Every year when we sing patriotic songs around the Fourth of July, this line always stands out me me from the song America the Beautiful.
Till all success be nobleness…
What is success?
We all say that we want to be successful, but what does it really mean? It seems so broad and undefined. Successful at what?
Good old Merriam Webster defines success as:
Degree or measure of succeeding; favorable or desired outcome; the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.
Throughout my life, I’ve wanted to be successful in a number of areas. A successful student. A successful musician. A successful runner, blogger, homemaker, photographer, school volunteer, wife. A successful mother.
How do we measure that success? Are we only successful when we reach that favorable or desired outcome?
In terms of being a successful student- I don’t really know. High school wasn’t really my thing. I skipped a lot of school, and ended up graduating from my school district’s alternative high school a month after my class. Was that a failure, or was I successful once I was determined to finish?
I only have an associates degree and it took be seven years to get it. I found out I was pregnant just a few weeks after starting college, and went on to have two more kids rather quickly. I also supported my husband through his undergrad, graduate studies and law school. When it worked, I would take a couple of classes at a time, finally getting my “2-year” degree after 3 children, 4 big moves, and lots of hard studying. I graduated with honors. Failure or success? Or somewhere in between? And does it really even matter?
What really matters to me is that I’m a successful mother. Does that mean that my children will always be perfect and happy and kind and have clean rooms and nicely pressed clothes and perfectly strong testimonies of the gospel? Sometimes I think that’s what it means, but in moments of clarity I realize that success is not perfection.
I was not always happy, and I had my struggles and made dumb choices. My room growing up was not very tidy. And yet, when I look at my parents, I would unequivocally describe them as successful. Why? Because I always felt loved. Because they taught me how to be a decent human being and they continue to be shining examples of love, patience and righteousness, kindness and humility. I think each of my siblings would feel the same way.
When can success be measured?
I’m reading in Mosiah right now, about Abinadi and Alma. Abinadi was sent to call Noah and his people to repentance. He taught them many truths and at one point, King Noah began to fear and was about to set Abinadi free, but he heeded the words of his priests and put Abinadi to death.
When Abinadi was dying, did he think he failed? Did he reach his desired outcome? He did not change the heart of King Noah, which was his mission. At that moment, did he consider himself a failure?
A person’s influence is far more reaching than what he can see at any moment in time. Abinadi didn’t know about Alma, one of the king’s priests, who believed his words. Alma went on to teach Abinadi’s words in secret and 450 people were baptized and came to a knowledge of their Redeemer. Consider also that Alma’s son, after his conversion went on to be a great missionary. Even still, how about us, two thousand years later, who read the words Abinadi spoke, and are touched by his boldness and willingness to give up his life, and are taught truths that bring joy and peace.
As humans, we yearn for success. We have this innate desire to progress. The problem, I think, comes when we put so much importance on the finish line. Or when we start defining our success as being better than somebody else.
I make more money than him. I’m successful. I’m skinnier than her. I’m successful. I have a prettier yard than them. I’m successful… This is dangerous thinking and I think is one of the biggest problems in the world today. True success never is never measured in comparison to somebody else, but only against yourself.
Another dangerous area I have found myself in many times is when we define our lives only by the success or failure of our goals. Don’t get me wrong- goals are important. Specific goals that you can measure help keep us moving forward. But when we define our lives only by the success or failure of those goals, or if we ignore the big picture, we will never be happy.
In the 1989 General Women’s Session of conference, Gordon B. Hinckley said: Please don’t nag yourself with thoughts of failure. Do not set goals far beyond your capacity to achieve. Simply do what you can do, in the best way you know, and the Lord will accept of your effort.
Wait- The Lord will accept your effort? That’s the key right there! If we stop measuring ourselves against the world’s standards, we will find that true success extends beyond our lives- into the lives of those around us, of our descendants, and into the eternities.
Till all success be nobleness…
Most commonly associated with royalty, nobleness describes one’s high birth or distinguished hereditary rank and title.
Another definition is: Having or showing qualities of high moral character, such as courage, generosity or honor; Proceeding from or indicative of a character; showing magnanimity. (To be magnanimous is to be highly moral, especially in showing kindness or forgiveness, as in overlooking insult or not seeking revenge- or maybe not being easily offended.)
Stephen Covey said, “If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you in the funeral experience, you will find your definition of success.”
We often hear that when we are on our death bed, we won’t be wishing we spent more time in the office. Most of us would want to be remembered as kind, honorable, courageous. Noble.
It’s in all of us. We are all of noble birth, as we are all children of God. That’s where that yearning comes from- our spirits know of our nobility and push us to progress. Then all the messages from the world get mixed up inside our minds and all of a sudden we lose focus, we lose the true meaning of success: Living a noble life.
My grandpa died five years ago. He was never wealthy or successful by the world’s standards, but he left behind an unbelievable heritage. He had 13 children, 87 grandchildren, and his progeny continues to grow with over 100 great-grandchildren at the time of his passing.
Each and every one of those children and grandchildren revere him as a man who left a great legacy of faith, hard work, good humor, wisdom, and good stories to his family and all who knew him. He was a noble man.
Can you imagine what our country, or what our world would be like if we lived by those words. Till all success be nobleness. If we all sought to live lives that honored our God, and honored each other. If we were generous and courageous. If we could be kind, and stop being offended so easily. Let us seek to be noble, to live to that higher standard. Then will our lives be filled with success.