I recently had a conversation on Facebook with a Texan pilot, who, at first glance, would seem to be at the politically opposite end of the spectrum to me. We did, however, ultimately concur on some fundamental points, regarding morality and social/individual responsibility. To whit, that one ultimately should (and generally inevitably will) look to one’s individual conscience regarding the making of moral decisions. Such may be informed by, for example, law, but ultimately one weighs up (or should) what one believes to be ‘right’ against (potentially) law or other consequences, and acts accordingly.
My Texan Fb friend and I also concurred that one can contribute to the State/society financially, through taxes etc, but there are other less measurable, but equally or more valid ways one can make a contribution and be a Valuable Member of Society. The Texan was talking about this in relation to his idea that one should ‘earn’ the right to a vote, rather than just acquire such through an arbitrary happenstance of geography, but we didn’t travel too deeply down this particular rabbit hole.
The reason I mention the above is that it has led me to think about other things. Namely, in a nutshell, the nature of ‘success.’ There is measurable financial/material success. This can be born into (so one has, in a sense, ‘succeeded’ before one’s life has even begun) or it can be earned. It is easy, in retrospect, for the materially successful to say, “I did these things, which led to my success” – and even to perhaps write a popular self-help book about the things that person did and that other people can do to achieve the kind of success they achieved. But there is, in my opinion, no magical formula for success, material or otherwise!
I believe there is a substantial element of luck. Some folk seem to be genetically blessed with the ability to talk themselves into (material) success. I believe these skills can only be taught or learned to a limited degree, hence my reference to being ‘genetically blessed.’ For most folk, however, you work hard in some sphere of life or other, and you achieve material wealth or you don’t. As I have said, those who achieve said wealth can retrospectively conclude the reasons for this achievement (often, it seems to me, to the point of arrogance); whereas there are those who work equally hard, perhaps in the same sphere, perhaps by following the advice in a popular self-help book written by the former, who do not achieve said wealth. Then there are the ‘lazy’ who achieve material wealth and the ‘lazy’ who don’t.
Randomness. Chaos. Life is, I believe, far to complex for one to be able to follow a certain path, a certain algorithm, and expect a certain outcome. Real life, anyway – but let’s not get into the possibilities of a virtual life.
So what is to be done? Should we not even try?
Nay, I say!
Of course we should try.
But what should we ‘try’ at?
While there is randomness and chaos, there is also probability. Calculating the probability of achieving a certain outcome (e.g. material wealth) by following a certain path, algorithm or set of instructions, seems to me to be impossibly complex, but that’s not to say that such probabilities don’t exist and can’t be maximised. One can maximise the probability of achieving material wealth, but given the large element of luck and genetic predisposition, I would say it is unwise to focus solely or even primarily on one particular type of success. By all means work towards material success, but only as one strand or path amongst other types of success – for example, social, spiritual… and that pertaining to personal happiness!
Life is random, chaotic and often does not go according to plan. There is so much outside of our control. But what I believe we have most (potential) control over is our inner life – or inner selves. That is, our emotions, our sense of personal fulfilment and happiness, irrespective of (although of course influenced by) what is going on outside of our selves. If we can find a way to feel fulfilled (‘successful’), regardless of any external successes (including, but not solely, material)… are we not more likely to achieve true happiness? It is my view that the pursuit of this kind of happiness – internal, intrinsic, relatively non-contextual – is the noblest of goals. It is this kind of happiness that can reflect and shine into all spheres of your life, and while it may not be easy to achieve, I believe this kind of success is within everyone’s grasp.