I have been reading a biography of an eminent woodworker from California, Sam Maloof. If I may quote from his writing:
This is the time of year when we tend to practice some naval gazing as we review the year, its trials and tribulations and its successes. This is important if we are to continue to strive for success in the year to come. It does, however, beg the question as to what "success" is.
I suspect success is different things to different people. The Oxford English dictionary gives us three current usage meanings for the word:
- the accomplishment of an aim
- attainment of wealth, fame or position
- a thing or person that turns out well
Roget brings in ideas of victory and triumph in addition to the above meanings.
So how should I evaluate my "achievements" of the last year? Have I upgraded my car to a Mercedes or BMW, or better yet a Ferrari? No! Have I been reclassified to a higher paying role? No! Have I found management prepared to discuss things with me? No! Have I scored more staff so I have to do less? No! Not doing very well am I? Have my efforts over the last year improved the lot of those I interact with? I would like to think so. Do I feel I have done my best, as inadequate as that may be, in most situations during the year? Again I would like to think so, despite being very aware I could have done better.
So what am I left with to judge the success of the last year for myself? The positive outcomes are all rather tenuous and actually rather difficult to measure. Maintaining an effective team and clinical service, in an increasingly difficult environment, could be considered a success. Empowering those I work with could be measured by accepted publications and awards they receive. On that score my teams have had 1 paper published, a second accepted, and recognition at ERS. That is probably the best I can do with regard to measuring success for the year. Of course the question then becomes "How high was the impact factor of the journals who accepted the papers?" Impact factors are a whole other story, that I suspect often has little to do with the quality of the science involved. I believe good science will, like cream, always rise to the top no matter where it is published.
At the end of the day, I put little weight on wealth and fame as markers of success. In any field, much fame arises from being in the right place at the right time. Wealth often arises from behaviour that requires triumph over those less fortunate than yourself. Yes, wealth can make life a lot more comfortable but by no means more worthwhile.
In classical music, the performers shine and garner the adulation of their audiences. Few know the names of the teachers who sit behind them providing them with the tools to perform to the level they do. Few high ranking performers ever become totally self sufficient but continue to consult their teachers / mentors throughout their careers.
I believe we should gauge success on the basis of our being able to empower others to use their own talents and skills to the best they can. Success is seeing your vision being brought to fruition through others. Yes, this is hard to measure, but I believe that this is what marks success, making, in some small way, the world a better place.
Has my year been a success? Yes I think it has, despite still driving my Astra and having to work far too hard for someone of my maturity!
Then again, maybe French have the right idea about success as espoused in the expression Succès de scandale meaning "disrepute"!
'til next time,