I find myself thinking more and more on the nature of success. Invariably, in this day and age, we treat the term as one synonymous with financial accomplishment. The more you think about it, the more you’ll realize its true. Of course, there is that big hoola about having a nice family and contributing to society, blah blah blah… but it all boils down to money. If you’re good at making money, you’re a success.
This is not a bad thing - I don’t mean it in a derogatory way. To me, success is
most definitely the ability to make money. Of course, I will also keep the whole family and useful-member-of-society stuff in mind too, but for me, right now, the most urgent definition of success is money.
I’m not a greedy guy, not by a long shot. For me, money represents the ability to help others. I want to be able to provide for my family, to allow my parents to live their old age without them even thinking about money anymore, to give my kids a good life. All that needs money. I’ve never thought of money as the means to a obscenely luxurious life. Fancy cars and high living has never interested me. However for a young man like myself, at the verge of going out into the world (or trying to anyway), making money looms large in my things-to-get-done list. I don’t live in the West, where I can send my kids to a public school where education is reasonably good and free or where there’s a public health care system. I belong to a poor country and I have to take on burdens like these upon myself and ensure that my family lacks for nothing.
People who are ‘successful’ when gauged by the money criterion are usually greatly admired. I’m not talking about your average doctor or lawyer, who after all are just making a good living. I’m talking about your millionaires and your billionaires. The ones who employ an army of accountants to count their money.
I’ve been watching a little TV recently and I see people like Oprah and Bill Gates, both billionaires. I see actors like Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz, Tom Hanks, all multi-millionaires. By ‘my’ definition of success, they should all be epitomes of accomplishment. They must have certain basic principles of conducting themselves that make them successful. They must be doing something the rest of us aren’t. There must be something to them that we should try to discern and learn from.
Or is there? What would these folks have done if they lived in a different time? If Oprah lived 300 years ago and was a black slave? If Tom Cruise lived 100 years ago when there were no movies. If Bill Gates was born 40 years earlier, and missed out on the entire computer revolution. Are these folks just in the right place in the right time? Actually, I think there definitely must be something
to all these people that explains the extraordinary success that they’ve enjoyed. I don’t think you can write them all off as mere accidents of good fortune. However many people think of their ‘success’ as being directly proportional to wealth. Ergo, Oprah is more successful than Tom Cruise because she’s a lot richer – and Bill Gates more so that Oprah for the same reason.
After reaching a certain level of financial security (and this point is important), I suppose money shouldn’t an index to how successful someone is considered. Of course, it seems obvious, putting it like that, but think about it. Since everyone (me included) has pegged money as a direct indicator to the degree of an individual’s success, it seems logical to extend that reasoning further – that the more money you had, the more successful you were. That seems like a really shallow concept of success but I think it’s a very prevalent one. A billionaire is more successful that a millionaire.
As a corollary to this, it seems that it’s never a good mindset to be too self-assured. It’s very tempting to think that your destiny in totally in your hands, but let’s fact it, the ability to turn the thousands into millions and millions into billions is tempered in no small part by circumstance and opportunity. What if some person has the intelligence, the willingness, the motivation to do all the things needed to make him rich – but he was a black slave living 300 years ago where the opportunity and circumstance never present themselves. He’d never get anywhere but be reduced to being a slave for the rest of his life. The ultimate outcome of a person’s life in any case is not a reflection of his character, or intelligence, or anything else really related to his personality. It’s just a reflection of circumstance and opportunity. The natural conclusion one draws is that those making bucket-loads of money should never get too big for their boots. Rather, they should thank the Lord that whatever they’re doing is making them money and not let it get to their heads, in another life, they might never have done so.
And do not swell your cheek at men with pride, nor walk in insolence through the earth - for God does not love any arrogant boaster. And be moderate in your pace, and lower your voice - for the harshest of sounds without doubt is the braying of the ass. Do you not see that God has subjected to your use all things in the heavens and on earth? And has made his bounties flow to you in exceeding measure, both seen and unseen?
Surah Luqman, Verse 18-20