My Definition of Success

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.      ~Henry David Thoreau

Do you keep quotations that are meaningful to you? I’ve always found inspiration in the words of wise people, so I created a quotation file where I can cut and paste the good ones I find. Today I was browsing through them looking for writing inspiration and those Thoreau words (above) spoke to me again.  I’ve long believed that people who care about the state of our natural world are not valued in modern society. We’re called derogatory terms like “tree huggers” or “rabid environmentalists” or “greenies.”

Fall leaves at Addison Oaks (800x533)I understand that people have different priorities in life and there are so many worthy causes that need attention. And I also realize that when a person’s livelihood is threatened by efforts to put stronger regulations on a specific industry, they’re more likely to fight any changes. But there will come a point where humans are finally forced to come to terms with the impact of a poisoned Earth on the survival of our species. Nevermind trying to save the whales or wolves. We’ll be in a struggle for our own survival. But before it gets to that point there may be wars for life-sustaining resources like water and food. It won’t be pretty, and I’m glad I won’t be around to see it.

Does this sound all gloom-and-doom or paranoid? Maybe it is.  But it’s a real possibility if we don’t start making some changes in lifestyles, and start enforcing strong environmental regulations.

Whenever I’m thinking of Thoreau, his friend Emerson usually pops into my mind as well. Many years ago I typed up an Emerson poem called “Success,” put it in a frame, and kept it on my desk. I’ve only discovered recently that there’s some question about whether Emerson really is the author, but that doesn’t change how much I love it. See if this resonates with you too:

(Possibly inaccurately 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.

Sawyer Glaciers in Tracy Arm, Juneau (11) (735x800)

That type of success is much more meaningful to me than the type where you “climb a corporate ladder” just so you can work harder and keep making more money and buy more things….that’s just such an empty way to live life on a planet with such beauty and natural wonder, don’t you think?

It’s not easy to deal with the expectations other people put on us to be productive and materialistic. People may think you’re lazy or stupid. But the joke’s on them, isn’t it? Because those of us who truly understand and connect with the gifts of this planet are the ones who are really succeeding at life. And any day I get lumped into a category with Thoreau is a good day!

(This post is in response to today’s WordPress Daily Prompt.)

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5 Responses to My Definition of Success

  1. Diane says:

    I would much prefer to live in a society that follows Emerson’s definition of success than the current materialistic claw-your-way-to-the-top approach. I think to “leave the world a bit better” and have our life mean another “has breathed easier”, we need to learn to live in balance – with ourselves, others and Mother Earth. Crushing others and the environment as we climb our way to the top to keep amassing more and more, truly is an empty way to live. Beautiful post, Kim (great taste in quotes too – I used the same Emerson quote in my post about redefining success).

  2. littlesundog says:

    Kim, this is your best post EVER!!! I loved and appreciated every word of it. You rock, my friend!

  3. I love everything about this post, Kim. You are such a good writer!

  4. 68ghia says:

    I Once went to a funeral where the pastor said just that – how successful your life should not be measured in the amount of stuff you have amassed.
    But in the lives you have affected positively – it’s a good way to try and live, even if not always possible i suppose…

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