Last fall, at a class reunion in Palm Springs, CA, 39-year-old Steven Burton wore dress Navy attire displaying the Navy Cross, the highest medal that can be awarded by the United States Department of the Navy. This award is given for “extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force and going beyond the call of duty.” Mr. Burton also wore the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and other medals. The problem is that he was never in the military. Unfortunately for Burton, another classmate, who was a real Navy commander, asked a few questions and subsequently followed up by contacting the FBI. Burton has been charged with wearing these medals fraudulently and could face up to a year in federal prison if convicted.
Evidently, being a bank teller did not convey the image he wanted to share with his classmates. But this incident causes one to ponder how we judge success. Has our concept of success become so skewed that we are embarrassed to be faithful spouses, diligent parents, and solid citizens? Does success need to be something spectacular or could a hard working mechanic, truck driver or construction worker be considered successful? How about the single mom who is balancing her life in eight directions while trying to do the best for her children? Or the stay-at-home mom who has decided that investing her life into her children is more important than investing in her career?
Before you read any further, stop and answer this question: How do you measure success?
How did you do? Isn’t easy is it? Somehow success needs to incorporate our values: what they are and how well our lives reflect them. Success needs to be dynamic: an ongoing process of achieving dreams while dreaming new dreams. While a successful life should have some stopping points, reaching success should never mean stopping.
One never magically arrives at success, for reaching a peak in life will only give you a view of another mountain worth climbing. Success, therefore, is found in the process.
So I ask again, “How do you measure success?” Here is a borrowed definition I like:
Success is the progressive realization of worthwhile goals.
If you are already in the process of realizing worthwhile goals, you are already successful. I congratulate you and wish you a truly successful year.
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This article was originally published on December 30, 2009 at PersonalFinanceByTheBook.com.