I recently watched a talk show on tv that featured a celebrity who’s career is doing very well lately. This person said that really, anyone who wanted it bad enough could have the kind of success he has found. The key to success in his opinion is being willing to work hard for it. He opined that the problem with the majority of people is that they are unwilling to sacrifice their comforts and do hard work. And I suppose by his measure that is true. For myself, I am absolutely unwilling to do what he did to achieve success. Yes, he has a ton of money and fame, but he also has children with several women he never married and he is currently not in any relationship because it is hard to find the right woman who understands the demands of his career. To me, that translates as the World Revolves Around Him and I can see how that is unappealing to potential partners. Frankly, it looks lonely to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think being married is the true measure of success. Although I can see the wisdom in David O McKay’s famous statement, “No success can compensate for failure in the home” I don’t interpret that thought as being the end all and be all of life success. I know plenty of people who I consider wildly successful in life who have never married or have suffered through the agony of divorce. I also know good people whose children have struggled with addictions, teenage parenthood and jail time through no fault of the parents. Judging success by the acquisition of the split-level, 4 bedroom house in the suburbs with a spouse, offspring and a pet looks sweet, but we all know looks are deceiving. As I have had my own dark moments in 25 years of marriage and parenting I admit to thinking, “Hells bells! If this is what heaven on earth is cracked up to be, give me peace and quiet in Outer Darkness, please.”

I know lots of people who consider their appearance to be an important measure of their success. Apparently we all do. Otherwise, malls full of fashionable clothes would be out of business, along with health clubs, weight loss programs, plastic surgeons, beauty salons and Hair Club for Men. Not that I am against looking attractive. I am just pointing out that there are plenty enough of us that live in run-down trailer parks but look like we belong at the country club. We are a shallow and vain lot, aren’t we? If my scale is going down, my self-esteem goes up. As Charlie Sheen would say, “Winning!!!” But what exactly does being the perfect size, shape, or hair color buy us? Is it success to die in our old age with everyone saying at our funeral, “Dang, they look so good it’s hard to believe they were 103”?

Speaking of dying, the standard trite saying is “No one on their death bed regrets not spending more time at the office.” Sure. I get it. Don’t make your job your #1 priority. I am amused by people who say that with earnest because they are usually people who have already made their millions and now they get to retire at 35. On the other hand, homelessness isn’t exactly something to aspire to, either. Years ago I had a young family as clients in my office. Rather, I had the three kids as clients because they were chronically sick with ear infections, colds, allergies and they were generally miserable little people. Within a short time I identified the major reason for the children’s sickness was that they were living in a run-down, mold infested public housing unit that was compromising the kid’s immune systems. As I talked to the parents about the possibility of moving to a safer home I was surprised to find the parents were voluntarily underemployed (both had college degrees) but were only working part-time jobs so they could maximize their time with their children. They received food stamps, subsidized housing, medical care, etc. because their own parents were workaholics who weren’t home enough and these young parents didn’t want to make the same mistake.
I was dumbfounded. I had never heard of anyone who would do such a thing on purpose. It took a while, but I finally got them to see the importance of being responsible providers to their children without sacrificing their relationships.

I guess true life success is about the balance, right? It is about taking care of your financial self, your emotional self, and your physical self. All are important. You know the saying, “ If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.” True. And if you can’t pay the bills, that is no fun, either. And if you don’t have loving relationships in your life, then you are just marking time on this planet.

But honestly, if I had to narrow it down to one definition of what life success is, I would have to say love. You can be homeless and have loving relationships in your life. You can be out of shape and frankly ugly and be loveable. You can be completely anonymous, not having one noteworthy thing said about you, but if you have the ability to give and receive love, I think you have it all. Yep. For my money, I’m betting the house in favor of love.