greatest wheat speculator and the head of the world’s greatest monopoly. They were the tycoons who together controlled more wealth than there was in the US Treasury. As one can imagine, this elite group glowed with a halo of success.

An aura of success radiated from their gait, designer clothes and imposing personality. This disposition translated to the world what success meant. They were their country’s pride and the world’s envy. Or so they were perceived until the world read the final page of their lives, 25 years later, in 1948.

This is how their sad end came — the former president of the world’s largest steel company, Charles Schwab, died bankrupt and lived on borrowed money for five years before his death; the former president of the largest utility company, Samuel Insull, died a fugitive from justice and penniless in a foreign land; the greatest bear on Wall Street, Jesse Livermore, committed suicide; the president of the largest gas company, Howard Hopson, went insane; the former member of the President’s Cabinet, Albert Fall, was pardoned from prison so he could die at home; the president of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Whitney, was released from Sing Sing Penitentiary after serving a stiff sentence; the former president of the Bank of International Settlements, Leon Fraser, ended his own life; the greatest wheat speculator, Arthur Cutten, died abroad insolvent; and the head of the world’s greatest monopoly, Ivar Krueger, killed himself!

Successful and wealthy men driven to depths of misery, popular showbiz celebrities going insane, and scores of superstars, who, to the world seemed to have scripted successful lives for themselves turning into nervous wrecks, are all as true today as it was in the era of great economic prosperity. Money and fame that came with success failed to give these men the utopian world that they believed came packaged with success. Sooner or later, they found themselves crossing the Rubicon, exhausted and void of inner happiness. The price of success thus, far exceeding the rewards of it, has opened a whole new thesis on the much analysed and debated subject of “what it means to be successful in life?”

Ironies of life
Many scholars, thinkers, religious leaders and counsellors have tried to define success, which is that one destination every man wants to arrive at. Yet, it has always been the most elusive of all intangibles in the world. Statistics reveal that only five per cent of the world’s population is successful while only a still lesser percentage of that population truly feels a sense of fulfilment out of being successful. It is ironical then, that while success is the most sought after goal in life, only a select few attain it and experience the joys of it, in their lifetime. This paradox has always intrigued man and in his attempt to unravel the mystery, hundreds of thinkers have attempted at outlining the depths of its meaning.

In the process, presently, there are hundreds of definitions for the word. Even so, not one of them might resonate with an individual and the bottomline could still be ambiguous and complex. This is because success is as unique to a person as his fingerprints or his facial contours. It is that sacred feeling that is, and can be experienced only on a very individual basis, and can never be quantified on a universal basis. One might seem successful on the outside while having the feelings of a miserable failure on the inside. Conversely, individuals who might be construed to be failures to the world can actually be experiencing successful feelings deep within their lives, which is saying something — that success in the economic sense is quite different from success in the emotional sense.

Accordingly, success which was hitherto measured mostly by the wealth and fame of an individual has undergone a thorough face-lift. Today, the word has evolved to mean something beyond affluence and popularity. Motivational speaker and author Zig Ziglar sums it up neatly, “Success means doing the best we can with what we have. Success is the doing, not the getting; in the trying, not the triumph.  Success is a personal standard, reaching for the highest that is in us, and becoming all that we can be.”

The face of success
Just as it is darkest before the dawn, success is perhaps the ugliest just before it can be fully achieved. Anyone who has experienced success in its true sense will tell that the road to success is marked with detours, tempting parking spaces to take plenty of wasteful breaks, attractive rest stops to break the journey, and easy U-turns to head back to comfort zones. Journeying with focus through these distractions to reach the destination is the ultimate measure of a man’s success. As it is often said, “Success is 99% failure.”  Swimming through repeated failures, surpassing dangerous currents of disappointments and frustrations, keeping safe from the torrents of cynicism and mockery with the sole objective of reaching the shores of a larger purpose in life is the acid-test of eventual success. As Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, once observed, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

The face of success evidently is as varied as the human race. For some, it is in accomplishing an ideal work-life-balance on a day-to-day basis. For others, it is in the everyday achievement of living by moral and ethical standards. For some others, it is all about forging deep relationships and raising socially sensitive children. For still others, it is in caring for the environment and the less fortunate. For yet another group, it is in living up to the commitments given to a special calling in life.

And for many others, it is in the triumph of a specific goal. It is to be measured as Booker T Washington said, “Not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles that one has overcome while trying to succeed.” Whatever be the face of success, all are equally worthy so long as the end objective is commendable, goes beyond oneself and within the moral fibres of societal and social norms.

