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What constitutes success in American?

Updated on February 21, 2013


“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth: the ignorance of which kills ideas and splendid plans, that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise had occurred. A whole stream of events issued from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it” (Murray as cited by Whitton, 1995).

The Webster’s New World Dictionary defines success as “having a favorable outcome; the achievement of having obtained something desired or intended; or having achieved wealth or eminence” (Simon & Shuster, 1982, p. __ ). This definition is one explanation for what people view as success. However, in reviewing the materials in both traditional and non-traditional forms, I found that success and the American dream is often correlated with superficial images such as beauty, wealth, and social position. This brings us to the following questions: What constitutes success in American? What are the avenues available to Americans to achieve success? How are these avenues accessed and what are the obstacles to success? What is needed in the environment to foster success for everyone? What are the characteristics of those who achieve success? What are the characteristics of those who remain successful? What arrangements, if any, should be made for those who fail to achieve success? What other alternatives are available to those who choose not to subscribe to the goals of American success? Should society guarantee everyone is successful and why (not)?

In this paper I will be addressing all of these questions in relation to my own success. I believe I am successful. I will then explain the significance of my answers to macro theory.

What constitutes success in American?

Success is not a new concept. However, success is defined in many different ways by many different people. A plural definition is an excerpt from a speech that American president Theodore Roosevelt gave early in the 20th century:

"There are two kinds of success. One is the very rare kind that comes to the man who has the power to do what no one else has the power to do. That is genius. But the average man who wins what we call success is not a genius. He is a man who has merely the ordinary qualities that he shares with his fellows, but who has developed those ordinary qualities to a more than ordinary degree" (citation).

Henry David Thoreau’s definition of success is:

"There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself. You have chosen to make your life a wonderful adventure. Living well is your reward” (citation).

I believe both of the above-mentioned authors back up my perception of success. I also believe each of us has our own perception about what success is. I believe success is much more than beauty, wealth, and social position. I believe we invent the life we want to live and that if we live the life we want, we are successful.

Many people live their whole lives trying to measure up to a standard created by society around beauty, wealth, and social position. However, I do not believe any of these things have much to do with being “successful” or “real.”

I would like to borrow the definition of “real” from the children’s book, “The Velveteen Rabbit.”

“Real isn’t how you are made, it’s a thing that happens to you. It doesn’t happen all at once. It hurts sometimes. When you are real, you don’t mind being hurt. It doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have been carefully kept. It takes along time, generally by the time you are real, you have begun to show signs of being worn. But, these thing don’t matter at all because once you are REAL you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand” (Williams, 1922, p. ___). Need a sentence or two here connecting real to success

People might not understand my definition of success because I do not draw a large salary, live in a large house, drive a fancy car, or hold any position of prestige. However, I am happy. I have chosen to make my life a wonderful adventure. Living well has and is my reward. I own my own home, my own business, I do the work I love, I am in graduate school, I drive a car with character, and I am loved by the homeless people down in old town and the business community alike. I have wonderful relationships with my friends and family, I have traveled extensively, and I am not afraid to do anything. I have truly committed to making my life the best it can be. All sorts of things have occurred to help me that would never otherwise have occurred. A great many things have happened in my favor, unforeseen incidents, meetings, and material assistance, which I never could have dreamt would have come my way. I do believe “whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it” (citation).

What are the avenues, traditional and non-traditional, available to Americans to achieve success? How are these Avenues accessed?

Success in America is defined by each of us individually. We must each evaluate our beliefs and values of what constitutes success for us as individuals.

Traditionally, success can be obtained through family. A person can be born into a family of power and therefore is deemed successful by society based on bloodlines. Others may obtain success through higher education. The area of higher education allows for exposure to successful opportunities. Others may achieve success through organizations and groups of eminent standing. The status one gains can influence other avenues that could lead to success.

The more non-traditional avenues of success can be obtained through groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Counseling centers, self help groups, and career counseling centers that foster personal growth for individuals to give them the tools needed to work toward their own personal success. Another Avenue to success is the internet, books, and public speakers. All of these talk about hard work along with financial and social gains. Some of these avenues lay out step-by-step instructions on how a person can become successful. The information provided in these avenues lead some people believe that if people ask for what they want they should get it. A quote from Jim Rohn states, “Average people look for ways of getting away with it; successful people look for ways of getting on with it” (Rohn, 1994, p. ___).

Many of these avenues do not address self-esteem. People who lack self-esteem may not have the ability to use step-by-step direction. These avenues imply there is a quick easy way to gain success, further setting people up for failure.

I believe success can be obtained through hard

work as stated by write Liz Carpenter. “Instead of looking at life as a narrowing funnel, we can see it ever widening to choose things we want to do, to take the wisdoms we’ve learned and create something” (citation).

I believe if a person works hard enough and wants success bad enough, he or she can be successful. I believe we learn from each other. I believe that we are a diverse universe. We have differences in the regions we live, the color of our skin, our religions, attitudes, opinions, values, and beliefs. If we were all alike, there would be nothing to learn from each other. The differences in each of us are what makes us valuable. We are all responsible for each other at some level. We are interdependent. However, I believe we all have the right to express ourselves as individuals and what we do with that individuality is what makes us successful. These avenues of success are accessed in knowing where resources are.

Therefore, it is easier for some than others. Some people are better networked than others. Networking is essential to success and in accessing various resources. There are two forms of networking: formal and informal. The people we meet networking gives each of us different points of view that can educate us and help us disseminate ideas. (Wellington, 2001, p. ___). Often times accessing resources is more about who people know than about what they know. Some avenues are available to everyone while others are limited to a few. This can cause feelings of inadequacy for the few that are limited, which in turn could prevent people from asking for help. The cycle would perpetuate the one thing everyone desires: acceptance.

