The definition of success
Happiness. A fulfilling career. Earning the respect of others. A&S readers reflect on how they measure personal success.Posted 7/09/07
Success is being happy with what you have but willing to give it all away if you have to.
Yarri Kamara (Economics, French Language and Literature ’02)
“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.”
-Attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson
E.A. Sherman (Studio Art ’78)
Touching the lives of others in a positive way, every day.
Dale Hill (Economics ’74)
This is merely a definition from a social value (you may think you are a big success yourself regardless, but that’s another case):
In my opinion, the narrow definition of success is higher-than-average personal achievements. The degree of your achievements may be controversial or determined by current standards. A more general and meaningful definition of success should be a combination of personal achievements and personal value realization in this society, i.e., when your social value is fully realized, you have not only benefited yourself in terms of “success” but also made other people’s lives better through your contribution to the society. Compared to the former, this definition is relative and concerns the interests of both sides, the individual and the society.
One thing notably similar between the two types of success is the requirement of societal recognition, which means one has to be “famous” to some extent to be called “successful.” Chinese phrases always associate “success” and “fame” with each other, which I gather explains the same issue here.
Guoqing Zhang (PhD Chemistry ’08)
As a Christian, I think success is accepting Christ as Savior and Lord of your life and then using the gifts that God has given you to the fullest extent possible to both witness your faith to others and to serve humanity. Material wealth is also important but it should not be the first priority or regrets will surface. Money is not fulfilling on its own merits and is only fulfilling when combined with doing that which God put you on this earth to do.
Willard Boggs (Anthropology ’95)
My definition of success is to be able to look back at your life and say honestly to yourself that you have enjoyed the journey, are happy with the choices that you have made and like and respect the person you have become as a result of that journey and those choices.
Ken Whyburn (College ’95)
Vince Pangalos (Biology ’86)
My personal definition of success is whether or not I am able to leave this world a better place. Let’s face it — few of us will leave a legacy in our professional lives, but in our private lives we have that chance. Whether it’s as a parent, a good friend or a volunteer for something that speaks to my heart, I believe I will have achieved success if, when I am no longer walking on this Earth, someone will remember me and think about how I made the world, or his or her life, a tiny bit better. And if they think I’ve made it a lot better, then boy was I successful! I think of my dear friend Hedwig Bakker, who once wanted nothing more than to be a mother. At 38 and with no prospects in sight, Hedwig decided to travel the world for one year. That was seven years ago, and she is now running a school that she started for poor children in Sikkim (India). She is living in a hut overlooking the Himalayas, practices Buddhism, is a “mother” to dozens of children at her school and is one of the most content, successful people I know. If I can achieve just a tiny bit of that, then what a success I will be.
Tracy Shackelford (Religious Studies ’89)
For me, it is simple and straightforward. Having been husband for almost 28 years, and as the proud father of three girls — Barrett, 19; Carroll, 15; and Hooper, 12 — I think success is providing for my family and imparting the legacy of love and integrity that my parents and my wife Barbara’s parents gave to us. I need to be financially successful in today’s world to afford the education we want to give my daughters, but my striving there is for them and not for my own self-aggrandizement.
We live in a world where civilized cultures are being attacked by medieval forces bent on our destruction. Within America itself, stable families are becoming the exception and not the norm. Success as a father is the most difficult job I can imagine. I try my best every day to succeed, although I know I fall short. For our families, and our nation, we need to have children who are leaders steeled by resolve and integrity.
That is how I view success. I hope that in future years I can say I have achieved it.
Thomas M. Neale (History ’74)
For me, I think years down the road I’ll consider life a success if I: have settled on a career that feels like play; have retained a realist’s enthusiasm and optimism about the future and about change; kept learning, tried new things and grew (hopefully) wiser in the process; have a loving family and/or loving friends — and generate the same love for others; made a positive contribution, however little it may seem to others, to society; and am financially secure and have a few toys that I really enjoy.
If I get some or most of those listed above, I believe I’ll feel a good measure of success.
Toby Zhang (Commerce ’07)
Twenty-one years ago, someone gave me a card at graduation which I framed and have displayed in my office ever since. Some people would probably call it sappy, but if I ever had a bad day professionally, it always helped to read it and to contemplate living a good life as it ought to be lived. It’s the Ralph Waldo Emerson classic, and I’ve never seen a reason to attempt to improve upon it.
