There are a lot of ways to define success. My definition often depends on my mood and on the balance in my check book.
But most of the time, I fall back on the definition that just seems to make the most sense: Success isn’t measured by the size of your bank account, by the number of people who admire you (or who fear you) or by the number of awards you’ve received. Success is defined by the positive difference you make in the lives of others.
I say that because I am extremely fortunate to be surrounded by successful people. These are people who humble me. People who make me want to be a better person. People who give far more than anyone would ever expect, and in many cases, far more than I am capable of giving myself.
I’m more than simply fortunate. I’m down right grateful. If it weren’t for these successful people, I couldn’t do my job.
For those of you who don’t know what I do, you aren’t alone. I’m not sure my husband even knows what I do.
Sometimes I tell people that I work in the community to address health and human service issues. Sometimes I tell people that I get to spend the money that others raise for the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle. And sometimes I tell people that I herd cats.
But none of those simple descriptions defines the scope of my job: every day, I get to work with a wide variety of community members who simply want to make a difference in the lives of others. And I get the privilege of watching them succeed.
During this past week, when some of these committed volunteers were deliberating over the best way to invest donor dollars, an article that mentioned that United Way of the Eastern Panhandle was published in our local paper, the Martinsburg Journal. Twenty years ago, this article would have simply been an account of an event . But, thanks to the internet, people can now anonymously express their opinion about every article. Or the content of every article. Or their perceived content of every article. Or about any person, business, or organization mentioned in the article.
In this case, people took the opportunity to bash the United Way. The comments ranged from claiming the United Way is a racist organization to claiming that we use donor dollars inefficiently. For anyone familiar with the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, these individuals obviously don’t understand the organization. Or more importantly, they don’t understand WHO the United Way is. Most likely, they don’t care.
While the internet has added so many wonderful opportunities — from social networks that let us re-connect with people from our past to a wide variety of information at our fingertips – – it also provides the opportunity for people to hide behind anonymous names and cruelly attack just about anything and anyone. Not only do they spew their negativity as though they were are an authority on the subject of they day, but they seem to take pride when others take the bait. And, unfortunately, these people mistakenly believe they are thriving. But they aren’t – – quite the opposite, in fact.
Thriving people are those who spend their time and energy building others up rather than tearing others down. The kind of people who I’m surrounded by every day:
- Staff and volunteers who work for nonprofit, service and faith-based partner organizations, and who have such passion for a cause that they often put the needs of the organization and the clients above their own.
- Community members who raise dollars that are used to make a measurable difference in the lives of others, such as a local businessperson who continues to ask for donations despite being turned down again and again and again.
- Individuals who donate what they can, even when they are struggling to make ends meet. These are people who, even when they don’t have an extra penny in their pocket, will hold a fundraiser so they can still give something. (Interesting, studies have shown that lower income people give a larger percentage of their income to charity than do the rich . Some experts think this is because they have needed help or have a family member or friend who has received assistance, and they know how important giving back is.)
These are the most successful people I know. Because, despite the size of their bank account, despite their educational status and despite the number of times they’ve been criticized, they are making their little corner of the world a lot better.
And, ironically, they are so busy doing the right thing, they don’t have any time to do the wrong thing… or to post anonymous, critical comments online.