What does “success” mean to you?

October 29, 2009 at 2:00 am 1 comment

DSC_0058I’ve been pondering Australian Idol. I tried not to watch it this year but I’ve been sucked in. Not by the “talent” but by the cringe-worthy train wreck that is this year’s Idol contest. It’s a cliche now to say that people want their 15 minutes of fame. But the notion of “success” seems to be measured by how many followers you have on Twitter or how many Facebook friends you have. Before the GFC sidelined us, success was how big your McMansion was or whether you had a BMW or teetered around on sky-high Jimmy Choos with the latest designer “It” bag hanging off your arm. So I’ve been pondering “success”: what does it mean to be successful in life? Obviously, it’s subjective.

A great friend of mine lives in Thailand. She’s a single Thai lady living with her parents, looking after her nephew and working extremely hard. Compared to the average Australian, she would most likely be described as not very well off, living in a polluted, crowded city in a developing Asian country. But in my view, she’s probably happier than most people. She asks for nothing; she has few possessions; she’s a devout Buddhist.

Now, consider these two scenarios:

Scenario #1. After high school, a young man goes to college and studies economics.  He is president of his fraternity, obtains a Doctor of Philosophy degree in economics and lands a job at a well-known oil company. He also served in the Department of the Interior before returning to the business world, eventually working his way up to a CEO position of a major corporation, earning millions of dollars a year.  He received a long list of awards, ranging from Father of the Year to alumni and business awards.

Scenario #2. A young woman trains under her father to become a watch maker.  At the age of 50, she is still unmarried and living with her father and her other unmarried sister, helping to run her father’s watch shop. Eventually, she and her family became involved in something illegal and they lose everything.  Her sister and father were even put to death.

Which scenario describes the successful person? You would most likely respond “No brainer! Scenario #1” because that person made gazillions of dollars and was a successful businessman whereas the woman in Scenario #2 never found independence from her family, was involved in illegal activities and lost her father and sister as a result.

But some important facts are missing from these two scenarios.  The businessman in Scenario #1 is Kenneth Lay, former CEO of Enron who, as we know, dumped his own Enron stocks knowing full well Enron was going belly up. He was charged with fraud but before the book could be thrown at him, he died at the age of 64 years.

The person in scenario #2 is Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian Holocaust survivor who, along with her father and sister, helped to hide Jews from the Nazis in Holland. Corrie and her family were arrested in 1944 when a Dutch informant blabbed and turned them in to the Nazis. They were carted off to concentration camps. Her father and sister died but Corrie was released on Christmas Day 1944 and went on to international acclaim as an author and public speaker.

Now that you have the full facts: which one would you say is successful? I’d say Corrie ten Boom, what about you? What’s your definition of success?

(Thx to the great site, Being Frugal, for the two scenarios and sparking my thinking on this subject).

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Entry filed under: Reflections. Tags: , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Ooh la la  |  November 2, 2009 at 4:35 am

    I like these scenarios. Well, for me success is to make other people happy. Reputation or wealth are nothing when you die. Deep in your heart, you know it well what really make you have sustainable happiness. Share, care, or other good deed. Just do it!!

    Reply

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