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One of Life's Big Questions...

One of Life’s Big Questions…

I have struggled to answer this question for probably my whole life, but last week I had an experience which showed me one very good answer.

One of my oldest friends lost her partner and best friend; he succumbed to a fatal illness in a short period of time. Attending the wake, I watched her standing alone to greet the mourners. I admired her strength and poise, even as I could see in the unguarded moments, the strain of the past months peek through.

I was impressed by the number of people who turned out on a week night — for her — despite more snowflakes and very cold weather, during a winter when travel had become an endurance test for everyone.

At one point I met one of her bosses. When she found out that I was a very old friend, she proceeded to tell me what a great worker my friend is: how skilled, how professional, and how well-respected. “I wish I had ten of her,” she said. “And she is completely humble.”  I thought to myself, how wonderful to not have to promote yourself because your work speaks volumes…and also to have someone you work for respect, love, and admire you so much. She gave me the heads-up about something that my friend did not know: she was going to receive an arrangement from a very prestigious client. When they found out what was going on with her, they said, “We want to send flowers.” “That is UNHEARD of,” her boss told me, “But they like her THAT much!”

My friend held a small dinner after the wake at a local restaurant. I sat at the end of one VERY long table. She was fussing over whether we had enough food and was worried that the family-style serving was not working, but not one person was greedy and filled their plate. All appreciated the food and appreciated her. Everyone knew this was costing her money she didn’t really have, and yet she wanted to show her appreciation to her friends.  She had been unable to work very much during the time her partner was sick, and she works in a field that when she doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid.

Despite the terrible circumstances, I felt happy for her as I looked down the long table full of supporters. Her life had been particularly difficult lately, but even without her recent challenges, her life wasn’t necessarily one that many people would look at as a “picture” of success. But it was clear as a summer sky to me that night.

A successful life does not have to be one with all the trappings and media accolades. It can be one where, when you are struggling, you are overwhelmed by love and support, respect and admiration in your own corner of the world. To me, my friend won an Oscar.

My husband and I have an ongoing disagreement—what’s the best way to get from here to there?  He always picks the highway.  Even if it is a longer distance, it feels shorter to him because the road is smoother and he can go faster.  I always choose the back roads.  It comes as a surprise to me if he proves that it is a longer distance, because it seems shorter to me.  Because I am constantly moving and not dodging passing cars, I feel like it is quick and comfortable.  The occasional “obstacles” like stop lights, and stop signs just make the drive more interesting to me.

My husband is goal-oriented and focused, but he has no patience with details or doing things carefully that involve a lot of steps.  I am always amazed at how fast he can perform computer tasks without making mistakes.  I often revel in boring tasks like washing the dishes; I don’t like to be rushed.  I get bored easily and need to switch gears often; I accomplish things a little at a time.  We are a good complement to each other because of our differences, and those differences are mirrored in our driving choices.

There are many times I wish I were more like him.  Sometimes even I get impatient with my slow and steady approach to life.  There are times when I am stuck at a broken red light or stuck behind a school bus and feel like I will never get to my destination.  I simply get lost or distracted on the way and a successful end eludes me.  The older I get, the harder it is to accomplish anything approaching things the way I do and the less possible it seems that I can change.  It feels like the world is constantly on my butt and honking at me, but it doesn’t make me go faster.  I simply pull over and let it all pass by me and wonder how I got here.

I have heard some say: Success = Hard Work + Opportunity

Is it that simple? Is there another variable (x)? More than one other variable (y)?

Where are luck and talent in the above equation?  Some may say, Luck = Opportunity, but I think not.

What if I were to work hard for two opportunities but it does not equal success; then when the next one comes along, I’m not feeling well or circumstances stop me from working as hard as I did the other times—again it does not equal success.  In both cases the value of the opportunity plus the value of the hard work did not add up.

And don’t bring up “The Secret” or visualizing success as the missing factor.  I think that throws off the equation; if you concentrate too much, you delude yourself into believing in the simple version of the equation: Success = Opportunity + Faith; then hard work is not taken into account.

All of this is to say, I have not figured out what variables are missing and how to determine what the value of those variables are.  I wonder if I need an algebra refresher course?

et cetera
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