“The definition of success — To laugh much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affections of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give one’s self; to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm, and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived — this is to have succeeded.”
Mary Ann Corbett Avery (Psychology ’86)
Success equals the pursuit of happiness. If you’re religious, this happiness comes from a relationship with your creator; if family-oriented, this means having a healthy family; if career-driven, this means the ability to forge your intellectual interests into a career; and to others the pursuit of happiness is all of the previously mentioned pursuits and countless others combined. It is all determined by realizing your calling in life and then pursuing it.
Tim Starr (Government, Religious Studies ’02)
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best.
Tim Merrick (MA Creative Writing ’90)
Very simple: Along with family, thanking God for happiness in one’s vocation.
Tom Strider (MS Physics ’58)
It’s funny you should ask this question today. For the last several days, I’ve been pondering this very question. As my friends and I approach our “mid-life” in the next few years, I feel it will come up more and more. I’ve just finished reading “Visioneering” by Andy Stanley and was very inspired to come up with a vision and core values for myself and family. As he stated, “Everybody ends up somewhere in life. You can end up somewhere on purpose!” As for my definition of “success,” it is definitely an inner peace and contentment in all circumstances.
Stephanie Bird (English Language and Literature ’91)
My definition of success is being content with what I have accomplished.
Sruti Cheedalla (History ’07)
Find something you like to do and do it with excellence and zeal.
James M. Shoemaker (Foreign Affairs ’55, Law ’65)
At the end of our lives, success can be easily measured by summing two things:
1. How many people you helped.
2. How many times you smiled and laughed.
Sean Dwyer (Economics ’78)
How do you define success? Success is simply being happy. Thus, your level of happiness will determine your level of success. After all, one can make a lot of money and achieve goals, but that doesn’t guarantee one’s happiness. The happiest people in the world are the most successful.
Scott Cortes (College ’10)
The perfect balance of three spheres of life: work, family and spirit. Seemingly simple, but nearly impossible.
Sasha Cannon (Religious Studies ’05)
Success is having developed the ability to communicate what you believe is right and the confidence to do it. U.Va.’s Honor System promotes this. From the very start, Virginia's students are confronted with the Honor System’s profound mission and beauty — and with their personal duty to uphold it for themselves and others.
Sarah Richardson Fahrendorf (Foreign Affairs ’93)
I think success is being the unique, creative person you were meant to be and helping to make the world a better place.
Sarah Leaman (Classics ’92)
Success occurs when preparation and hard work meet opportunity.
Sarah Kennelley (College ’09)
Success is fully exploring and reaching your potential ... as a business person, as a parent, as a citizen.
Patricia Sampson (Studio Art ’89)
Each person has a different definition of success because each person has a different vocation, or divine calling. Success is the fulfillment of that vocation. Vocations change with time, and it is almost presumptive to say that one knows one’s own vocation because it is defined externally by the gifts and relationships that one has at that particular time. We do well to frequently pray meditatively with open hearts, and to talk to others with attentive minds, to glimpse what our vocations might be, in order that we might be successful. Success does not necessarily bring happiness or harmony. Success brings divine peace. Peace be with you.
Joseph D. Rudmin (MS Physics ’96)
Living to be 80 years old and still being able to fish ....
Leading a contented life and ending with a credit balance in the penny deposits at the local stores.
Rodger Herrigel (History ’71, Law ’74)
Roderick Graf (Economics ’92)
Let’s begin at the beginning. The universe exists. Reality is real on its own terms, as what it is: self-generated space-time. Also, I exist, as a product of and within that space-time.
That’s why I needed to learn how to think, in order to control the acts that decide whether I go on living or die, and on what terms. Because when I started, I didn’t know how to think, any more than I knew what to think about anything ....
I had to learn how to learn. Other people were useful to me but not primary, so I learned how to get along with them and without them. I was learning to assert my “selfhood” in reality so as to make responsible use of my future adult liberty.
My primary act was egoistic self-assertion — knowing how to conduct myself as a mentally separate, physically separate and ultimately a value-separate
being — neither as a dictator over others nor as a slave to them in the real universe.