What are the obstacles to success?

Many obstacles can arise in one’s individual pursuit for success. However the biggest obstacle I see is one that is the root of all others , disproportion. I believe that the environment can have an effect on our lives. Some may feel that an individual’s environment is interdependent to the type of individual that a person will become and the successes he will achieve. However, my basic belief is that heredity plays a role in who we are but not how we act. I believe environment and determinism can cause a reaction by individuals but that they have free will because we have conscious thoughts and the ability to distinguish between good and bad. There are people who accept fate as a way of life, allowing for no control of their destiny. I believe I am not one of these people. I alone have selected the behaviors that have determined my life. I believe my life would be very different right now if I did not use my abilities to make my life what it is. I am successful. I believe people have individual rights. There are laws all people are asked to follow and Constitutional rights, which Americans abide by. For example, they have the right to express themselves in almost any form of communication. However, another person does not have the right to offend me. His/her rights end where my ethics and morality begin. I believe the welfare of society plays a role in creating obstacles that make it hard for people to determine a good life for themselves. The world has an abundance of resources. There is an interdependence of human beings around the globe. Our society should be one of greater equality and pure selflessness but instead we are Capitalists and there are people with more than they need and others that have less than they need.

What is needed in the environment to foster success for everyone?

Support, encouragement, Knowledge and Equality are the factors I believe that are needed in the environment to foster success for everyone including children. We as a society need to support individuals by giving them encouragement to strive for more. The increase of availability of resources and greater access to avenues of success would benefit the population as a whole. The equal availability to all would make success easier. However, I revert back as discussed above to free will. I do believe where there is a will there is a way. You will succeed if you risk going too far because than you can find how far you can go. I think if we hold ourselves to a higher standard than anyone expects of us, we will find a way to create equality for our selves.

What are the characteristics of those who achieve success? What are the characteristics of those who remain successful?

There is are many characteristics in combination that enable an individual to achieve success. If we give characteristic based on what society states is successful we would say educated, beautiful, wealthy and prestiges. I would say that characteristics of someone who is able to achieve success are motivated, disciplined, and goal oriented. Someone who knows what they want and wants it bad enough will find a way to get it. Discipline is the foundation upon which success is built. The lack of discipline inevitably leads to failure. The ultimate reason for setting goals is to entice you to become the person it takes to achieve them. Remaining successful is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals. (Rohn,J.(1994).

What arrangements, if any, should be made for those who fail to achieve success?

Arrangements need to made to lend a hand in helping people to understand their own values and belief systems and their ability to create their own success and what they consider to be successful. We as a society often times push our own individual value and belief systems about success onto others. There must be an increase in available programs through welfare reform and the equalization of resources for all people so that people are able to work toward success, keeping in mind that every one has their own definition. There are many characteristics that we can define unsuccessful such as unmotivated, undisciplined, and un goal oriented. These characteristics are similar to those of success in that we can choose them. I believe I have the power to purposefully choose my being. I believe I have the power to choose who and how I want to be. I believe that we create our own reality and I believe that I have free will to take what is given me and do something with it. I believe guidance from others has often sent me one way, while my own will has pulled in another. Many people have had influence on me. I followed their instruction, sometimes feeling like I was not myself. As I have grown older I realized that I had a choice to start each day by selecting from the things I had learned along the way. I began to base my commitment on the effectiveness of my actions. I have an individual right to choose for myself. The outcome of my decision may not always get the result that I seek but if I use the result as an opportunity to learn, I am successful, I am one step closer to the desired outcome. I don't believe what someone else is doing can change who I've decided to be. However, in the bigger picture, such as the welfare of society, there is inequality. No one individual can ever claim responsibility for a solution to any problem that is global. We have to choose to act together to control the parts of life we share.

What other alternatives are available to those who choose not to subscribe to the goals of American success?

Society sees success primarily as the attainment of beauty wealth and social status. When someone does not subscribe to the values and beliefs of what society views success is, they may be excluded from opportunities.

I believe that we should all have the right to express ourselves as individuals I also believe that if that individual expression causes consequences for others then there should be a sanction of some kind. However, if it does not cause harm to another we must not try to change the way people think to the way we think.
We have to understand our choices in order to create our definition of success. I believe we should all envision what life can be, complete with reflections on the opportunities given to each of us and our tendencies to achieve the life we want to live. I think that ones own resolution to succeed is more important than any other thing.
Should society guarantee everyone is successful and why?

I do not believe that society can be responsible for every ones success. This would give society power over individuals. One of the great independences is the ability to make choices for ourselves. However, I do believe that society should create equality and fairness and give equal opportunity to obtain success. It is negligent not to provide equal opportunity.

What is the significance of your answers to Macro Theory?

The conclusion that can be drawn as it relates to macro theory of social work practice, is that there is an interdependence of human beings around the globe. Our society should be one of greater equality and pure selflessness but instead and there are people with more than they need and others that have less than they need. We as a society have a need to improve upon, the arena’s created for success for individuals as well for neighborhoods, communities, states and nations all encompassing “macro systems”.

We are interdependent. However there is an unequal distribution of power and opportunity in this society. Macro theory is based on working together in community to set goals that will lead to the fight against inequality which in turn will increase the potential for success.

We as a society will need to improvement upon the availability of resources in many different areas such as educational social and community networks with the continued goal of equality.


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