Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Success is... ?



What I am saying is this: the score is not what matters. Life does not have to be regarded as a game in which scores are kept and somebody wins. If you are too intent on winning, you will never enjoy playing. If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.

Thomas Merton


I found this quote in the middle of an interesting post over at the blog Dharmas. I have long loved Merton's brilliant mind and hearty spirit, and feel that he was someone who both fully embodied his particular spiritual path (Catholicism), while also, in many ways, transcending it's limitations.

Anyway, he's right about success. However, I'd argue we can go even further with the point.

How often do we even know what success is in a given situation?

Penn State's football team won an awful lot of games under Coach Joe Paterno, and yet now it appears that the "winning culture" developed during those years also made it easier for former assistant Coach Sandusky to get away with sexually abusing children.

Wells Fargo recently reported record quarterly profits, while home evictions under their watch continue unabated.

I won an award during grad school for my poetry and creative essay writing, and still haven't published the vast majority of the work that garnered the attention.

And so it goes. Every "winning" situation seems to contain elements of its undoing. Everything we label successful is provisional, contextual, and impermanent.

The same can be said about failure.

Whatever label-hat you choose to wear in a given moment, don't let it sink in, and don't forget to live.

6 comments:

Petteri Sulonen said...

Oh, yes.

I'm currently grappling with this at a very mundane level. I've made some "bad" career choices. Basically, I asked to be relieved of all "hierarchical" positions at my company, in order to go back to being nothing more or less than a factory-floor software engineer. I was CTO, for a while, business development manager for a while, and product development manager for much longer than that.

I enjoy my work a lot more this way, I'm much more productive, I really like working with my dev team colleagues, I hate sitting in meetings, and I detest power games. I also get to keep all my perks. So this is most definitely the right move for me. The only loss—at the concrete level—is that I have somewhat less control over the kinds of tasks I get to do, but since it's in everybody's best interest to have me do tasks I'm good at, I'm not too concerned about that either.

Yet I can't help thinking "how will this look on my CV," or getting a little hollow feeling when seeing the org chart with my name appearing on it nowhere, or feeling ever so slightly uncomfortable when a guy who used to work "below" me is now my immediate superior. The idea that "success" equates to "position" and "loss of position" equates to "failure" is pretty deeply ingrained.

Robyn said...

Lately I have noticed that I am still holding on to this notion within zazen itself. What was a "good" sitting period? What was a bad one? Did I pass at dokusan? Or fail?

I thought I was not still engaging in this kind of thing, but looking deeper I see it there so clearly. It seems somewhat unavoidable given that this is the system that I was brought up in - my entire education was about passing and failing, being a good student or being a bad student.

What exactly would a successful student look and act like? I think it would be a whole lot messier than I am allowing myself to be. How hard it is to let go of these ideas!

Nathan said...

Petteri,

I hear ya. The fancy titles you had, it sounds like they mostly brought misery. And who needs that. But that whole professional image thing can be so difficult to let go of.

Robyn,

"It seems somewhat unavoidable given that this is the system that I was brought up in - my entire education was about passing and failing, being a good student or being a bad student."

This is an excellent point. I often find myself in a place of needing to re-educate because what I learned in the past was sometimes greatly faulty. Obviously, that's true for a hell of a lot of us out there.

Petteri Sulonen said...

Not only misery. I did make a positive contribution to the community that is the company from those positions too. They did come with a lot of baggage I didn't like, though, and for a variety of reasons this year felt like a good time to give them up.

It felt a little selfish, though, as I do enjoy designing, coding and solving problems—for myself and for other people in the company—way more than managing, beancounting, dealing with customers and partners, doing sales support and all the rest of the stuff that came with those positions. As if I'm deserting my position. I think that's just inside me head, though; I think I can make a more positive contribution if I'm doing things I enjoy doing than things I'm doing just because I have to.

And my successor is doing a splendid job.

Nathan said...

"I think I can make a more positive contribution if I'm doing things I enjoy doing than things I'm doing just because I have to."

Yes, exactly!

Matt Basil said...

well i think success is just an idea everyone defines differently. what u need is actual peace of mind. contentment is what people call "success". 7 chakras Meditation