I was learning to be a capitalist — an investor of my values in the creation of a “profit,” within a marketplace of other people, each of whom would trade
with me value for value or refuse to do so on a self-interested basis.
I had, as an American, to deserve my selfish life, my liberty (freedom from criminal interference or collectivization by any one or more others) and my
inalienable right to prioritize and to purpose the capitalist investment of my life good in the creation of goals, end results that I desired to create,
control and maintain and then either consume, expend or reinvest.
So, there are three things that are important in any man’s life.
1. Learning how to think by categories, by the scientific method — not by outward appearances but inner workings, functional-inner five-six most central factors. This is what “education” comprises.
2. Mastery of categorical thinking leads, I assert logically, to honesty — knowing when you know something absolutely, as a categorizing definition, and when you really don’t.
3. And this honesty about what you know, can evaluate, can quality-control, manufacture, make use of, confirms one’s efficacy as an individual, a knower; your moral correctness as a secular purposive result-getter lies in being permitted to use your values and talents, and its categorical thinking is also the basis for your ethics toward others — watching out for their rights as you do for your own, trading value for value instead of stealing things and investing in others instead of just using up what you have.
“Success?” By these scientific truths, the term refers to “human-level scientific thinking, categorical honesty toward the real universe and its man-made additions, benevolence and justice toward all well-meaning others ....”I
I have everything right now under our failed Constitution, I claim, except safety, wealth, friends, justice, rights and a constitution my governors and fellow citizens are willing and honestly able to follow. I have made myself into a great success, I claim, a man rich in everything but these things named above, which depend on others’ failed attempts at becoming adult thinkers, and money.
I have made myself into a perfectly good enough realist both in theory and practice. Those are the parameters of “success” in real space-time. Any others would be irrelevant, incomplete or worse.
Robert Michael (MA Graduate School of Arts & Sciences ’66)
Success is a happy, healthy family, and a job which is both fulfilling and provides sufficient financial reward to keep your family free from want.
Bob Ritter (Law ’95, MA Government ’96)
On my 40th birthday, I spent some time reflecting on my life and I came to an astounding realization. I have everything I have ever wanted right now. I am married to a wonderful man who supports me in everything and is a wonderful father to our children, who is my companion, my lover and my best friend. I have three beautiful, intelligent, healthy children. I have a lovely home and safety and a little money in the bank. I have my health, my faith and some time to read, write, reflect and serve others. I thought about all the gifts in my life and was overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude. I was amazed, too, at the importance of this realization. What a gift to not only have what you want, but to be aware of it and appreciate it. What is success? I think it is to determine what is truly important, to strive for it and to count your blessings along the way. One can never be truly grateful and truly unhappy. Gratitude is the secret to success.
Renee Garnett (Spanish ’87)
Success is living a joyful life that makes you feel proud to be alive.
Rebecca Tversky (Foreign Affairs ’91)
Success: Accomplishment of any desired goal or objective. A successful tool is one that accomplishes well that for which it was made.
Lifetime success, or success in life (which I assume was the thrust of your query): Human life is the gift of an intelligent Creator, who therefore had a purpose for His creation and equips us with intelligence, skills and resources to accomplish His purpose. Success in life is therefore discovering our unique purpose and devoting life to its accomplishment.
Result: Well done, good and faithful servant.
Ralph A. Miller (College ’57)
I think the definition of success is conquering any goals that one sets for oneself and being the best at everything you do to inspire others to do the same.
Qunique Wilson (College ’10)
Success (as opposed to good fortune) is the achievement of a desired goal as a result of thorough planning and hard work.
Peter Clarke (English Language and Literature ’74)
Success is looking back on your life and not wishing you had done too many things differently.
Peter Henderson (Philosophy ’07)
“What is your definition of success?”
Realizing the reward of self-satisfaction from a job well done no matter whether it’s vocational or avocational. That includes, where applicable, marriage and all the ramifications associated with that particular voyage in life.
One must, however, always be cognizant that his or her failures produce two great pieces of guidance that can assist in reaching future successes: Learn from them, but keep them in the past where they belong and need to remain.
