One of the advantages of being a teacher is that you can get plenty of opportunities to interact with young people both within and outside the college. On these different occasions, such as maybe in the midst of a lesson in the class, or in a “career guidance and motivation” programme, a favorite question that I make it a point to ask the youngsters is the trite but all too important question, “What is your aim in life?” In the last few years I have noticed that an increasing number of them respond simply that “1 want to be a successful man or woman.” Apparently a very positive response, however, a little probing easily reveals that most are very vague about what they really understand about their aspirations and how and how to achieve them. Their response is more or less only an echo of the of the repetitive message dinned in through various media that “Nothing succeeds like success.” We very passionately inculcate in them the message that to be counted as somebody they need make a tangible attainment in fame, wealth or status. This is all very good and necessary, but a thought that provokes me here is whether along with motivating others to take up the highway to success, do we also equip them with the qualities or attitude that will enable them to savour the taste of success when it is final1y within their grasp?
We live in a success driven world today where it appears that not to have heard of such names as Stephen Covey, Norman Vincent Peale, Dale Carnegie or Shiv Khera is a cardinal mistake. It is true that success is the ultimate destination of any human endeavor. One of the definitions of success is that it is “the favorable outcome of something attempted, especially in the manner desired.” It is the attainment of fame, wealth, power who would then embark on any task or live life with the goal that I want to be a miserable failure? Definitely none.
But it is also true that success comes with a price. One of the most dangerous presumptions a person can make is to look at those who in their opinion are successful people and to hanker blindly after what the others have. We become blinded to our own positive attributes and often feel that others have it all and that we are left only with the dregs of life. We refuse to understand or empathize with the struggles and responsibilities that are the ingredients of success and often become corrupted in trying to reach out for a perceived success by adopting any ways or means available. We do not always realize that handling success in such a way that we taste its sweetness requires strong emotional, mental and attitudinal capabilities. For success can easily be a destructive force.
A classic role model for the “rags to riches” Success story is Abraham Lincoln, but we also read that he could get into manic-depressive moods. An anecdote about Alexander the Great is that after the success of his dreams of conquering all the then known worlds, he wept that he had no more to aspire for. The poet Shelley wrote, “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” We see mighty industrial families like the Birlas and the Ambanis facing havoc and from the fruits of their success. When we ponder on both sides of the success coin taking stock of cases both in the past and in the modern contexts, we wonder for many of those we consider so successful, what must have been the real taste of success for them? In reflective moments like these, I am often reminded of the lives and death of two great personalities of the 20th century who died within days of each other- Princess Diana and Mother Theresa. Both these women are very famous, they both touched the world and their death was not mourned by a nation but by the nations. In their impact and influence on the world they were so close, yet one is a canonized saint and the other a perfect case for a Greek tragedy.
As we motivate others, as well as aspire ourselves, to ceaselessly strive for success, for the need to move towards higher levels of excellence, let us not forget to also keep in view this consideration then, what finally will be the taste of success for us? Is it success at the cost of our spiritual and moral integrity, our family and relationships, at the cost our happiness and well-being When we succeed, it is an accomplishment, it must be a “favorable outcome.” We must seek success so that its end is satisfaction and joy, not destruction and emptiness. The nature of our success will largely depend on the understanding and principles in which we seek to achieve it. For the children of God, how we can seek success and enjoy its attainment is given in Psalms 34. VIO says, “But they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.” When we seek for the “good things” within God’s permissible scheme, then the experience of the Psalmist can also be ours as expressed V8, “0 taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!”
Let us conclude here then, that it is the obligation of each human to strive for success. But when success comes to us, it should not mar the divinity that is in us, rather let this be the testimony of success in our lives: “They looked at Him and were radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed:’ (ps 34:5)
(This article was written for the “Intouch” magazine, New Delhi and was published in its August 2005 issue)