The Scottish Clan Ross, of the Northern Highlands, bears an interesting and inspiring family motto worthy of comment.
If we all fundamentally agree that to be stripped of hope is to be stripped of a crucial human belief that is absolutely essential for progress and our well-being, understanding the causality between “success” and “hope” and making the necessary psychological and attitudinal adjustments to maintain our definitions of each no matter the external circumstances facing us is vital.
It is always worth remembering that “success” is often relative and subjective, and like failure, it is by no means permanent should we grow complacent, lazy or arrogant. In part it is a mindset and even a habit, and something worthy of striving for and pursuing with our full attention and vigor.
How we individually and collectively define success is in part influenced by our personality makeup and societal conditioning. For many, the accumulation of material possessions is high on the list of defining success. In a competitive, consumer-driven society addicted to spending and maintaining an image, this is perhaps understandable, although its sustainability has obviously come into question over the past several years. For others, the quality of relationships and interactions with family, friends and even strangers is given the most weight. Some choose to focus on acquiring as much as possible (and not strictly in a material sense), through whatever means necessary, placing the emphasis on the feeding and aggrandizement of their own ego and self. Others believe that “giving back” or serving others in whatever capacity one’s natural talents and capabilities allow is the true measure of success.
What is clear from these diverse viewpoints is that success comes down to a value judgment, no more and no less. We might condemn a particular attitude or view as being wrong-headed or undesirable, and feel rather smug and self-satisfied with our moral superiority, but to whom must we give account? Our belief in whether our actions in this world reflect upon our soul in some other realm of existence is most telling in this regard. Do we choose to act in a particular manner out of a “nobleness of intent” or “purity of our spirit,” or rather out of a fear of punishment in this world or the next?
As Marcus Aurelius observed, “The measure of a man is the worth of the things that he cares about.”
MAKING PEACE WITH SETBACKS AND OBSTACLES
No matter how we personally define success, invariably there will be peaks and valleys, times of abundance and scarcity, and perhaps even a sense that either our “best is behind us” or that the future is so uncertain as to diminish our sense of hope. These are the times when remembering our past accomplishments, even if we think them humble, point to our ability to realize success on our own terms and encourage us to believe such success is repeatable and within our capability.
Failure comes when our “reach exceeds grasp” and we attempt to achieve something that we are unprepared for, or which circumstances prohibit, in the moment. We learn by doing, and this is true in every aspect of human endeavor. Virtually all entrepreneurs have encountered “failure” of one degree or another in pursuit of their dreams; what separates those deemed “successful” from those who are not is their ability to learn from past mistakes, make adjustments, and apply the lessons learned to either the venture in which they initially stumbled or a new one. Sure, some setbacks are more formidable and daunting than others, but oftentimes this can be mitigated by recognizing when one is on an inadvisable course and having the wisdom and courage to change direction before the worst case scenario is realized.
We do well to consider that obstacles are ultimately opportunities for us to grow, to test our mettle and fortitude in ways which we otherwise might not. Sometimes this involves improving certain skills, or learning new ones. Sometimes it’s about adjusting our attitude or our expectations. While going through such a time may force us temporarily to “eat bitter,” it is essential that we not allow the experience to make us bitter.
It is always worth remembering Plutarch’s admonition that, “The measure of a man is the way he bears up under misfortune.”
WHAT PERSISTENCE TEACHES US
Most things will yield to hard work, determination and commitment. But perhaps not all. While it is important that we never give up on our dreams, we must also learn to interpret these dreams in new ways, or understand the underlying motivations for them. While we do not always realize it, there are more often than not many paths to the top of a mountain. Some of those paths are more scenic. Some are more arduous. Some are longer than others.
Hope may be nourished by success yet it is also driven by our expectations. It is our constant striving to be a little bit better than the day before. It is our ability to recognize and acknowledge incremental progress and to “light a candle rather than curse the darkness.” Finding the kindling to ignite the flame may be a challenge at times. That’s okay.
Because when we find that kindling, and coax forth the flame, we have realized a non-trivial success. And from that tiny ember, hope springs forth, and the journey continues…