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Success Comes With Gratitude. A Thanksgiving Musing

[On this Thanksgiving day once again I offer this piece on the importance of gratitude, on being truly thankful. Indeed, it may very well be that it is impossible to be successful without also being thankful.]

So much we could talk about this morning. Religious extremists and their violence. Intolerance of various kinds expressed in various ways and in various places. Friendship, and those who would impose restrictions thereupon. Financial models both micro and macro, and how they affect those downstream from the “decisioners”. I could go on and on before I even start.

Rather than contemplate any of these in the kind of depth they deserve, let’s rather consider a bigger theme and look at it from different altitudes. My friend Dave posted a little thoughtlet on “success”, and it started a very nice conversation about what actually constitutes success and why. Thinking about success may provide us with a platform from which we might think about the other issues that may be orbiting our little personal planets.

Dave’s post was this: “Successful people have a sense of gratitude. Unsuccessful people have a sense of entitlement.” To parse this one must begin with a definition or at least an understanding of what success is, and equally importantly, what it is not. There are many terms that are often associated with success, things like wealth and power and fame. Is it necessary to have any, or all, of these to be a success? Can you be successful in the absence of any, or all, of these? Where would one fall on the gratitude/entitlement continuum if one were to have any, or all?

This is really tricky, and I’m afraid that when I’m done you will likely have more questions than answers, maybe even more than you had when you started. That may actually be the point now that I think of it. Success probably relates to what I shared last week about “All” or Everything” in that the proper definition of success emanates from within, not without, and this I think is what Dave is implying when he makes the distinction based on gratitude vs. entitlement.

Let’s use an example, a very famous example, to try to illustrate this and prompt some thought: Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs as you know was cut down in the prime of his life by a disease that has no known cause. Was he a success? He was wealthy, famous, and wielded great power both inside and outside his company. He was married to his only spouse, and together they had healthy children (2, if memory serves). A life to be envied, no? One to which many (most?) might aspire.

A deeper dive at least suggests another story, though. It appears that Mr. Jobs, unlike his one great peer Bill Gates, had few if any close friends. Indeed, within his company and his industry he left behind a trail of despair. All one reads about is how hard it was to work with or for him. He won…for sure he won way more than he lost…but did he succeed? Was he successful? I never once read or heard anything from Mr. Jobs that implied that he was grateful for either any of his wins, or any of the spoils of his victories. There were a couple of whispers about an end of life wistfulness about a paucity of connection, though.

I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Jobs, and Heaven knows his family surely misses him. I think his example might soften the “entitlement” part of the equation a bit as I never really got a sense of that from him (as opposed to, say, your favorite rich and famous Kardashian). Being grateful, however, bespeaks connection, a very certain acknowledgement that the concrete parts of success–money, fame, power–are without any real value unless they somehow allow you to share them. This, in turn, brings with it the humility that comes from realizing that you can’t be truly successful if success is only something you can count rather than something you can feel.

No one is entitled to victory, let alone success. In order to feel successful you must be able to admit that you neither did it alone, nor can you truly enjoy it alone. The gratitude felt by the successful is one born of thankfulness for the opportunity you must have been given, and borne aloft by the desire for your success to be one that is felt by not only you, but by others you are thankful to have in your life.

What does being successful mean to you? Rich or poor, famous or anonymous…are you successful?

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from me and all of mine.


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2 Responses to “Success Comes With Gratitude. A Thanksgiving Musing”

  1. November 23rd, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    BEAR '81 Williams College says:

    Worked with an extremely successful Cardiologist in Utah. He and his Wife celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary at a lovely venue in one of the Canyons there. He took the mic and said “You can judge your success as a parent by your least happy child.” A calm hush overcame most of the guests there, introspectively assessing their kids level of happiness.
    Being successful means letting your kids find themselves and helping them find the tools they need to do that.

    For me, the question is: What is Success? Money? I trained more rich unhappy people than I can count. It isn’t money.

    Have you ever watched the sunrise on the Great Barrier Reef?
    Have you ever seen the sunset from 11,000 Ft. in Chile?
    Have you ever sung Karaoke at a Yakuza bar in Tokyo?
    Sailed with sea snakes in New Caledonia?
    Been told you’d be eaten by Maori Tribal Leaders in New Zealand?
    Been attacked in a laundromat in Maui for being a Haole? And lived?
    Taken 3 trams to the top of a Mountain in Zermatt?

    I can go on and on Doc.

    Life isn’t about how many breaths you take, as successful as one would think they are. Life is about how many moments take your breath away.

    Happy Thanksgiving Doc.

  2. November 24th, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    drwhite says:

    Aye Bear…ALL of that! Thanks for weighing in my friend. I have very much enjoyed our re-connection.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

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