When you ask your friends or even search for it on the Internet, you will get logically holistic answers to the meaning of success.
It will be all about being happy with what you do, who you are as a person, about your place in society, about being altruistic and helpful for others.
And that is great; however, we don’t always walk that talk.
In fact, it seems to me that the meaning of success is one of those innate concepts we know, deep down, is to be and do whatever makes us truly happy. But we do not necessarily, outwardly, behave that way.
How do we, then, measure that success?
Who Do We Admire?
When we say we want to do pursue something, even a hobby, we are directed to observe the people who have made it big in that particular area, as if that is the measurement of success of any worthy pursuit. Which, I suppose, in our achievement-oriented world can’t be any other way.
We praise the individuals who have made it big, in their profession or otherwise. Exacerbated by social media and the neverending connectedness, we look up to them. Our children look up to them.
You’ve probably noticed, but ask your children who the people are that they admire most? It will probably be a celebrity of some kind, perhaps a scientist, a writer, or more likely these days, a Youtuber, but always someone out there, someone big. Is the meaning, the measurement of success?
What happened to the times when we looked up to our teachers, our grandparents, our coaches, and neighbors as role models or mentors?
The Story of Walter
A few nights ago, I read a cute story in rhyme to my daughter called Walter’s Planet, published by Random House.
It rhymes and flows perfectly, the pictures are great—obviously a high-quality book.
In the beginning, we learn about a strange boy Walter, who goes around on his own collecting scraps of this and that and then shuts himself in his room for hours and days doing something with it.
“unlike other boys,
Didn’t seem interested
In Playing with toys.”
This worried his parents and those around him.
“His very behavior caused them despair
Whatever could Walter
Be doing up there?”
It turns out Walter was building a telescope, and then he used it to discover a planet. The planet was named after him, and he became a huge success making his parents relieved and happy. He even made some friends to play with.
Oh, man, it made me so angry. It had hit a nerve; probably because as a child, I would rather have spent hours reading or writing stories in my room than playing with other kids. But mostly, I just hid what I was doing because…well… it just wasn’t what successful children did.
While this story seems to be just a fun book to read to your child before bed, its definition of success stays somewhere ingrained in us, despite our inner beliefs about the meaning of success.
Do you have to discover an entire planet to be successful?
But moving on from the story of Walter, I wonder if I unwittingly impart that belief into my children.
So, What Is the Meaning of Success?
I don’t want my children to think they have to make it big (publicly!) to feel successful.
I don’t want them to think they can’t pursue an interest because they will not make it a profession and earn (big) money off of it.
My son started learning piano 2 years ago, and my mother asked: “What is he doing that for?”
“To learn,” I said, “because he wants to, and he enjoys it.”
She shook her head: “But what is he going to do with that? He has to be really talented to be a concert pianist, and as far as I know, we have no musical talents in our family.”
So, wait, unless he will be at the top of the game, it isn’t even worth pursuing an interest?
I hate to blame my mother because it is such a cliche (and she means well), but no wonder that as a child and young adult (and I hate to admit, even later), I chose to hide most of my hobbies, interests, and pursuits.
I want my children to believe, truly, not to struggle as I did (still do!), that doing something you like doing, whether you are paid for it or not, whether you are famous for it or not, as long as it makes you happy, is completely fine.
- Be it reading romance novels
- Or gardening
- Or knitting
- Or scrapbooking
- Or salsa dancing even if you aren’t very good at it
I want them to know that the story of little Walter would be just as good if his parents took some interest in his pursuit, encouraged him, went to collect scraps with him maybe. And even if he did build a telescope that did not work at all, it would have been a story worth telling. And rhyming.
By passionately pursuing his interests, Walter would be a success already.
Read This Beautiful Story about the Meaning of Success
Recently I read this anecdote told by Kurt Vonnegut in a letter to Xavier High School, and this is exactly what I want to instill into my children: