Measuring Success

I saw something today that really got me thinking.  We spend a lot of time, especially in the music business, talking about success.  But what is success, really?  It’s completely subjective.

Last week I had surgery to remove a tumour in my knee (it’s benign, just pesky and it keeps growing back for some unknown reason).  It’s the second time I’ve had this surgery, so I’m practically a regular now at the physiotherapy unit at Vanderbilt Hospital.  I’m no stranger to the teeth-gritting, slow-as-molasses, frustrating process of coaxing my leg to bend, straighten, and walk again.

Today I was particularly frustrated.  It was just one of those mornings when the weights were too hard to lift, my knee was more swollen than usual, I was leaning more heavily on the crutches and I just couldn’t imagine how I’m going to run across an airport or skip across a stage again.  It’s silly, really, because I know that very soon I’ll be doing just that.  But sometimes patience isn’t my best virtue.  So I was feeling like a failure today.

Then, everyone in the room stopped for a moment and I looked up from my swollen knee to see what the fuss was about.

Everyone was looking at an old man on the walking track next to the bench where I was sitting.  I had noticed him earlier, because he had been wheeled into the unit in a wheelchair.  Instead of legs, he was wearing metal prosthetics from the knee down with sneakers on the bottom.

That old man was taking his first steps.  They were tiny, slow, uncertain steps and he was holding onto a walker for dear life…but he was taking them.  I watched him work his way past me at a snail’s pace, and on the way by, he smiled at me.

Needless to say, I felt pretty stupid for being frustrated with the fact I couldn’t walk without crutches.  I have legs.  And even though I can’t do it right now, I’m going to walk on them again…and dance…and skip across the stage.  I’m lucky.

Success, for that old man, meant taking ten steps with a walker.  Success for me today meant that I could walk with just one crutch.  Success for my friend the runner means running 5 miles each day.  Success for the homeless guy on the corner of Broadway and 4th means enough coins in his cup to buy a loaf of bread.  Success for a millionaire means another million bucks.  Success for one musician means playing a song to a campfire audience and hearing them sing along.  Success for another means selling a few million records and filling a bunch of stadiums with fans.

I guess what I’m saying is, success is a tricky concept.  It changes, depending on where you perceive you are in your life.  And maybe the more success we experience, the more our idea of success becomes skewed, and the less satisfied we are with the things that used to be enough.

I’m not saying that small things have to be enough, and that we shouldn’t reach for more.  But maybe we should take a moment to recognize those small things that we accomplish each day, and to appreciate those things with gratitude.

Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of that.

*****

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