Rendered Fat Content


Thérèse Schwartze: Portrait of Lizzy Ansingh (1902)

" … reframing what success might mean …"

This story marks the first installment of a new series focused upon Success. I feel distinctly unqualified to write this series. This sense alone might qualify me to at least attempt to write it because I hold a growing belief that those who've been held up as examples of success serve as at best poor examples of it. Certainly the richest, often presumed the default most successful, have well proven just how unqualified for emulation they tend to be. Nobody wants to grow up to be Henry Ford or Elon Musk anymore. We pity them their public frailties. Likewise those examples from most any field one cares to name. Each seemed to be poor exemplars on some level. I might well conclude that one of the better ways to elude Success might arise from attempting to emulate anyone touted as successful. This world hardly needs one Elon Musk. Heaven forbid that it had to suffer through two, even if that second one just happened to be you.

I poke at Mr. Musk since he's widely recognized as the world's richest man.
I'll propose that rich serves as perhaps the poorest metric for success, yet I'm certain to find little opposition to the proposition that the richest person qualifies as successful. It's the default example. I see little evidence that Mr. Musk has managed with all his wealth to resolve a single fundamental difficulty of human existence. He certainly fails to present himself as anything even remotely resembling perfection. He seems a misplaced child instead, one perennially over his head and experiencing no more than the occasional flash of what might be considered as brilliance. He seems socially awkward, politically backward, philosophically untoward, and overall poorly suited to fulfill the roles he's cast himself into. He seems to be primarily employed to clean up messes of his own making. That's successful?

It might be that anybody wildly considered successful, isn't. That the truly successful almost never get noticed as such. That they wisely keep their own council. They whisper their wisdom rather that flout their knowledge. They often travel the unpaved trails and go their own ways, unimpressed with what was supposed to be the right and proper way to achieve. Even what they pursue might well seem uninteresting, even unworthy to you, not nearly lofty enough, not Change The World aggressive enough to notice. This premise seems almost perfectly undisprovable, and might therefore qualify as merely delusional. How might it be that I'm even qualified to speak of Success? Who's Top Ten List do I routinely find myself atop? (Nobody's!)

I recognize rather late in my life that I've mostly felt a stranger to success. I've certainly not very often felt successful. I've much more often felt as though I was playing catch-up, destined to at best qualify as an also ran while others seemed to easily zoom ahead of me. Now, though, that I'm well within the final quarter of my rat race, I can see the effects of those earlier presumed successes, and I see that they would not have satisfied me. It almost seems as though some horse actually knew the way I was supposed to be heading, regardless of the game I believed that I was playing, and that each apparent shortcoming, each experienced failure, was steadily advancing me along some unsuspected course which, with very likely undeserved grace, deposited me here in my later years, feeling awfully successful. Apparently my path to personal success was paved with the continuing sense of failure; that and the abiding sense of impending catastrophe.

What should I make of myself? Have I lived my life engaged not in the sin of self importance but rather its opposite, the sin of insignificance, the conviction that I was probably not up to whatever task presented itself to me, even when I repeatedly managed to succeed, though rarely very easily? My self talk seemed overwhelmingly negative. Still does. My external presentation, heavily made up lest anyone ever sense the inadequacies I tried to keep hidden within. I suspect that I fooled no-one, especially myself, for one can usually smell such attempted authenticity. I was just as phony as necessary, poised on the edge of catastrophe, probably of my own making.

This series, I propose a reckoning of sorts. I propose a series describing success as it might alternatively be recognized and acknowledged. The purpose of this exercise might become to retrain my eye away from the blinding lights and into the shadows where I suspect I might see some deeper successes lurking. I might even come to see my own former failures in somewhat new perspective. You, dear reader, might join me in reframing what success might mean to you, too, even though this whole experiment might prove to be just another exercise in futility and failure.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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