Sensational Living®

May-July 2007
© 2007 by Bret S. Beall


When telling a story, it's often, even usually, best to start at the beginning. In this case, I have long thought about what "success in life" means. I have wondered if it is an internal or an external measure, or both. I have wondered if it is "absolute" or "relative." Over the years, I have read a variety of books about "success." I've read good books, bestsellers like Deepak Chopra's "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success" and Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." I've also read some not so good books.

Perhaps the two books mentioned above, plus my own ruminations on success, laid a foundation that started my current round of thinking about success when I encountered a poem while I was traveling recently in northern California. I have visited the Trees of Mystery (http://www.treesofmystery.net/) in Klamath several times over the past 15 years, sometimes to actually wander through the amazing forest of redwoods and view wildlife (the previous time I was there, we saw ospreys), sometimes to browse the gift shop (I always buy my redwood calendars from them, but usually through the mail), and sometimes to view the "museum," an impressive collection of Native American antiques. Despite these numerous visits, I had never read a quote from the founder of the museum, Marylee Thompson. A clipping from the local newspaper cited that she had been inspired much of her life by a poem, "Success," by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I read the poem, and immediately thought, "What a great statement on 'success'! I must write a column using this poem as inspiration." I assumed (always a mistake) that I could come home, google "success" and "Ralph Waldo Emerson," and find the poem. Wrong! Actually, it was easy to find the poem, but it seems that attribution of the poem is up for debate. I did lots of research, and found that the following link deals with the history of the poem, and its attribution most succinctly: http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/Philosophy/Sui-Generis/Emerson/success.htm. The upshot is that the real author appears to be Bessie Stanley, further supported by some exchanges with one of her relatives at http://www.robinsweb.com/truth_behind_success.html.

Before continuing with my essay, here's the wonderful poem that has inspired me:


By Bessie Stanley (erroneously attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson)

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.

Isn't this great? Success isn't about accumulating money, or possessions, or having the biggest house, or the prettiest/most handsome partner/spouse. It's about living life mindfully, working to appreciate life itself, and having your life have the most positive influence on others. This is a noble goal, but a difficult one certainly.

Why is this goal so difficult? I think it is because those of us who embrace it are in the minority. We are constantly bombarded by opinions and influences that seek to lead us astray. Let me share an anecdote.

We've all heard that it is financially more responsible to buy a home, rather than to rent. Renting is "just throwing away your equity." That is undoubtedly true, but it is relevant if you only think in long-term fiscal terms. If you think about quality of life, renting makes sense on many fronts. If I had purchased a condo, I could be hit with assessments and other unpredictable expenses. I would have to pay for all of the changes to my condo out of my own pocket. And, if I wanted to relocate, I'd have to sell before moving; just talking with friends trying to sell their condos is enough to reinforce that my current rental strategy is the most successful Path for me.

If I had a free-standing home, I'd have yard work to deal with, and exterior maintenance, and plumbing and heating and other "fun" stuff to occupy my time. I already have enough irons in the fire. I don't need to add more irons to, or enlarge the fire. While I'd enjoy outdoor gardening and landscaping and designing the exterior of my home, that fun doesn't offset the headaches that home ownership would cause me. I'm free to leave whenever my lease expires, and I don't have to worry about increases in property taxes or other unpredictable factors. My strategy is still successful for me (and I emphasize, this is MY success; it may not be appropriate for you).

I have the freedom to actually live life as fully as possible. I can (and do) joyfully follow all of the recommendations in the poem for achieving success. Let's go through it line-by-line.

To laugh often and much: One of these days I am going to write a column about the importance of laughter. Years ago, I was very, VERY serious. I was doing SCIENCE! But, I quickly learned that a joyful life was a successful life, and I embrace laughter as often as possible (and that's almost continuously, often to the consternation of others, but THAT is THEIR issue! LOL!).

To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children: This is a complex sentence. As a scientist, the quality of my research and presentations certainly gained the respect of many intelligent people. As a healthcare executive, my knowledge, service and attentiveness earned the respect of the doctors and dentists and other intelligent people who were my clients. Today, as a lifestyle services educator and manager, I have received so much respect that it is mind-boggling (and I am grateful). With regard to the affection of children, there was a time when I eschewed it. I disliked children … because I disliked myself. That was years ago, and since seeking and achieving healing, I have embraced, and have been embraced by, children of all of my friends and acquaintances. I am "Uncle Bret" to so many children that you'd think I had dozens of siblings instead of being an only child. Just recently, I played "Uncle Bret" to the two sons of dear friends in Boston; we played games, we read books, we explored nature, but most importantly, I treated them like human beings, speaking directly to them, listening to them, and loving them. Check out my related essay, "Listening is Loving," at http://www.god-dess.com/services_lifestyleNov04.html. I am blessed, and successful!

