Monday, January 30, 2006

Having an abiding interest: the hallmark of real success in life


Robert L. Fielding

The hallmark was and still is the sign stamped into silverware that shows that it is genuine, and not some cheaper imitation. The word has also come to mean the sign of success – in sport this is silverware – cups, in hunting it is trophies – a lion’s head or an elephant’s tusk, but in the world the majority of us inhabit this role is played by money – the acquisition of wealth – large amounts of money – the larger the better, has always been and still is the hallmark of success.

Of course, other things can signify that person’s success: high office in politics, a large mansion in its own estate, a personal fleet of cars, a private jet, or a title – Sir before your name will suffice to let people know that you have made it to the top of your particular ladder.

In educational achievement, a diploma, degree or certificate, designate those that have been successful.

For the majority of us lesser mortals, we are left with money, a big house, and a nice car to let others know we have arrived at the top. For the more ostentatious, large diamonds, tiaras and expensive furs are indicative of success.

For some though, it seems that these traditional trappings are not enough. Fabulously wealthy pop stars are hospitalized for their addiction to what are euphemistically and dangerously called ‘recreational drugs’. Footballers lie in intensive-care wards of expensive, private hospitals while their livers rest from alcoholic poisoning. Suicide and divorce are probably no lower in the titled, wealthy classes than they are in the waged, and unwaged ones.

Every status of person in society is likely at some time or other to fall foul of acute depression, low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence and ill-health generally.

Envy and greed - two troublesome bedfellows, go around together and afflict those who, on the face of it seem to have everything they could possibly want in life.

So what is it about the hallmarks of success that still leave some bereft of that real hallmark of success – happiness?

Success as it is traditionally defined and accepted is something like rising to the top of the tree in some area of life- the big one is business – the acquisition of money, power and influence by means of trading in commodities. A close second is the world of entertainment – the popular diversion of the masses by music, theatre, film, and art. Other spheres are politics, education, and the caring professions – medicine and social welfare, and law enforcement.

Now, these areas of life appear to debar most people. After all, it seems as if I am saying that if you are not an entrepreneur, shopkeeper, company boss or accountant, if you do not at the very least hold some office in public life, are not a professional footballer or tennis player, a musician, writer or painter, if you are not an actor, pop singer, or broadcaster, if you are not a doctor, nurse, dentist or social worker, or if you are not a policeman, judge or barrister, if you don’t hold a degree or are not a PhD then you are not successful and nor are you ever going to be.

A colleague of mine recently interviewed me and wrote up what he found out about me as part of an assignment for a course in journalism on which we are both enrolled.

Reading a draft of his assignment, I found myself thinking that had my name been omitted from the title, that had I not known the writer, I would have said that the subject had led a very interesting and successful life – that he had been moderate healthy, had a fairly unenviable financial status, had his share of personal and emotional trauma in his life, but was living his life around the organizing principle, not of the acquisition of money, but around what chiefly interests him – understanding people, and writing about them.

Of course, being a teacher during the daytime, a reader and a writer some of the time and a husband, son, uncle, cousin, brother, and friend all of the time does help him to follow his own particular carrot that occasionally feels like a stick at times.

In traditional terms, he is not a success, although he has two degrees to his name, the same number of books published and commands a fairly respectable salary that allows him to live at a reasonable standard of living – and he is beloved by those mentioned above.

Very little separates him from the rest – in a crowd he wouldn’t stand out at all.

What separates him and demarks him as a success are not the epithets and rewards given him by society, but rather that he is aware of the source of his success – that he knows what obsesses him, what fills his head and his day, he knows his own particular addiction, and why he is single-minded about it, sometimes infuriatingly so. It is his abiding interest in people and writing about them: what moves them to tears, what threatens them, pleases them, thrills them, dismays them, what they cannot stand, why they do the things they do and why they prefer not to do the things they do not do.

His real success though is that in everything connected with his fellow man and his writing he remains and will always be a student – a perpetual learner. Finding something he can always improve on is the real success of his life.
Robert L. Fielding


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