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

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What Is Success?

parabola (Photo credit: pixelthing)
That is an important question because seeking success defines the lives of most people, especially in neurotic, highly competitive societies such as the U.S. Two experiences come to mind in formulating my definition of success.

1. I visit my old high school in my hometown after many years. There in the hallway I spot an old teacher of mine. Yet, nothing stirs in me to step forward to greet him after decades of having been his student. Why? Because his personality was sarcastic. Well, that's failure for Teacher X.

So, I define success in part as having a personality that people are eager to reconnect with after many years have passed. I know of other people with whom even some of their closest relatives do not want to reconnect after many years. That's unmistakable failure in the eyes of people who know you the best.

2. I see people worrying about things that are distant and abstract, things that do not affect their daily quality of life. That irrational sort of anxiety equals throwing away the daily gift of life. The old saying, from a very highly placed source, is that fools strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. I am amazed at how many do that daily. 

So, I also define success as knowing what to be genuinely concerned about and knowing what to disdain as trivial, knowing the difference between what is important and what is unworthy of your concern. I must add that conspicuous consumption whether in housing or in other goods is one of those things unworthy of concern--it's chasing a chimera that has little effect on your daily quality of life. I recall an author pointing out how prestige goods follow an upside down U curve because after a certain point, additional accumulation of such goods actually reduces happiness. This upside down or inverted U curve can be applied to goods such as status and to money in general.

Notice how these definitions of success are so very different from our usual social markers of success: money and status. Many sarcastic people (failures under my definition) have both. Many of those concerned with the trivial (again, failures under my definition) have both. Success, in my view, is success in life, not success in money or in elections or in a job title or in getting your way in trivial matters.
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