Perry Holcomb (MS Chemistry ’58, PhD Chemistry ’60)
Success: When you don’t fear the inevitable failures, because you know you’ll learn something. Success looks forward, not backward.
Paul Kinkel (Economics ’80)
Definition of success: Shared happiness.
Paul J. Bonthuis (PhD Biomedical Sciences ’09)
What is my definition of success? Nothing scientific or measurable, nothing monetary or title-bound … success, really, is doing the most with what you have, being extraordinary in everyday, ordinary circumstances and showing a kind heart to everyone — these things are our true challenges in life and define success to me.
Pam Miller Calary (Sociology ’84)
My definition of success is: Possessing or trying to achieve intelligence, kindness, resourcefulness, inquisitiveness, patience, thankfulness, grace, charm and humor. The Hon. John H. Pratt, for whom I worked briefly and greatly admire, often told me, “Remember family, friends and work — and in that order.” He’d say it with all of the above, so I think I should pass it on.
Nancy McGlynn (History ’83)
Success defined: Balance.
Nancy M. Staub (English Language and Literature ’87)
Success is going for broke pursuing your passion. The success is in knowing what your passion is and realizing that this is what you are purposed to do whatever the cost.
Myxolydia Tyler (Biology, Drama ’02)
Success: Doing what you love to do, being the best at whatever it is and getting rewarded for it.
Minji Lim (Studio Art ’07)
In graduate school in the mid-1970s at Illinois, I was fortunate to meet a dignified, elegant, 50-ish and very rural Mississippi woman full of folk wisdom and good cheer. I was a 20-ish hot shot, and she probably found me mildly amusing to talk to. I broached the same issue with her, and she gave me my favorite answer of all time, though it was probably too metaphysical for me to understand at the moment of delivery: “It's a cup of half and half. Success is 50 percent getting what you want — and 50 percent wanting what you get.”
Mike Widener (College ’72)
Success is looking at your life and saying, “This is good.”
Mike Furlong (College ’73)
You gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, you get the women.
Michael Roddy (College ’10)
Success is the ability to thrive in life whether with plenty or in want.
Melissa Ho (English Language and Literature ’98)
What is my definition of success? That is something that is evolving everyday. When I was in high school, success was making straight As throughout my high school career. Then success was being admitted to the University of Virginia. Throughout college, my definition of success was taking interesting classes that stimulated my mind and challenged my ideas. Upon graduation, success was graduating with a 3.9 GPA, all while maintaining my sanity and having a great time. After graduation, I thought success was moving to the capital of our nation and working for a prestigious company. But I soon discovered that reality glaringly clashed with this pre-conceived definition of success. And while some may think quitting my first job after six months and moving back home was admitting failure, that is not how I see it. I struggled with the notion that I was “giving up” on myself, but I now realize that success is what you make it.
If you are not happy, then none of the As, degrees or accolades matter. That being said, I am now happy, working for a Fortune 200 company and conceptualizing my next definition of success.
Megan Fawcett (Sociology ’05)
Success to me is psychological. Feeling comfortable and right in your own skin brings peace of mind — now, there’s success!
Meg Glass (English Language and Literature ’82)
Success equals happiness — nothing more to it.
Matt Welsh (Studio Art ’94)
I would define success as being at peace with yourself — being able to look yourself in the mirror and be proud of (or at least comfortable with) how you’ve treated the people within your influence, and your consideration of how others are impacted by each decision you make. Success is the experience of contentment with who you are today and commitment to continue to grow.
Lynne McNamee (Religious Studies, Spanish ’92)
Success: That sometimes hard-won sense of accomplishment, coupled with inner peace in the present, and of a future that will always be aimed at discovery yet grounded in personal integrity.
Lorraine Alexander (MA French Language and Literature ’73)
Success is doing what you love and loving what you do, no matter what you make, no matter what value others place on it.
Linda Mills (Psychology ’84)
Success is personal satisfaction with one’s accomplishments in life.
Lindsey (Keppel) Hayes (English Language and Literature ’04)
My definition of success is living my life in harmony with my core values.
Linda Martin Warner (MAPA Public Administration, City Planning ’99)
My definition of success: finding peace within myself and feeling worthy in society.
