I’ve been thinking about “success,” which I put in quotes because what does it even mean?
Because it seems to mean something different for everyone. We’ve all got our own metric. You know, like, one metric I’ve heard for success is, “I didn’t actually end up a smear on that cliff over there.” That’s one I’ve heard. Or, like, another I’ve heard is, “The Russians didn’t kill their Czar today.” That’s another one. Or, like, one that I’ve heard is, “Look! I found a wasp nest!”
These are all fairly specific, obviously. Not everyone would consider them metrics of success, but some people would, in specific circumstances.
Thing is, I don’t know how you feel, but I feel like a fairly specific person. I’m not a general person, and so general metrics of success appeal to me maybe less than specific ones.
Because I think a lot of us can agree on a few general metrics of success. Things like survival. That’s a pretty general metric of success. Today, I didn’t actually accidentally fall into a guillotine. That’s, generally, considered a successful day.
Or another one that a lot of people agree on is somebody acknowledging work that I did by an exchange of affidavits of economic participation, known less accurately and more mysteriously in most circles as “getting paid.”
Which is such an ethereal idea, really.
I mean, even when global powers stuck to an economy based on something material like sea shells or whatever, we still had to agree that the sea shells had any particular value to begin with, which is a kind of group delusion anyway.
I don’t know about you, but I never really liked gold to begin with. I much prefer silver. A gold standard didn’t make sense to me when it was the standard. Now that it’s not, I find money a lot more sensible, in a strange way.
And if you can show more evidence of your participation in and approval of the massively agreed upon illusion in the form of a larger numerical value recorded by certain institutions, then you have proved you are “more successful.”
But those general metrics of success are public displays of success, really, as far as I’m concerned. Which seems to me only one kind of success you can have, if you even decide that it means success for you at all.
For my part, I find that I feel inclined to measure my success simply.
I have only two metrics. Three, really, but the third, while it matters the most, doesn’t make for as good a story. So I’ll mention to the first two and then maybe talk about the third in a second.
Legitimacy is one, but that’s a complex subject.
And the other is vindication.
Although they both tie into the same idea, really.
Because what determines legitimacy? Who in the past has attained what you could call legitimacy, you know? I can think of a few people who did it by the most honest form of democracy: by popular demand. A hundred million people all said, “Hitler’s the man,” and that makes him legitimate. We may not like what he does with his legitimacy, but he becomes “legitimate,” because a hundred million people say so.
That’s one way.
Another way I’ve heard of was a way that I liked to think about as the Club way, and my favorite example of it is David Bowie, who made it his business to find young talent and introduce them to “the set,” so that all of a sudden all the “experts in the field” agreed that this guy had the goods.
In other words, when you know a guy who knows a guy you can be declared legitimate by what amounts to the aristocracy in your field.
So either by popular demand or by the declaration of “experts.”
Those are the paths to legitimacy.
Which has everything to do with vindication, if we’re talking about a little guy who never gets a word in edgewise finally getting a chance to get a word in edgewise.
I think I can fairly safely say that at some point that describes everyone, but it doesn’t matter because at some point in my history it described me. Still does most days.
Taken all in all, this only even approaches beginning to make sense if I meet my third metric for success.
Because my third metric for success is whether I can someday learn to say, through my writing, anything worth listening to, and say it in a manner that’s both poetic and useful.
Which, you know…maybe someday I can say I’ve done that. Maybe someday I’ll say something elegantly and gorgeously that will cause someone to have a bigger life. Maybe someday.
At which point, the other metrics of success, if I even meet them, will mean anything, at all. Because without it, I have a hard time even recognizing the idea of success.