Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Measure of Success

How do you measure success? By financial gain? Readership? Praise? In a long ago motion picture, The Teacher’s Pet, a rom-com with the unlikely pairing of Clark Gable and Doris Day, Gable plays a reporter who takes a writing class from the daughter of a Pulitzer Price winning journalist. The reporter deeply admires the journalist as one of the standards of his profession. But when the reporter begins to read the other things the man had written, the shine comes off. The guy was ordinary at best, chronicling ordinary events. He won the Pulitzer based on one brilliant column, just one. Gable almost loses the girl over his sudden realization and the blunt way in which he challenges both the columnist and the teacher-daughter. By the end, though, Gable realizes that the one column was enough. It was genius. It was success. Of Richard Wagner, composer of, among other things, the Ring Cycle of operas, it was famously said, He lived sixty years, gave us sixty hours of music, of which six hours were brilliant; it was a good trade. I would like a lot of money, earned by my writing. It has not happened yet and I doubt it ever will. I used to measure success by that yardstick, and it kept me all but paralyzed. But, then, someone told me they liked what I said and how I said it. They did not know me, but they liked me. Someone else went to great pains to explain why my thinking was wrong. They took the time to provide me with a measured, thoughtful response. I knew my words had meaning and impact, however limited, and I had succeeded. Every time it happens, I know. And that’s enough of a yardstick for me.

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