Lian Ye (Commerce, Accounting ’07)
The definition of success is complicated. As a mother of two college students, I have abandoned so many of my earlier definitions of many concepts. For me, today, success is staying alive long enough to learn life’s lessons. Life is extremely complex and changes every day. It takes some of us many tries to find a place where we can experience success. Whatever the challenge, be it academic, professional, personal or spiritual, it is a success to be here in the morning to try again. There is a measure of success in every day, even in failure, if you are willing to get up tomorrow and experience a new day.
Ellen Schwab (College ’79)
A family intact, a giving nature and children who love you.
Letitia Green (Spanish ’84)
Doing something you believe in and enjoy, spending time with those who mean something to you, helping others.
P.S. And the Hoos making the NCAA tournament.
Les Sweeney (Rhetoric and Communication Studies ’89)
Feeling comfortable in my own skin.
Leon Harris (Environmental Sciences ’92)
Success is attaining goals that you set for yourself, no matter how difficult or seemingly trivial they are. And almost as good is at least having the guts to try.
Leila Melhem (History, MT Education ’04)
Success is being able to pursue your true passion and ultimately achieve what is most important to you.
Laurie Ferris Lindsay (Foreign Affairs ’78)
Assuming you have adequate food and shelter, “success” means attaining happiness/contentment and inner harmony .... This requires that you maintain a healthy physical, spiritual and mental life.
Managing to keep what you know, feel, think and say in sync — that denotes success in this life.
Lauren Hunter Burke (Studio Art, French Language and Literature ’00)
Success is having personal and workplace relationships that excite you about getting up in the morning.
Success is having no regrets.
Laura Nix (College ’09)
Being successful means being the best person you can be and always striving to reach higher goals and aspirations.
Laura Ryder (Psychology ’08)
Success equals happiness.
Landon Moore (Economics ’01)
Not exactly success, but something that my father has always said: “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.”
Hunter Lamon (Economics ’04)
Definition of success: Happiness.
Kristi Visage (Government ’91)
Success is a happy, healthy marriage with lots of healthy, happy grandchildren (and all that that implies).
Sid Kinkead (Business Administration ’55)
Becoming a decent, responsible, kind, thoughtful adult who is concerned and
involved with his or her community.
Kay Fanning (PhD Architectural History ’96)
Success is looking at yourself in the mirror with the ability to smile and say, “I am happy with the choices that have led me to where I am today and those that are leading me to where I will be tomorrow.”
K.L. Canupp (Environmental Sciences ’05)
Success: In a career, being good at something you love and believing that your expertise helps other people. Being aware that hard work AND luck (or blessings — choose your own words) play a part in any success, being grateful rather than smug.
In life: Doing your best at your work and in dealing with your family and friends (not necessarily in that order), but taking time for a few pet projects or dreams of your own. Devoting all of your time to any one endeavor (be it work, play or raising a family) can never make you successful, just boring and bored.
Karen Field (Biology ’80)
My definition of success is to make a positive impact and difference in my sphere of influence, whether it be in a large corporation or in the life of one person for the short moment I am part of his or her life.
Karen Falconer (Psychology ’87)
Success should not be measured by financial wealth or worldly acclaim, but by the degree to which you nurture, love and inspire those within your sphere of influence to be productive, honest, God-fearing citizens with an emphasis on giving rather than receiving, recognizing that life is fleeting and is to be lived rendering service to others.
Joseph Robinson, Jr. (English ’80)
Success is a state of mind which can be measured only by oneself and not by others. This state of mind results not from what one has acquired or amassed and not from the accolades heaped upon one for his good works, but from one’s assessment of what he has given of himself for the benefit of others.
John Fletcher (College ’52, MD ’55)
Success is not something which is standardized; it is relative. One’s successes may be viewed as failures in another’s mind, and vice versa, but that is not what is important. Success is finishing each day content with the knowledge that one has achieved, or is on the way to achieving, what is important to oneself. Different things are important to different people, and therefore success is one of the most relative terms in our language. Put simply, success is achieving one’s goals to the best of one’s ability.
John Walsh (College ’10)
Success to me is being able to do what I love, for those I love, and being loved for it.
