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Winning Essay

Caleb J. Kruse
Judson College
Elgin, IL
(Instructor: Dr. David Cook)

How do you define success?

Where is this place everybody is looking for? Does it lie in the glamour and glitter of Hollywood? Is it on the covers of magazines or in shiny cars? Will I ever make it there and be able to say "I've made it. I'm finally here!" Where is "that place" called success, and what does it mean for me?

To many others, the definition of success could be summed up as "accumulated wealth." Others might say fame or recognition. Many say happiness, regardless of status, is the measuring stick of success. It has been said that "the only place you'll find success before work, is in the dictionary." Henry David Thoreau once said, "success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it". Napoleon Bonaparte related success to power. This superior military leader gave the secret to his success, "Read and meditate upon the wars of the great captains. This is the only means of learning the art of war." If power meant success to Napoleon, does it mean that power made him happy? After all, isn't happiness what success implies?

According to Webster's Dictionary, success is the achievement of something desired, intended or attempted. This definition does not mention happiness. Though unlikely, one could actually desire to be unhappy. In this case, he or she could easily succeed in being miserable. On the other hand, it is not too uncommon to hear of someone who is successful in reaching goals of fame, wealth, and power, yet still unhappy. It seems we have distorted the word "success" to some extent. It is almost instinctive to think of a powerful or rich person as a successful person. Maybe society's "success-o-meter" is something we all are a little bit persuaded by, even though it is incapable of measuring true success for each of us as individuals.

It seems most definitions of success imply an important variable. They imply that goals are necessary for succeeding. In the way that an answer follows a question, success might be looked at as the result of reaching a goal. For someone with a goal to be "in charge", it might be a huge success having climbed the ranks to become a supervisor or manager. For somebody with the goal of becoming company president, only becoming a manager or supervisor might be a letdown. What one person deems unsuccessful, may be another persons highest goal. To somebody who grew up in poverty, success might be synonymous with making one million dollars over their entire lifetime. But then, one million dollars might only mean a bad business day to somebody like Bill Gates.

What causes us to set our goals where they are? I think our values determine these goals. For example, suppose somebody is very good at math and has always loved horses. To him, math is boring (even though he's good at it), and money is not a successful career's most important aspect. Even though the actuarial job might pay more, he values being around horses with a passion that money can't buy. Since his goals of making money are of less importance, his success is attained without becoming rich, famous, or powerful. These values that aim our goals, will determine where we succeed. If we value humor or laughter, our goals would probably not lead us to succeed upon the same platform as Edgar Allen Poe.

In my opinion, success is a matter of knowing just what my values are, setting reasonable goals on those values, and doing all I can to accomplish those goals. I personally value happiness, love, laughter and family. I know that in order to satisfy my needs for love and laughter, money is no answer in itself. However, I know that if I were a slave to debt and finances, there's a good chance I might spend a lot more time worrying and struggling that I would spend it laughing and loving. Not that money would play no role in my success, but my truest success would ultimately not lead me away from being a part of the things I value most. If I find a way to survive without straying from these things, I consider myself to be successful whether becoming the next president or a circus clown.

Fame is nice, though it's not everything. Appreciation is not the top necessity, but it sure is appreciated. Money is important, but the things I value most are far more valuable. They are irreplaceable. Success to me means overcoming the obstacles that stand between my values and me. It means that my goals are tied to helping me reach "that place" someday. Though the future holds many hopes, it is not in my hands. For this reason, I find the journey as important as the destination. Though not every attempt I ever make will be a success, I can't fail as long as I'm still doing all I can.