The True Meaning of Success

Eric Garner asked:

I’ve come to hate the word “success”. If you watch TV or read the popular newspapers today, the word “success” seems to be applied freely to anyone who achieves fleeting fame, wins dubious awards, or appears repeatedly in the gossip columns. Success is synonymous with fame, celebrity, or notoriety. In one recent series of the TV show “Celebrity Big Brother” in the UK, the contestants comprised a failed comedian still under suspicion for the death of a guest at his mansion during a late-night drugs party, a woman whose “success” amounted to two affairs with members of the ruling body of the national football team, and a transvestite whose “success” was one hit record some 20 years ago.

But, as I suspect all of us really know, none of this is true “success”. And it is rarely enduring, or deep, or satisfying.

For the fact of the matter is, that real success is not determined in the public arena but in the personal. It is not about having the limelight shining on us, but simply letting our own light shine. It is not about telephone votes, TV ratings, and coming first, but about making little differences that touch others’ lives.

Recently, we rented all 15 episodes of the old BBC series, “To Serve Them All My Days”, R.F.Delderfield’s story of an English public school in the 1920’s and 30’s.

There is a scene in one episode where the much-loved headmaster, Algie Herries, is giving his final speech to the school shortly before retiring. This is what he tells the boys:

“We’ve had our fair share of brilliant boys at Bamfylde but I want to tell you about two chaps who were called Petherbridge and Rogers.

Now Petherbridge was one of our skyrockets. He went on to become president of an insurance company or something. He got the OBE, the DBF, or whatever it is that these chaps get.

But Chuff Rogers never got anything. Except once, when some kindly soul put him down for the lower 4th effort prize because he’d pulled up from bottom to 27th or something.

So, speech day came along and I could see Chuff Rogers down there fairly bursting with excitement, looking as pleased as punch, and waiting for his turn to come along.

He had a woman with a baby sitting next to him, and this baby took a special shine to Chuff, grasping his fingers and making goo-goo noises. And, just as Chuff’s big moment arrived, the baby gave a beautiful smile and was dramatically sick all over Chuff’s best suit. And over himself, and the mother.

She, poor woman, was beside herself with shame. I thought Chuff would be too. But not Chuff. He pulled out the strangest-looking handkerchief I have ever seen, wiped the mother down, and wiped the baby down, and tried to wipe himself down.

And then, and only then, when he had settled everything to his satisfaction, he went up for his one and only prize.

First things first, you see.

And that is what I call a Bamfylde success.

And that is why I’ll never forget Chuff Rogers.

But I’ve completely forgotten… Petherbridge.”

And that, to me is the true meaning of success. Not gongs, or status, or fame. But those who laugh often and much; those who win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; those who find the best in others; those who appreciate the smallest of gifts; and those who leave this world a bit better because they have lived.

If you run any kind of training programme, by all means acknowledge those who lead and come first. But also take a moment to notice and cherish the Chuff Rogers in your midst.


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