John Sweeney (College ’09)
To paraphrase Will Rogers, success is being born to parents who truly care for you, being married to a spouse who truly loves you and having respect from those among whom you live and work. If you have all three, you are a true success.
Joe Williamson (MA Economics ’69)
My sense of success is a feeling of self-satisfaction to the point where I feel that I can freely give back to my community of interest without consideration of resources. While I may not have done as much as I wanted to have done in one arena of life, I have done so much more in other arenas where I never expected to be or aspired to accomplishment.
J.J. Rosselle (French Language and Literature)
Attaining your goal.
James Hawk (Physics ’52)
Success is being able to smile at the end of the day. This is not to be confused with satisfaction. One can be satisfied without success but true success should bring satisfaction.
Joseph McGowin (Interdisciplinary-Echols ’79)
Happiness and peace of mind.
Jennifer Gess (Religious Studies ’89, MA Religious Studies ’91)
Success is living your life in a way that makes the most of your talents. For some people, that might mean following such traditional career paths as medicine, education or law. For others, it might mean following less traditional paths, such as stopping the spread of AIDS in Africa or working to build infrastructure in Iraq. What matters most is being true to one’s own vision.
Jennifer McDonald Brecht (History ’91, MEd Educational Psychology ’97)
Although traditionally in most minds success has been associated with what material things you possess (i.e. luxury cars, big homes, nice clothes, etc.), the true definition of success is actually to the contrary. True “success” is when you are in the position to HELP others.
I will never forget my high school best friend’s parents. Ironically, their names were the “Joneses,” although no one ever really felt the need to keep up with them because they were so giving. For the senior class, while everyone focused on how many scholarships they were able to obtain, my best friend’s parents GAVE a scholarship instead. They gave $100 to each member of the graduating class. Most recently, their eldest daughter married, and instead of asking for wedding gifts like most people, they asked guests to DONATE to their chosen charity organization instead! Talk about giving back. They are truly the example of what REAL SUCCESS is.
Jehan A. Carter (Government, Spanish ’04)
Success is reaching or exceeding a goal toward which you knowingly or unknowingly have been striving and did not compromise integrity to achieve. This success can occur time and time again.
Jeff Robinson (Economics ’04)
When I first graduated from U.Va., my definition of success was making enough money to support myself. Twenty-one years later I have come to realize that for me success is seeing comprehension dawn on my students’ faces and knowing I have helped them reach the next stage of their educational journey. I am fortunate that I can support myself doing a job I love.
Dr. Janet Schiavone (English Language and Literature ’86)
Success in my eyes is realizing one’s potential in three dimensions: physically, mentally and socially. What I mean by this is that being successful requires each individual to fully exercise his or her natural ability in the following ways: developing oneself physically to be able to fully exploit one’s body’s capabilities, cultivating our minds such that we learn and think to our full abilities and applying our resources in society where they can translate into tangible benefits to mankind.
James Wohlford (Economics ’84)
Success is a measure of self-appraisal. If one is very well satisfied that he or she has accomplished something for the good of others, one has been successful.
Jim Sykes (MS Biology ’49)
Success is being in a position such that if you were to suddenly receive a large sum of money, nothing important about your life would change.
James Gammon (Music, Philosophy ’04)
Success is the peace that comes with knowing your accomplishments have purpose.
Hutch Putnam (Government, City Planning ’00)
I can tell you what success meant in my own professional life. Background: I had taken my B.A. in math at U.Va. in 1954 and then my M.A., also in math, at U.Va. in 1956. I then studied at UNC for a year and a half before taking an instructorship at WVU (West Virginia University) in 1958. I was just a hair’s breadth away from still being a graduate student, still green behind the ears. I had published a small mathematics note in 1954 and two more in 1956 and 1957. In the spring of 1959 I took a bus from Morgantown to Washington, D.C., to meet a noted scientist at the old National Bureau of Standards to pick his brain about something he had published. I had naturally assumed that he, being older and more experienced than I, could teach me something. I found a room in a cheap hotel near the bus terminal and got a D.C. bus to go out to the NBS, all full of expectations of learning something. When I was introduced to the scientist, he asked why I was there, and I told him that I wanted to learn more about a certain subject about which he had written. But he looked at me quizzically and said, “Mr. Gould, all that I know about the matter is what I learned from reading YOUR three notes!” I almost fell through the floor! It was the first real intimation that I knew something. Then, even more surprising was the fact that the scientist revised a manuscript book he was writing to take account of my fledgling work.
