Surviving Success

Of course, success is to be desired. By virtue of writing or reading a blog such as this we belie, ipso facto, a certain good fortune. This should be a cause for gratitude! Never do we want to take our success for granted.

What follows, at best, should be read as an invitation to reflect a bit more deeply about that good fortune. Without guilt or shame-throwing, how might we look more honestly and holistically at the condition of our lives? No conclusions or prescriptions are offered, no moral judgments, no smug conclusions.

Rather, this invitation follows an intriguing proposition that has continued to rattle my thoughts while reading James Baldwin, A Biography by David Leeming — success carries consequences, some undesirable, some endangering, some we would do well to survive. Of course, Baldwin is not unique in needing to navigate these currents. All truly successful people would likely recount pitfalls strewn along their road to achievement. But here the really provocative issue is how we are to survive success after it is achieved!

What’s so incriminating about the proposition that success needs to be survived is that I am infinitely better at assessing — I resist using the more accurate term, judging — those society clearly deems to be unsuccessful. Who, me? I too easily, and unreflectively, take my personal success and consequent prerogatives for granted. After all, “success” is self-validating is it not?

What has this disquieting awareness and challenge awakened? Well, first, I and most of us are unwitting prisoners of our own story. I look in the mirror and uncritically presume the world looks like me, shares my cultural values and understanding of what constitutes a good life, no less what it means to be human. Preoccupied with my own reflection I fail to appreciate that truth, goodness and success in living encompass far more than “me” exponentially multiplied.

A further self-indictment challenges me to admit that I float along in a dangerous naïveté. Categories, labels, stereotypes easily become my default for making sense of the world. Thus, I am blind to others and to much of creation — never bothering to consider who or what remains invisible in my purview. What kind of imprisonment accompanies a failure to ask what or who is missing from the universe of my creation and awareness?

The full range of consequences accompanying our success will yield realizations and responses as numerous as those who hazard to call the question. Perhaps the only constant is that our successes have tremendous consequences, some we would do no better than to survive.

And truly, the most fortunate to whom success is granted recognize that it never really belongs to us alone.

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