The True Meaning of Success
Yesterday evening as I was heading to the airport to bid farewell to my younger brother Symo who was departing for the British Island of Bermuda, I thought about the true meaning of success. One thing I know for sure is that the meaning of success changes from person to person. What is success to one individual may mean nothing to another.
Take for instance the London Marathon held once every year. For professional athletes taking part in the marathon, success to them is about finishing first and breaking the world record. But for the elderly people in the marathon, success to them is about finishing the race, even if it means taking seven hours.
I remember one morning several years ago while attending a group therapy of Users & Survivors of Psychiatry (USP) in Nairobi, I heard one woman comment of how sick she felt on a flight from Dubai to New York. Guess what! If it were me, I would feel high to be in such a flight because I have always had a yen to travel around the world. But imagine this woman felt sick in that flight, meaning she didn't consider flying to the United States a success.
In 2004 during my high school years at Starehe Boys' Centre, Dr. Geoffrey Griffin - the school's founding director - travelled to London for treatment. Around that time Dr. Griffin left for London, the school official magazine ran a story titled "Director's First Trip Overseas in 40 Years."
At first, I found that magazine headline unbelievable because numerous opportunities for travelling abroad used to arise every year at Starehe. Like during my close to six years stay in the school, there were teachers and students who travelled to South Africa, Germany, China, Austria, Canada, United States, Great Britain and Australia.
Coming to think of it, maybe travelling abroad didn't mean a thing to Dr. Griffin. Maybe for him, success was about managing Starehe into a centre of excellence. That's why he delegated those travelling opportunities to other teachers and students.
When I was in JKUAT pursuing a Bsc, degree in Electronics & Computer Engineering, I am sure some of my classmates felt very successful to be in the engineering class, especially those who were first in their families to attend university. But for me, I didn't feel much of a success to be in the local university. My idea of success was studying in such prestigious colleges as Harvard where I could school with people of other races under a renowned faculty consisting of Nobel prize winners. That's why I spent my first year at JKUAT applying to top colleges in the United States.
Guess what again! The same prestigious Harvard that I yearned to attend is the same Harvard that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out. Maybe for them, success was not attending Harvard but founding multi-million dollar companies that impact lives.
Yes, the meaning of success changes from person to person. What is success to one individual may mean nothing to another. For me, Ralph Waldo Emerson aptly captured the true meaning success when he wrote:
Then Bessie Anderson Stanley, in a message which parallels that of Ralph Waldo Emerson, also aptly captured the true meaning of success when she wrote:
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
In other matters, I am still working at losing my weight in the goal I narrated in this lovely blog of mine in a story accessible by clicking here. So far, I have religiously gone for jogging after every two days. As for eating a lot, I am still working at breaking a bad habit of waking in the middle of the night to gobble food. For me, being lean is my other idea of success!
He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth's beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.
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Not Fearing the Crowd
On a lovely day in May 2007, I reported at JKUAT to pursue a BSc. degree in Electronics & Computer Engineering. And during my first two years, I came to like the university because it was close to such big urban areas as Thika and Nairobi yet it was pristine enough to offer a rural environment that made me feel at one with nature. I would never, in the life of me, have imagined any riots to occur in such a relaxed campus as JKUAT's. Only in bigger institutions in busy city centres would I have expected students' strike to happen.
But then what I thought unimaginable happened. One morning around August 2008 when I was in my second-year, I woke up to rumours of an impending students' strike. Then moments afterwards as I was walking on one of the university's highways, it dawned on me the rumours were true when I saw a crowd of about 200 students charging at the university's officials who were at the graduation square trying to organize for a meeting to iron out any differences.
Fortunately, and I say fortunately for a reason I will explain afterwards, I didn't bother to hang around to see what would happen next. I just walked past the charging crowd, and then continued with my walk on and on to the neighbouring communities on the Western side of the university that I had hitherto not seen.
When I came back to the university after an hour or so of walking, I learnt that the usually relaxed JKUAT's campus had turned into a war-zone. The crowd that I had left charging at the university's officials became more hostile. It went on a rampage during which it smashed glass panes of some of the university's buildings and then went ahead to set a public service vehicle on fire. And when police were called to quell the violence, the rioting students engaged them in running battles.
Later on, I heard through the grapevine that the police managed to arrest some of the rioting students who were arraigned in court, probably to deter the students from engaging in such kind of chaotic strikes in the future. So I am thinking had I hanged around to observe what the charging crowd would do next, I would probably have been caught up in the fracas and arrested by the police. That's why I have said it was fortunate of me that I walked on and on to the environs in the Western side of the university.
Getting back to my story on the students' riot, there was a heavy police presence in the evening of that day the strike happened and in the next few days that followed. The university was closed down and students ordered to vacate their residential halls. And when it re-opened a few weeks later, each student was fined a certain amount of money for the damages that had been caused by the rioting students.
I later learnt when the university re-opened that the students rioted to protest against frequent power outages, and also because of food offered in the mess but I can't recall what exactly it was about the food that made them strike.
As to how such a violent riot happened in such a relaxed campus as JKUAT's is something I didn't get to understand. Also beyond my grasp was how someone could galvanize a crowd of more than 200 students into causing such horrendous damages. All I can say now is that I learnt that day the students rioted about the power of a crowd.
Well, I had read and heard about the power of a crowd before. A senior staff member in high school at Starehe Boys' Centre had told us that the intelligence of a crowd is equal to that of the most stupid person in it. That day at JKUAT when the students rioted, I came to realize how true that was.
Today, I have resolved to live without fear of the crowd. Ha! That reminds me of the following verse from a favourite hymn of mine:
By living without fear of the crowd, I mean not worrying about what others think of me. Or what they are saying about me. So help me God.
Teach me to look in all my ends,
On thee for judge, and not my friends;
That I, with thee, may walk uncowed,
By fear or favour of the crowd.