While there is much debate about who actually wrote the poem which I am sharing with you today, there is no doubting its value. Having long been attributed to philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, it is now believed to have been written in 1904 by the writer Bessie Anderson Stanley. Somewhat similar in style to Rudyard Kipling’s If, the poem is written as though a teacher, parent or grandparent is sharing their wisdom.
The poet questions what success actually means and what it looks like. Ask that question today, and due to the influence of social media, a number people will likely tell you that success for them means fame and fortune, big houses, fast cars and lavish holidays. Of course, that is not true for everyone, and others may define success as finding a cure for a terrible disease, protecting an endangered species from extinction or any other way in which they can make a meaningful difference and inspire change for the better.
The poet here reminds us that the successful person is also one who has lived well, enjoyed themselves and fostered good relationships with all kinds of people. To Stanley, success is about the intangible things, which cannot be bought and are difficult to measure. Success is not just about material things, but as with those who strive to make the world a better place, it’s about what we can accomplish, and how we can contribute to the betterment of society and the world around us.
So, you don’t need status or wealth to be considered successful. You are a success if you achieve something worthwhile, and leave the world in a better state than it was when you found it. Success is about interactions and whether you are able to inspire, lead or lift others. Success is about enjoying, and making the most of the beauty of life. For this, you don’t need social status or a well-paid job. All you need is kindness, compassion, empathy and respect, and we are all capable of these.
So, what is success? I hope the poem provokes some thought and reflection on what success means to you.
He has achieved success
who has lived well,
laughed often, and loved much;
who has enjoyed the trust of
the respect of intelligent men and
the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it
whether by an improved poppy,
a perfect poem or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty
or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others and
given them the best he had;
whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.