I’ve had cause several times this year to ponder the definition of success. It’s an interesting concept to think about. On the face of it, in our modern western world, it’s easy to equate success with wealth and prestige. It’s tempting to look at people like actors and career high-flyers and think, “Wow, they’re successful. They have recognition of their skills. They’ve reaped financial rewards and have used the bounty bestowed upon them to live a life of prosperity and accomplishment. That must be success, right?”
Well, of course it is a form of success. But just who decides the benchmark for success? Is it calculated by monetary terms, by awards and accolades, or even by the amount of followers a person has on various social media platforms? And if that’s the case, how does the average person ever feel successful?
On the other hand, my son, who suffers from autism spectrum disorder, has had a challenging time getting to his sixteen-year candle count. His communication deficits have so often separated him from his peers and made the job of trying to make sense of the world extremely difficult. If measured by the criteria above, he would never be described as even remotely successful. But at a recent meeting with his team at school they praised him for the enormous progress he has made and told my husband and me that the work he’s producing makes him a role model for some of the other students. It almost goes without saying that this commendation made us feel exceptionally proud!
In my novel, The Bell Curve, I explore the fact that success can also mean different things at different ages. I based most of my secondary characters around this amusing ditty I found in a magazine:
At age 4 success is… not wetting your pants
At age 12 success is… having friends
At age 16 success is… having a driver’s license
At age 20 success is… having sex
At age 35 success is… having money
At age 50 success is… having money
At age 60 success is… having sex
At age 70 success is… having a driver’s license
At age 75 success is… having friends
At age 80 success is… not wetting your pants
Of course I’ve always know that success is so much more than fame and fortune but sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves that when it comes to feeling as though our lives count for something and are worthwhile, the only person to set the standard of successfulness should be us.