By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What is Success?

As one thinks, inevitably, of the legacy he or she will leave behind, the question looms: what is success in life?

Of course, my evaluation will be quite subjective; and yet, I think, it also has some objectively valid elements for all to consider.

1. Is Making A Lot of Money Success?

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Here, I have no hesitation at all in giving a resounding "No." Since my teenage years, I had a strong disdain for those who made money and the social status or rank it grants central to their identity. I saw "up close" people during those years who judged the world through the world of status and prestige related to money. I intuitively disdained that point of view. Nothing in the intervening decades has changed my opinion. If you have made a lot of money, then use it for productive purposes; but the fact itself of having made large amounts of money and being able to buy high-ticket assets, such as a large house or houses in an exclusive neighborhood, just does not equal success in my book. I had that view long before I knew what my future level of income would be. Is there much to argue about here? Not for me. This criterion for success is an easy one to jettison, in spite of so many others living as if it were the central, if not only, criterion for success.

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2. Is Gaining a Public Position of Power Success?

Now, I admit that, as a young person, I did view successful politicians and leaders, such as Presidents and prime ministers and justices of the Supreme Court, to be the epitome of success. Well, I have changed my mind. Maybe, it's due to the fact that such achievements are now out of my reach (in fact, I turned my back on any future in politics quite early on, in spite of my strong early interest in political history, because I could see that my personality was not "fake" enough and self-prostituting enough for success in that task). For me, confirmation of a "No" answer to this criterion comes from a real-life example: Bill Clinton, who, in my opinion, has managed to be one of the most obvious successful failures in American culture.

As to power in the private realm, I am not even remotely tempted to equate corporate power with success.

3. What Is Success Then?

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I invite interested readers to answer that question with their own comments to this blog post. My own proposed answer is this: improving the lives of others, especially by giving them the tools to create positive change for themselves. Transmitting wisdom captures it for me. Have we transmitted wisdom to others, whether  in the private realm or the public realm or in both realms? Of course, such transmission of wisdom means that we have first discovered it for ourselves.  That transmission of wisdom defines success for me, although I do not dare to pretend that this one definition of success rules out any other definitions of success. Yet, I think that other definitions of success will contain elements of or be variations, in some form, of this particular definition.

In other words, for me, success is learning more truth and living more in truth so that your character reflects truth. Anything else is really a distraction. Hence, Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, was not a success because he was the most powerful individual, both politically and economically, both publicly and privately, of his time--but because of the evidence of his private Meditations, which, apparently, were not even intended for public circulation.

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