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COLUMN: Success should speak for itself

The word “success” is about goals, wealth or prestige, but defining accomplishments is subjective

The other day, I noticed a year-in-review summary from one organization, describing its successful year in 2022.

Year-end reviews don’t normally attract my attention, but the word “successful” in this report caught my eye.

There’s nothing new about the term. The word “success” has been in use since the early 1500s and “successful” originated in the 1580s. Today, these terms are commonplace, and there are plenty of books, seminars, online courses and other resources about achieving success.

The reason this term caught my attention was because in recent months, I’ve noticed a growing number of people describing themselves, their businesses or their personal achievements as successful.

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The word “success” has to do with accomplishing goals or attaining wealth or prestige, although defining those accomplishments is subjective.

Is $1 billion enough wealth to make someone successful, or should it be somewhere in excess of $10 billion? That’s still a small amount compared to Elon Musk’s net worth of U.S. $139 billion as of Dec. 23, 2022. This is down from a net worth of U.S. $219 billion earlier that year.

Is it enough to have hundreds of thousands of social media followers, or should that figure be in the hundreds of millions? Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo has more than half a billion followers and American media personality Kylie Jenner has more than 377 million followers.

Success can be an open-ended and subjective term.

More importantly, if one has to describe his or her achievements or businesses as successful I wonder if the claim should be believed.

Success, or any other quality, shouldn’t need self-promotion. Virtues should speak for themselves. Someone who is successful shouldn’t have to use that word to describe themselves, just as someone smart, strong, honest or a “nice guy” shouldn’t need to promote those qualities.

Even if it would be possible to agree on a definition of success, and even if all definitions of being successful were true, I’d still wonder if success is enough. Not everyone who achieves the dictionary definition of success is someone I respect or admire.

One example was Herbert Holt, the former president of the Royal Bank of Canada, who lived from 1856 to 1941. At one point, he was the richest of all Canadian billionaires and was the director of more than 300 companies. He was also one of Summerland’s rich landowners in the early years of this community.

In terms of wealth and prestige, he had made a name for himself, but he was not a person I could admire.

A quote attributed to him during the Great Depression of the 1930s stated: “If I am rich and powerful, while you are suffering the stranglehold of poverty and the humiliation of social assistance; if I was able, at the peak of the Depression, to make 150 per cent profits each year, it is foolishness on your part, and as for me, it is the fruit of a wise administration.”

It should be noted he has not been the only person to make statements of this nature.

At the same time, there are some who are wealthy or have significant prestige, but do not share Holt’s attitudes. Some actively support their communities or work to assist with humanitarian or social causes.

These are people who deserve recognition for what they are doing.

If it was possible to come up with a more precise definition of success, I would hope these contributions would be included.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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