Defining and Realizing Success

The Sociological Images blog recently posted an article referencing the Pew Research Center’s report, The Causalities: Faith and Hard Work in Capitalism. The first extracted chart shows how people view the relationship between hard work and success. In the United States, 77% of respondents indicated that they believe success will come to those who work hard.

My immediate reaction was to think of all of the other factors that influence the achievement of success such as education, opportunity, and access to resources. I have experienced first hand the superimposed barriers that have prevented me from seeing a direct relationship between my immense hard work and my perceived success. I have worked full+ time while pursing five degrees over the past 18 years — hard work indeed. Yet, I have not reaped the financial rewards that one might expect to accrue to a person who has demonstrated consistent dedication to her professional field. In fact, my standard of living remains overwhelmingly simple.

But then I started to think more deeply about this topic. I realized that my immediate definition of success was limited to economic return. Truly, I do not have such a myopic view of success. Rather, I define success as being happily engaged in work, feeling peaceful, experiencing loving relationships, feeling a strong spiritual connection, and having the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to my community. By these measures, I am truly successful and can choose to be at any moment in time. I further realized that my economic view of success was short term; perhaps this is influenced by our political system and instant gratification culture. Over time, particularly once I complete the doctoral program in which I am currently enrolled, I can expect some financial return based on my competence, experience, education, and — yes –my determination and hard work. I can translate my inner self into material manifestation through my action. This is what it means to be a leader.

I also appreciate that there are many people who have not seen the challenges in their lives through the same lens as me and those who have been systematically disadvantaged for many more reasons than me. Those barriers — both personal and political — must be removed so that every American, and everyone around the world, can realize her or his potential. Success will come to those work hard if we redefine the meaning of success, focus on a long-term perspective, and persistently pursue our individual and collective dreams. Starting now.

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