Defining Success

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Dear P,

Ideally, I would have a perfect idea of what success meant to me. It would be concise, beautiful, and definite, so I would know exactly when I had reached it. When I broke through this shimmering golden finish line, the crowds would cheer. People who have wronged me would shed tears of regret at my lost favor. Those I love would have gifts and adulation showered upon them (I include myself in “Those I Love”, of course).

This is an impossible idea, unfortunately. Success is tenuous and constantly questionable according to which ideal you are trying to live up to. I just attended a talk by Jerry of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. He said his company had two bottom lines: profitability and community benefit. He emphasized how the problem with social change is that it is much harder to measure than profitability, which is why many companies find it easier to act so obviously against the good of society.

Jerry took his definition of success for his company and evolved it into something not only unconventional, but revolutionary. Ben & Jerry’s donates the most pre-taxed profit of any company in the United States and sets the model for company good everywhere. Like Jerry, I’ve been thinking about my own personal definition of success a lot lately so that I make such an impact with my own life. I keep coming back to my middle school English and Creative Writing teacher, Mrs. Farley (above). Middle school was a rough, but formative, time for me, as it is for pretty much everyone. I spent my lunches and recesses in the library up until the seventh grade, but in middle school they make you stay in the cafeteria, which meant I had to learn to speak to people. Mrs. Farley offered unconditional love and support during this time, introducing me and my classmates to a number of young adult books that encouraged us to answer to no man and start figuring out what we believed in, including “Stargirl” by Jerry Spinelli, “Freak the Mighty”by Rodman Philbrick, “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “The Giver” by Louis Lowry. Well into her seventies, Mrs. Farley was beautiful, lived a rich and interesting life, talked every day about how much she loved her husband and ran six miles every morning. Last I heard, she was teaching English to little girls in China.

When I turned twenty, I reflected a lot on my life thus far, and whether or not I was on a trajectory to fulfill my own definition for success. This is a tough thing to reflect on because, again, I still haven’t quite decided on my defintion for success. However, I came to the conclusion that if I was a person that my thirteen-year-old self AND Mrs. Farley could be proud of, I can be happy with that.

Yours,
E

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