Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Five Ways to Live a Truly “Successful” Life


A friend linked earlier today on Facebook to this beautiful graduation speech (delivered at Colgate University) and, since I thought it complemented our wonderful thread from earlier in the week on some of our favorite advice, I wanted to share some passages. (Read it in full here.) The author, Omid Safi, writes:

. . . what I want to talk with you about is this problematic idea of success. I would even say that we preach a kind of Gospel of Success in this country. We want you to be successful in your personal life. Successful in your love life. Successful in your faith. Successful in your investment.

Success is not some kind of a teleological process, not some kind of a linear climb up a mountain. Nor is it even something as straightforward as a cliché that “the journey is just as important as the destination.”

The truth of the matter is that life is really messy. Life is complicated. Every single one of us, even the ones who from the outside look like we have made it, stumble and fall flat on our face multiple times.

I would like for us as a learning community to have a better conversation about how we process failure.

Safi continues:

It’s about learning to fall better, fail better, to crack more whole. It’s about learning to break more gracefully. It’s about learning to heal better, to get back up again, and to fail again.

I’d like for us to learn to have a more generous and kind understanding of what it means to have a successful life, one that is not about individual accumulation of goodies, but actually about the transformation of communities. It’s bathed in humility. And it’s practical.

The author has five lessons he’s accumulated in his life to help redefine the idea of success. Everyone should go read what they are. And then implement those lessons in your own life, whether you’re 22 and just graduating from college, or 65 and retiring from your career, or about to turn 40 with two little kids and a house and website to run and using the word “busy” too much to describe how (and who) you are.

So let me leave you with this: You are loved. If you are sitting here, somebody has loved you, somebody has sacrificed for you. Reach back to them, and extend the circle of love. Welcome people into that circle of compassion.

You have worth not because of what you do but because of the content of your soul, because of the depth of your commitment. Remember that we do live in a moral universe, and that kindness is the greatest virtue.

9 comments… add one
  • Addie Pray May 20, 2016, 6:20 am

    Oh that’s really lovely. I liked it a lot. And it brought tears to my eyes. I’ve been feeling really emotional these days. In large part because I’ve been doing what I said I wouldn’t do, and that is read HONY now while Brandon is telling stories about children with cancer. And I’m just so sad about the injustice in the world and I’m so grateful my boy is healthy and everyone and everything in my life is relatively perfect, for now. And I know that will change at some point, but I hope not for a long time and I hope, specifically, that my boy does not get cancer. And I guess this essay made me think about that and now I’m an emotional mess, ha.

    Reply Link
    • Dear Wendy May 20, 2016, 6:44 am

      Yeah, I could do without the kids with cancer stories on HONY. I know that sounds really heartless, but I can’t handle reading them. I read a couple and felt immediately like I had to throw up. I just can’t stomach it.

      Reply Link
      • Addie Pray May 20, 2016, 7:16 am

        Even the stories with happy endings put me through the ringer. It’s amazing the impact HONY has; he raised so much money for cancer research.

      • Dear Wendy May 20, 2016, 7:34 am

        It’s wonderful!

      • Kate May 20, 2016, 11:11 am

        OMG. I see HONY stories when someone likes them on FB so they’re in my news feed. I usually read them when I see them. Yesterday I saw one of the ones about a boy who died of cancer, and holy shit.
        I thought the graduation speech made some good points. I’m with her on the “disease of being busy” thing, to a point. The situation is real though. I started working in the year 2000, roughly. For years, even as a more junior Analyst and Manager, I was not overworked. I had plenty of free time, work-life balance, rarely worked past 6, etc. But after 2008 I started to notice my clients were all dying of being overworked. Well, that’s because companies had to do all this downsizing, and will never again be staffed the way they used to be. Everyone IS overloaded and being worked to death. I was immune to it for a while because I had gotten into this Sr. Director-level position where I could do the job in my sleep and had people running the actual projects. But as of last year that all changed and I’m absolutely dying in my VP role. So is everyone around me. But… we’re actually directly keeping the economy going by helping clients launch successful consumer products that people will buy. And most of us don’t have a fabulous talent that can make us a living on our own, or the luxury of opting out. So, when someone asks you how you’re doing, the first thing out of your mouth is “I’m fucking dying.” But I agree with her, we should be handling that differently. And with a grateful heart.

      • Dear Wendy May 20, 2016, 11:20 am

        You’re right about the level of downsizing and the affect it has on those left in the offices. I see it with friends all the time — they’re doing the work of three or four people (for little or no extra money) because their employers/companies had to lay off so many employees. It’s devastating on the people left to carry the load and on the people in their lives. I don’t know what the solution is, but there’s gotta be a better way than this!

      • Kate May 20, 2016, 11:40 am

        I mean, a much worse problem is the inability of so many people to make a living wage, even with 2+ jobs, so we have to put it into perspective. But really, on days when I’m traveling, I really feel out of control and panicky trying to get everything done. I can just about manage it on non-travel days. And I don’t have kids! And a husband with a flexible schedule who shops and takes care of the house and the dog.
        I do see my company giving moms flexible hours, like Friday’s off, or leaving at 2:45 every day. But then they log back on a lot. Ugh, I don’t know, I think this is the new reality.

      • Vathena May 20, 2016, 11:52 am

        I thought the same re: living wage and the realities of work. It’s easy to tell people not to work their fingers to the bone for filthy lucre, to find joy and magic in life without worrying about your bank account, etc. Then I click over to The Atlantic and read all those horror stories about educated people who find themselves living in poverty. So we work and work and worry and stash money away in our bank accounts to pay for our children’s cancer treatments.

      • snoopy128 May 20, 2016, 11:46 am

        This is happening in my department right now. It’s crazy. A senior admin left, another is on mat leave, leaving the newest and least experienced admin to do the job of 3 people. She’s trying, but she’s not that capable and is so stressed she’s been getting sick every month (like physical sick, not just mentally overloaded). The department estimates because of a hiring freeze, it will take 3-5 months to get approval for another person and then another 2 months to go through the union hiring process….and then probably another month until the new person is sort of up to speed.


Leave a Comment