Monday, August 6, 2007

Chasing Rainbows

I have spent a good part of my life chasing rainbows. It's what we're raised to do. Our entire upbringing as American youths is oriented toward chasing the "American Dream."

If you asked me to define, exactly, the American Dream, I'd stutter around a bit (because I want to have an answer for everything), but I'd have to, ultimately, say that, I can't say. Because it's just a little different for everyone, I think. The common theme though that seems to run through each individual definition of this, the American Dream, is success. That is, the American Dream is found at a place called "Success."

I have come to the conclusion that there is no place called "Success."

You see, I used to think that success was something that you achieved-a destination that you strove to reach. In fact, we're raised with that as our credo. It starts young-get good grades in school, and graduate from high school as valedictorian. Get accepted into the best school with full scholarship. Then get a six-figure job, buy a two-story home in the suburbs, a luxury SUV and a sporty sedan in the garage, motor home and boat parked in the extra-wide side yard. Have two perfect children, join the Rotary, take advantage of the company match on your 401(k), take your family on relaxing vacations (to Disneyworld when the kids are young; on a cruise to the Bahamas when they're teens). And, having done all this, you've achieved success.

And so I began adulthood striving mightily for that success. And I found myself consistently disappointed. Because, you see, each time I reached the location that I thought was success, I found it barren, looking markedly similar to the place I came from. The proverbial pot-of-gold at the end of a rainbow. Have you ever chased the end of a rainbow? I have. And I realized very quickly that the end of the rainbow doesn't really exist. It is merely an apparition that remains always just out of reach.

You see, I've realized that I can't achieve success. There is no number that represents financial success. No career achievement that represents professional success. No written accomplishment that I can place on my shelf, then sit back and bask in having reached the pinnacle of literary achievement. No degree, certificate or grade equates to success. Homes land and cars-none of them are accurate measures of success.

I've found that success is a journey. A quote by famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden illustrates, I think, true success.

"Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability"

You see, success has nothing to do with achievements or what we acquire. It has everything to do with whether or not we've given it everything we've got. I try to end my day, every day, by looking back over the day, and asking myself if I truly gave my every action my all. Because, if I can truly say that I gave it my all, then I can truly say I have, at least for today, been a success.

Success is, in essence, a way of life-a never-ending journey. You can never sit back and say you've arrived.

I fear that too many of us spend far too much time chasing rainbows. Maybe it's because we don't truly understand success. Or maybe because we care less about actually being successful, and care more about others perceiving us as successful-as measured against the "American Dream"-that ever-present scoreboard. So, we buy the biggest house we can, and the most expensive car we can get financed. And go on vacations that we can't afford. We dress our children in the latest name-brand fashions. And act like we don't fight with our spouse. We hang our multiple college degrees in conspicuous places on our office walls, and get business cards printed with our highfalutin titles in oversized, bold type across the top. We push our kids, who hate the water, to achieve the quickest time on the freestyle races on the last day of swim lessons. We showcase our talents as often as we can, and make sure our friends and acquaintances are aware of our every accomplishment.

And none of it has a thing to do with success. Just elusive rainbow ends.

Have you been chasing rainbows?


Anonymous said...

One thing that I've learned about chasing Rainbows, metaphorically as stated in your post, it is very much the same as if you were chasing one literally. The Sun is always directly behind you and there is a storm in front of you. But who says success comes easy?

PJ said...

Insightful comment! Particularly the comment about a storm being in front of you.

Thanks for visiting!

Anonymous said...

Success is highly desired by everyone, the desire to be successful has been the fuel behind the progress of working and I guess non working individuals for as long as we have been in existence. Status is in a way linked to this. For example, a teacher has a positive societal image (respect, prestige) which increases his or her status but may earn little money, which simultaneously decreases his or her status. In contrast, a drug dealer may have low social position though may have a high income. People always relate success with money or possessions. I am guilty of this on many occasions. I have always had to have the next best thing. It just seems that we as a society are never satisfied. There is always something better or someone with something better. If we look at the whole picture all that stuff doesn’t really even matter. I have a beautiful loving wife and three wonderful healthy children if I measured my success in regards to my family, in my personal opinion I am the most successful person I know.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Babe (shane) very profound. Sometimes in life I think we are chasing the wrong rainbows, striving to achieve all those things that in the end won't matter anyways. I don't want to spend my days chasing after rainbows of material success,(although nice to have won't bring happiness) In the end I will say I have reached success when I have spent my entire life living for God, loving my husband and kids and have raised my kids teaching them that happiness doesn't come from material possessions it comes from living for God and being with the ones you love.

PJ said...

In my mind happiness and success are synonymous. I think the important thing to note here is that, far too many of us are hoodwinked into believing that the things-the "stuff"-that we're taught equates to success will bring us happiness.

And I know far too many "successful" people, by the twisted standards that I talked about in the post, who don't FEEL successful, and who are, in fact, miserable. Conversely, I know many "unsuccessful" people, by most standards, who, I think, go to bed EVERY night, and rest easy, because they are successful-by my definition, and within the context of their lifes' work.

The owner of the company that I work for said it best. He's INCREDIBLY successful by virtually any standard. He has "stuff", prestige, money, security-all of it. But he said once: "I used to think that the 'stuff' would make me happy; until I got the 'stuff'. Then I realized that all it brought was some good times, and more 'stuff' to worry about. I am only TRULY happy when I am doing what I was meant to do, and doing it the best that I possibly can."

That's TRUE success, if you ask me.

So, Nan: in my usual, windy fashion, I guess what I'm saying is, every day, look at your life, and what truly matters, find happiness in yourself, and rest easy, knowing that you are a TRUE SUCCESS!

SheGazelle said...

I'm really enjoying this post and its comments.
I guess my idea of success would be similar to yours- a journey- always in pursuit of the right things with the right motives.
The Good Book does tell us a bit about how to find the journey called success:
Joshua 1:8
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.
Groovy post!

Anonymous said...

PJ I wasn't questioning your outlook on success I was only in my own way adding my little input on what I hope to accomplish in my life. LOL

PJ said...


Didn't think you were questioning/disagreeing! Sorry if I gave that impression!

I just like to talk, and found I had something more to say!


PJ said...


Great point! The truth is, the GOOD BOOK really is the roadmap for success, isn't it?

Because, if I truly meditate on the Word of God, and follow it's ways, the things that I originally posted about will FALL INTO PLACE wont they?