It may be an odd bit of creeping maturity, but I’ve increasingly found that I take greater pride in the success of others, people I’ve had a hand in helping, more than any direct recognition and praise I receive myself.
It’s not that I’m not successful. I’m extremely pleased with my business, financial, and artistic success. I’ve had remarkable opportunities in the last few years. By ordinary measures, I’m very successful.
For many, measuring success is done by counting dollars. Measures of success that are limited to money are all too easily reframed as simply luck. That’s why we use the same word for luck and wealth: fortune. Even the richest among us can’t attribute everything to their skill and hard work. There’s just too much luck involved in who ends up with the most lucre. The turn of a moment can mean the difference, by this measure, between success and failure.
Call no man happy until he’s dead.
I find that the pride from those types of personal achievements is fleeting. The pride I feel from the accomplishments of others is far deeper and much longer lasting.
Yes, some of this does come from experience and maturity. As a business writer, my name doesn’t go on most of the things that I write and I’ve learned to relish the role of the writer behind the scenes. I’ve even gotten to the point where I can happily accept the rejection of my best work. For example, this past year I produced what I believe is one of my best marketing efforts, something that came from one of those rare moments of clarity and perhaps genius. I was stunned by what I had written, then further amazed as it was reviewed, wrestled with, and accepted by multiple layers of a huge corporate client. When it was ultimately rejected by the top layer of management, far remote from me, I didn’t experience a moment of regret or bitterness. The work that I replaced it with was very good, too, and I was happy when it was put into productive use.
That’s satisfying, but what is even more satisfying is to see others growing and succeeding where I’ve had a hand, sometimes just a minor role, in helping them develop and grow. I see this in what my children do and I see it with other writers and business people who I’ve shepherded along the way.
Many times I’ve stood in theaters, heard my name called, and seen the audience rise to their feet offering enthusiastic applause. Better yet, I’ve sat behind people in those same theaters, heard them laugh and seen real tears. I’ve heard their whispered admiration of my work to others. That stolen moment alone is worth the hundreds of hours at my desk.
But best of all is to see others experience that for themselves.
And I think that I know why I feel this way.
It’s far too easy to doubt one’s own success. “I was lucky, not deserving,” is always there. But when it’s not you, when it’s another who succeeds with your help, it’s clear that it’s not luck. There are no doubts at hand. It’s clear that they are deserving. And it can be clear that your role was vital, central, and irreplaceable.
I no longer doubt my own accomplishments. Personal success is a heady rush. But a deeper, longer lasting pleasure comes when I stand somewhere in the wings and hear the applause directed at someone else, someone who I helped to find their time in the spotlight.