Friday, May 4, 2012

No Way to Fail Either

It occurred to me sometime during the interminable weeks of this semester that the two students my graduating high school class voted "Most Likely to Succeed" are, in fact, the two members of my class that I feel are most likely to get doctorates. My fellow recipient recently earned her doctor of optometry, for which she deserves much congratulations, and I am still plugging away at my PhD in math. So, it seems like this award had some predictive value. But what is it predicting.

The simplest thing to do would be to say that there was an implied "in Academics" at the end of the award, and that we were recognized for our intelligence, curiosity, and, in her case, drive. This makes a certain amount of sense, it was a school award, so academics are probably somewhere in the top twenty... or so... things on people's minds as they consider who they might choose. However, this sidesteps some interesting questions inherent in the question. Am I "a success"? Am I still more likely "to succeed"? What does it mean to "succeed" at life?

Some of my classmates have gotten married. Some of them have children, some while they were my classmates. Some have real person jobs, live in foreign nations, or have tattoos. Aren't these people successes at life? No, they are not. Before you think me to harsh, consider, success is something measured upon completion. One would not say you have successfully baked chocolate chip cookies as you are beating the eggs into the batter, it is too soon. As the first batch comes out of the oven you might allow yourself the celebration at successfully baking some chocolate chip cookies, but personally, I wouldn't relax and say I have successfully baked chocolate chip cookies until the last batch is out, the utensils I used have been licked off cleaned, and nothing further can go wrong.

The problem with succeeding at life then becomes in order to finish and succeed, you must die first. At this point people may opine as to whether your life has been a success or not, but you are unlikely to care, as you are dead. So, if I cannot succeed at life, no matter how likely people say I may be, what am I to do? I cannot speak for anyone else, but, as I list my job on Facebook, I am going to try to make the world better one day at a time, and that is something at which I can succeed.