The next step was when a teacher of mine from U.Va., Professor Truman Botts, put me wise to another group of scientists and I ended up being hired to do a project for the Department of Defense (at a salary they let me name) because “You know more about this work than we do.” I came back to West Virginia, knowing I had crossed the ‘pons asinorum’ of Euclid! Our chairman then said they were promoting me to assistant professor. I asked why, and he said, “We figure you’re doing the work of a professor so we might as well call you one!” I never asked for any of the three promotions I have received here. And in 1963 I was chosen as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and it has been onward and upward ever since.
I credit Mr. Jefferson’s Academical Village in large measure for my success, because it was there that I really learned to think. So this is what success means to me: Success to me was not about making money, or marrying the world’s most beautiful woman, or having a fabulous car, home or job, or any of a hundred other things. Success was finding that I really knew something and that people were interested in this knowledge I had acquired. This is also why a Virginia education means so much to me.
Henry W. Gould (Mathematics ’54, MA Mathematics ’56)
Success: A feeling of both personal and community fulfillment; ending each day feeling as though you have left yourself and the world a little bit better than you found them the day before.
Heather Gottlieb (English Language and Literature ’97)
Here comes an answer from a philosophy major.
I believe success is best defined by the individual and his or her values and aspirations, not some possibly more objective norm asserted by society. Such a definition could lead to curious, or even horrible, attainments. For example, the 9/11 terrorists surely believed theirs were wildly successful lives. Still, if we are to believe we are free agents, free to choose our paths, then there is no basis to assume the values of others are superior to our own internally generated values. Quite possibly we may adopt societal values as our goals. In the end, it is attainment of a good measure of goals we set for ourselves that defines a successful life. However, others and society may not judge such a life to be successful ... and does history not record any number of people as successful or unsuccessful in their own times?
Harvey Gleeksman (Philosophy ’59)
Success is when a large number of family, friends and neighbors show up at your funeral to remember you and your contribution to their lives, not just to make sure you are dead.
Ed Hammond (History ’81)
In a week, I’ll stand at Washington and Lee University’s graduation ceremonies to be recognized as a retiring faculty member after 33 years of my work in the journalism department. It’s a time for reflection.
I keep coming back to “immortality,” although that’s much too grandiose a word. But my continued associations with former students, some now with children as my students, mean much to me. Their recollections of our time together on campus, and their much-too-flattering claims that I had some influence on their personal and professional lives, are a concrete indication that my efforts might have meant something, an indication that I suppose few people receive. It is wondrously satisfying to have such assurances of success from those you worked so hard for.
My definition of success is what my father told me years ago: “Health, a happy home, food on the table and getting home from work before the children are asleep.”
He and my mother raised four children, all with advanced degrees and certifications, including U.Va. ones. They visit family in Europe every few months and take care of the grandchildren. I can only aspire to their success!
Mike Young (MS Management Information Systems ’93)
Success is staying happily married to the same spouse for all your married life.
What is your definition of success?
I consider success a form of happiness. Some think of success in only financial terms, but I want something ... more. I want to raise a family, to travel, to live a healthy existence and share it with my loved ones. There’s the operative word ... “want.” Success is a form of happiness because it is nothing more or less than the achievement of our desires. I suppose that’s what makes perfectly attaining success more of a goal than something truly possible to grasp, for to do so would mean becoming totally happy, and life’s just not as interesting without a few unhappy moments. In terms of success, one might recognize these unhappy moments as success’s polar opposite, “failure.” So maybe a little failure now and then is what is needed for an honestly successful life.
Gregory N. Stern (History ’03)
I believe success is most clearly defined, for me anyway, by achieving one’s highest potential. This is multifaceted, integrating one’s integrity, passion, interest, talents and desire to learn.
Gil Pearman (Rhetoric and Communication Studies ’88)
Success is being satisfied with your peregrinations.
G. Garvin Brown III
Success is never having given up the pursuit of truth, never having relinquished the desire to give others more than you have taken and having realized as much satisfaction in the effort as in the accomplishment.