Success attributes
The distinguishing feature of true success is in the finding and fulfilment of a purpose in life. “The mass of men,” the American philosopher Henry Thoreau said, “lead lives of quiet desperation.” This is precisely the reason why the mass of men also feel themselves to be complete failures in life. Great thinkers point to a lack of purpose in life to be at the crux of every man who thinks himself a failure. When one has a purpose in life that goes beyond an ambition that is merely self-seeking, the purpose fuels life, propels life, empowers life and provides the passion and motivation to life that is required to become victors, to emerge successful.

Emperor Ashoka nurtured the ambition of bringing all of India under his rule. With this goal in mind, he ruthlessly fought wars and annexed kingdom after kingdom. But, at the battle of Kalinga, he was suddenly overtaken by the destruction his ruthless ambition had caused. The sight of all humanity, killed and maimed, the tell-tales of devastation that lay before him, and the extent of loss his selfish ambition had brought about, was a revelation to him on the lack of nobility in his ambition. Eventually, his perspective changed and his spirit was suffused with a sudden sense of purpose. He was imbued with a new-found passion to spread compassion and show benevolence for all his people. He scripted his success through a life of purpose that no vastness of kingdom could bring him.
   The above moving story of Emperor Ashoka is but a testament to the words of Willam Damon who in his book, Noble Purpose: The joy of living a meaningful life, says, “Purpose is a stable and generalised intention to accomplish something both meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond self.” Putting purpose into living thus is an essential attribute to success and every successful story has always had a praiseworthy purpose weaved into it.

It is said that nothing fails like success. If efforts are not made to ensure success to perpetuate, it can get into a death spiral, paving the way for permanent failure. Nelson Mandela articulated the concept eloquently as he said, “After climbing a great hill, one finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for my long walk has not ended.” The journey of life ends only in the death bed, and until such time, success comes to that person who swims unrelentingly towards his greatest life.

Albert Schweitzer, who, at the age of 29, looked more successful than most of his contemporaries with a distinguished career ahead of him, did not feel successful leading a comfortable life in Alsace-Lorraine. The lingering discomfiture that many people around him were wrestling with suffering while he led such a happy life gave a new-found purpose to his life. He dedicated his life thereon for service to humanity in the remotest jungle of Africa where for 40 years he served the ‘needs of the Congo Mission’. When world recognised him and conferred on him the Nobel Peace Prize, he described his sentiments thus, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful”.

Success redefinedCherie Carter-Scott in her bestseller, If success is a game, these are the rules, says, “The true essence of success beneath the visible markers and goals, lies in your personal sense of satisfaction and fulfilment... Success is amorphous and there is no universal means by which we can measure it... You and only you can assess your success, for it is you alone who determines what success really means for you.”

Most often, standards set by the world are used to determine the degree of success. These standards which invariably include money, wealth, ostentatious lifestyle, popularity and aggression, are seen to be and believed to be conclusive evidences of having achieved success. Yet, history is replete with scores of men who have strived to achieve all of these pointers of success but failed miserably to find that inner fulfilment, leaving them with a lingering bitterness of having been big-time failures in the game of life.

On deeper contemplation, it ought to be realised that the game of life is a unique sport, one where one competes against oneself alone. Trying to compete with others, playing the game in accordance with the rules dictated by someone else and striving to win to appease another are obstacles to real victory and success. True victory can be achieved only when our own race is run, when the objective is simply to keep bettering our previous self. Real fulfilment can be found in that situation where our lives are aligned with our deepest conviction. Genuine accomplishment can be experienced when the game is played within the boundaries of moral, ethical and social values. And most of all, lasting success becomes a reality at the deepest level where hard work, fairness, integrity and compassion are adopted in the game as mandatory observances.

Success, over the years, has slowly and yet convincingly been redefined by experts in the field. The previous notion of using money to conclude the success of an individual is gradually becoming redundant. Success is no longer the sole dominion of those born with the silver spoon or the ones who through hook or crook amass wealth. This is the reason why, an unknown boy named Babar Ali from an obscure village in West Bengal, with no apparent credentials to his name, is looked upon as an example of success, even if all he did was to pursue his dream of transforming his illiterate village into a literate one.

In the final analysis, the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist, is conclusive on what it is to have succeeded: “To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons 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 give the best of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived — this is to have succeeded!”

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