With all the latest from Obama and people not making their own success and the looking down of ones nose at Romney's venture with Bain Capital; I began to wonder what is it exactly that your typical liberal would consider to qualify as success...
Obviously wealth does not equal success as most liberals seem to have a healthy disregard for such things as wealth and power. So, what is it exactly that you have on your short list of things that make one successful? Is it happiness? How does one gauge happiness? Is it giving to others? How much does one give to be successful? Do you have to go all Mother Theresa, oh wait, she is a religious figure... um, anyways you get the point.
So, what factors do you use to gauge ones success?
Okay, now for a more serious answer.
Success can obviously be defined in several ways, both small and large. Meeting a goal on-time and under-budget is success; hitting the game-winning home-run, or even a single home-run, is success. Cooking a great dinner is a success.
But, what makes a successful person
? Who do we look at and say, 'wow, that guy is successful?' I would posit that it's only tangentially related to money. Obviously, there's a minimum level that one needs to make in order to be 'successful,' although that's highly variable depending on one's location and goals; we generally don't look at someone who has money problems as successful. Let us define as successful a person who has enough money to adequately fund their life goals, with extra left over for savings and for enjoyable activities and purchases.
There's a personal element of success: is the person happy? Have they achieved spiritual or emotional fulfillment? Are they in the relationships and have the family they wish to have? Have they been educated (in whatever fashion) and are intellectually curious? Are they physically healthy and active? I would say that all the above elements are key to judging a successful person.
There's a social element of success: is the person well-liked and surrounded by friends? Are the majority of their interactions positive ones? Are they well-received by strangers? Do they have the interpersonal skills necessary to negotiate difficult situations and influence others when it's necessary to do so? Is this person meeting their goals with their family? Is their family happy and able to thrive? A successful person (in the social sense) should be able to say yes to all of those questions.
Building on that, we have a greater societal element of success: is the person an upstanding member of their community? Do they give back? Do they participate in their version of the democratic process (if there is one)? Do they attempt to better the world around themselves, even if just a little?
In terms of looking at a third party, and asking myself 'is this person successful,' I have to consider all the above factors. Monetary success is the least of the factors. There's a lower bound that has to be hit, and once you're over that, it really doesn't matter. Engineer said it correctly above: once you get above a certain point of wealth, you aren't actually any more successful than you were before, as the additional wealth doesn't change anything for you in any material way. Wealth does NOT equal success; but it can be a component of success, for someone who also displays many of the other factors that I discussed.
In terms of a public figure, I believe that massive wealth is usually a sign that other elements of the success equation have been lacking. We all know that you don't get somethin' for nothin', and to amass such a large amount of money usually takes a singular focus, to the point where other considerations fall to the wayside. And indeed, we can see that this is often the case with wealthy folks: they tend to have troubled families, or bad relations with others in their community, or they don't give back to their nation properly (for example, spending tremendous amounts of money to avoid paying taxes one owes on money they don't even need anyway). When wealth acquisition becomes the over-arcing principle in one's life, there's a certain twisting of morality and behavior that is antithetical to maintaining a healthy relationship with outside actors.
In terms of Obama's statement, I would echo Parados: nobody who became successful in America did so on their own. Nobody. Everyone who is successful got their because of their hard work and intelligence, but also because of the people who worked hard for them - and BEFORE them.
I am willing to say that I'm a successful person. I have a good job, a good wife and a good life. I am very happy, volunteer in my community, involve myself in civic organizations and try and better the world around me. I have studied and worked hard for years to achieve my success.
But I didn't build the computer I work on every day. I didn't design it. I didn't design the internet. I didn't build the electrical grid that powers it. I didn't build the building I work in. I didn't build the road I walk on to get to work every day. I didn't lay the sewer pipes that run beneath the ground that carry my **** away. I didn't invent my job. I didn't come up with the philosophy that my job rests on. I didn't invent the social structure that allows my job to exist. I didn't invent and don't maintain a system of coinage and banking that allows me to do my job.
I'm only responsible for a tiny, tiny
part of the shared success of our society and species. Just doing my little bit. And even the most special amongst us - those who work very, very hard to come up with new ideas, new products and large works, both public and private - in the grand scheme of things, their bit isn't that much larger than anyone else's.
What Obama was talking about is a return to a proper perspective, about keeping in mind that our lives are transitory - just as the lives of those who were successful before us were - and that it takes hard work by people at all levels to keep the species successful. He's correct that people who are successful today, aren't successful just because THEY are smart or because THEY work hard. They are successful because MANY people were smart and MANY people worked hard.
So, the next time you see someone fluffing themselves or someone else for their success - and claiming that they are a 'self-made man' - just know that they are full of ****. They are NOT a 'self-made man.' They are a hard-working and diligent person who stands on the shoulders of titans and in the shadows of our children.