To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
The meaning of success is an ambiguous term. We all seek to live successful lives, just by different definitions of the term itself. In our modern, western society, success is often equivocated with money or degrees or the people you associate with. But with everything I do, I seek to challenge this in every regard.
I grew up with this quote on the wall of my grandmother's house, and I would whisper it to myself every time I saw it because it had such power. Words can be like that. When used correctly, they have the power to change lives. And these words in particular have changed and defined my life. In many ways, they embody all that I aspire to be. I am thus dedicating the next couple blog posts to discuss the meaning I personally have found abounding in this quote.
We have made success too complicated. Some of the people who are the most successful in my eyes are the parents that have raised children to be kind adults. Their life accomplishments will not go down in any hall of fame, but will live on in the people they have left on this earth. To look at this in another light, just because you become the president of a country or a CEO doesn't mean you have lived a successful life. This is why the words to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived are so powerful.
How many of us can say that we have made others' lives easier because of our presence and actions on this earth? Not as many as we would like to imagine. A name on a cold, lifeless plaque or trophy is truly nothing compared to repairing a living, breathing human heart. To those who have been graced with easy and steady breathing, remember all those whose breaths come in short, quick gasps. Their hearts are all worth helping or saving. To those whose breaths are unsure or weak, help always finds a way in many shapes or forms to those who ask for it. We all know what it is like to struggle for every breath in this smoky world. And we have all easily filled our lungs with the clean air our world can also occasionally provide.
So instead of judging your success based on test scores, job titles, followers on instagram, wealth, or fame, judge it upon the lives you have changed. It's not always as dramatic as saving someone from the brink of suicide. Sometimes it's sitting with someone who needs a friend. Sometimes it's smiling at a stranger. Regardless, we'll never fully know the impact we have had on others until we are among the legions of guardian angels. So until we are, make a promise to yourself for your own sake and for others, to make someone else breath a little easier.
It's the little things that bring us the success our hearts are truly longing for.