“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 to 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 that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am twenty-seven years old. I am single. I live with my parents. My Jeep is 11 years old. My job is… alright. Most days.
I have friends who have been at the same job since graduation and have gotten promotions and raises and are experts in their fields, indispensable to their companies. I have friends who are married, buying houses, and having babies. They have newer cars and better phones. They are SUCCESSFUL. And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little jealous.
But I was rereading some Emerson the other day. (That’s something English majors like to say to make themselves feel smart. I was REREADING this classic author’s BRILLIANT work! Look at how LITERATE and INTELLECTUAL I am.) But really, I was rereading Emerson. Bits and pieces anyway. And I found this quote. I began to evaluate my life based on these principles.
- To laugh often and much: I’d say yeah. I laugh a lot. I like funny things and I have surrounded myself with funny people. Ok, check.
- To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children: those people who are more “successful” than me are pretty intelligent. Even though we’re at different places in our lives, I’d say they respect me. As for the affection of children, my middle schoolers like me, as do my friends’ children. So… ok. Check.
- To earn the appreciation of honest critics: ok, this one’s hard. I don’t take criticism well… but that’s usually because it’s done maliciously. Let’s see. When my friends are honest with me, I can usually appreciate their candor. So… half a check?
- To endure the betrayal of false friends: Oh, yeah. *thinks over several tough experiences* I haven’t given up on people completely. I have made new friends since those occasions. I might not be “over” it but I am ok with it. If that makes sense. So… check.
- To appreciate beauty: I am a photographer. I love taking pictures of the natural world around us. I like art and poetry and literature. Check.
- To find the best in others: This one is tough. I’m a cynic. I try to get along with most people. I should work on this one…
- “to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived…” I don’t know. I’m only twenty-seven. We’ll see.
Emerson said that “this is to have succeeded.”
I’m not saying that reading this quote calms all my fears about my future. That’s not a job for literary figures. I’m not saying that this is the only measure of success that matters. Certainly there are biblical standards of success that are also a factor in my life. But not one of these things has to do with how much money I make, what I drive, where I live, or what I do for work.
I am successful, not because of any of the things I have but because of the things I do. I am successful because I try to be the best friend that I can to all my friends. I just sometimes need to remind myself, every time someone I know gets engaged or buys a house or has a baby or gets promoted.