I always enjoy getting feedback about my column, especially when people mention something helpful they learned while reading it, or a powerful memory it brought out in them. Occasionally, the feedback I receive actually moves me to tears. That happened this week, when I read an email from a friend that I haven’t seen in a long time. What she said was so eloquently expressed that I emailed her back to ask if I could include it here pretty much word-for-word. She graciously agreed.
She was commenting on last week’s column, in which I talked about success – about how it means different things to different people. And the fact that many people define it mainly – or exclusively – in terms of money. Here’s what my friend had to say about that:
“Hey Betty. Loved your article this week. It brought to my mind my dad. He left this world when he was only 64 (my age now). He struggled for three years with cancer. He left my mother with very little, and often told her in his latter days that he was sorry he wasn’t more successful and able to leave her well taken care of. It saddens me to think he thought of himself that way – only the monetary component you spoke of. His success, in my eyes, was the fact that he fathered four children and raised them to have wonderful values and to be self-sufficient, faithful, loving and successful in their own rights. And the best part is that we are, in turn, passing this along to our own children (his nine grandchildren, whom he never got to see grow up), who are now all over the age of 26 and on their way to being ‘successful’ in their lives. To me, that is quite a legacy of success, and what we were put here for.”
I think that pretty much says it all. And I find my friend’s letter to be heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Heartwarming because her father was, obviously, a very successful man in the ways that really matter. His legacy is indeed a positive and powerful one. But his story is heartbreaking, too, because he wasn’t able to see that for himself. Instead, he looked at success from a financial standpoint, and saw himself as coming up short, especially with regard to taking care of his family.
His story makes me think of the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the Christmas classic in which an angel named Clarence visits George Bailey – who considers himself a failure and is about to commit suicide – and shows him how miserable everyone around him would have been had he never been born. I also think of Mitch Albom’s “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” whose main character is an old man who thinks that his life has been meaningless – until he learns otherwise from some people who crossed paths with him at different stages of his life.
Come to think of it, there are a number of books, movies, and stories that have a similar theme. I guess it’s because so many of us can relate to it. Most of us can easily see the areas in which we fall short, or fail to accomplish what we set out to do or what we think we should have been able to do. But we never see all the ways in which we have been successful. The people we’ve taught or inspired. The friends or children we encouraged. The co-workers and acquaintances – or even total strangers – that we helped in some way. And we don’t always get the feedback that lets us know how powerfully we affected or influenced them, or what a difference we made in their lives.
I’d like you to think about that now – with regard to the people you’ve helped and influenced, and the people who have helped and influenced you. Think of success as a challenge met, a mission accomplished, a dream fulfilled, or a life well lived. And remember that at times the greatest signs of your success will be evident in the people around you more so than in yourself. But these are your successes, too. Enjoy them.
And if you have any insights, observations, or success stories you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them. Please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s to your success – in every way, and in everything you do!
The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on July 12, 2012.
© Betty Liedtke, 2012
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