To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends: Honest critics seek to help you with their comments; you can always tell an honest critic by his/her level of constructiveness. If the comment is helpful or constructive, you have an honest critic. If it is demeaning or downright wrong, you have a problem. And that problem is often a false friend. "Betrayal of a false friend" brings to mind my PhD advisor, who has never dealt with own demons, but felt it necessary to sabotage me. I've been successful by moving beyond his influence; he has been unsuccessful by not dealing with the issues that cause his negative behavior. I pity him (and thank him for serving as an anecdote). There's also the lecture my father gave me 30 years ago in which he informed me "You will never be successful unless you become an engineer." May he rest in peace, aware of the many successes in my life.

To appreciate beauty: To find the best in others: Ah, to stop and smell and roses! Beauty is all around us! Finding and sharing that beauty is one of the goals of GOD-DESS, so you can see I have fully embraced this measure of success. Beauty is everywhere! This view is expanded in my essay, "Walk in Beauty! Live in Beauty," an interview with successful freelance photographer Carol Freeman at http://www.god-dess.com/services_sensesSeptember2006.html. She and I find beauty in all. In the spider web spun across my kitchen sink. In the joy experienced by my cats as they chase each other from one end of the apartment to the other, in the process disrupting papers I've sorted. In the porch plantings that are still young, but have incipient beauty as they grow and flourish. And just as I can see the best in my young porch plants, I can see the best in others. I can see the best in the cantankerous grocery store clerk who has had a bad day, and just needs a smile and an expression of gratitude. I can see the best in the coworker who lashes out at me, realizing she is young and inexperienced in her position. I can see the best in my fellow riders of public transportation, who often growl or cuss, but who just want to get on with their lives without hassle. We all have our less than ideal moments, myself included, so don't focus on the negative; emphasize the positive, and be successful!

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition: I won't be having children, healthy or otherwise, so there's no way for me to address that, but I do want to encourage all of you parents to treat your children as national treasures; they are your legacy, and they will create the "next world"; check out that column above, "Listening is Loving." Preparing your children for life is one way to "leave the world a bit better," but there are so many other ways: pick up some trash, recycle, minimize your waste, buy and eat organic food, educate yourself on healthy living for a healthy earth, and then educate others. And by educating others, you can leave a "redeemed social condition," or to further that, become politically active. Make that "garden patch" an organic one, and learn to cook and prepare what you need to live from your own harvest (if you don't have a garden patch, grow plants indoors, and buy your veggies and fruit at an organic market … this type of lifestyle meshes together so successfully).

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived: I am always telling people that I believe we are each on this planet to help others. In one case, I gave a woman a tip on how to handle her loose shopping bags by always carrying a larger shopping bag into which she could place the smaller bags. I'm always offering tips to friends and colleagues for easier living. On the day that I completed this essay, I was approached on the street by a poor man who had just completed his GED, and needed to get across town to sign papers, but didn't have the money for public transportation; I didn't give him money, but I did give him my limitless bus/train pass that had two full days left on it, because I had a new one I could use; he was speechless, and as he walked away, I saw him raise his hands to heaven in gratitude. Based on the feedback I get from these columns, I think more than a few people have breathed easier thanks to my writings. I am grateful for this success, and for the opportunity to help others achieve their own success when they forward my newsletters and links to others to help their own friends, relatives and colleagues to "breathe easier." It's so easy to be successful.

This is to have succeeded: I can say that one of the greatest successes of my life is having the confidence and self-respect to KNOW when I am right. To have the knowledge and experience to be comfortable expressing my position. To have fact to back me up, and to have belief/faith to inspire me. These successes were hard won, but life has never been sweeter since achieving them.

In essence, to be successful is to be comfortable in one's own skin. I may not make a lot of money, I may not currently be in a relationship, I may not own a house, but I am successful beyond words, and you can be, too, by accepting yourself as you are, and acknowledging that as human beings, we are never perfect, that we can always improve. In fact, you may already be the ultimate in success, and not yet realize it, and that is where I can help. Get in touch at 773.508.9208 or email me and let's start communicating about how I can help you recognize your own success.