G. Robert Jones (College ’69, MA English Language and Literature ’80)
I have adopted the following definition of success, stolen word-for-word from John Wooden: “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.”
Hugh M. Evans III (Psychology ’88)
“Success” is experiencing what works — what achieves a desirable end. Understanding the details of why something works is not a requisite of success; however, understanding informs our plans to reproduce and even improve upon the means to success.
Ervan Boone (Environmental Sciences ’96)
Success is having the self-knowledge and insight to wake up every day and say, “No matter what happens today, I cannot lose my sense of humor.”
Emily Lacy (Drama, Psychology ’07)
I thought Ralph Waldo Emerson defined it pretty well: “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.”
Will Edgar (History, Foreign Affairs ’93)
Success is whole-hearted contentment, which can last for a few minutes or a lifetime and propels you forward into the world with a smile.
Elizabeth Bracey (Psychology ’88)
Success is achieving a goal, however big or small, and the enjoyment or satisfaction in knowing that you accomplished something you set out to do, even if you are the only person in the universe who knows.
Samuel Roth (History ’80)
I define success as the achievement of one’s goals that have been set at a point just beyond reach.
Don Schultz (History ’86)
Organizational success is to earn and hold the acclaim of all members in the organization from the mailroom to the CEO — and to have all of them rooting for you. Success in the broader sense is to never bring shame to your family or your company and to walk faithfully and humbly with your God.
Dick Rutledge (College ’55, Darden ’59)
Doing something you love and loving the act of doing it, which usually means others reward you as good at what you do.
April Keck DeGennaro (Rhetoric and Communication Studies ’83, MT Education ’89)
Success is leading a life of which you can be proud.
Debbie Albert Halla (Environmental Sciences ’91)
My definition of success has changed many times in the years since I left U.Va. I thought it meant having financial success, and I lived the first 18 years after graduation following that line. I believed having money or a big job would make me happy. It did for a little while, but then the company I had worked for was purchased by a larger company and we became more about the bottom line than about providing good service and quality products. And I was becoming empty and stressed. So I left. I stopped. Now I work in higher education which feels much more in line with my values.
Today I think success means having close relationships with friends and family. It means being able to sleep at night without a nagging conscience. It means being able to support causes I care about with dollars and time. It means being stimulated by ideas and always wishing there was more time to read and to learn. It means being able to be alone in a room and not dislike the company. It means being filled with the wonder and hope I used to have as a child.
Deb Chaulk (Mathematics ’82)
Any concept needs an operational definition, which means that causes and outcomes need to be specified in a precise way. So, success must have
an outcome and a cause. One obvious outcome is some sort of legacy. The cause is more difficult — hard work, overcoming obstacles, etc. are
likely candidates. Hard thinking on this leads to the suggestion that not all graduates of a selective college are successful.
David G. Elmes (Psychology ’64, PhD Psychology ’67)
For me, success is not measured in wealth or power or position. Rather, I consider myself successful when I use the gifts God gave me; when I don’t squander opportunity; when I face my fears; when I make someone’s day a little better; when I keep an open mind; and when I learn something new.
My days at Mr. Jefferson’s University taught me much about honor, integrity and a thirst for knowledge. If I am viewed as successful by my peers and community, it is because of the strong inner compass nurtured at Virginia which still keeps me on point for all I’ve mentioned here.
Dale Hanson Walker (History ’76)
Success is happiness — not necessarily in the sense of a typical definition, but in a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment and satisfaction with one’s
place in the world. To me, I do not need to make any great changes in the ways things work — after all, we are all just drops in a large ocean on a long enough timeline — but just the awareness of all goings-on and becoming content with who I am and where I am will be enough to consider myself successful.
Dan Newland (History ’08)
I have this quote by Ralph Fiennes on the wall of my office — I think it is a nice definition of “success.”
“‘Success?’ Fiennes gave me a withering look. ‘Well, I don't know quite what you mean by success. Material success? Worldly success? Personal, emotional success? The people I consider successful are so because of how they handle their responsibilities to other people, how they approach the future, people who have a full sense of the value of their life and what they want to do with it. I call people ‘successful’ not because they have money or their business is doing well but because, as human beings, they have a fully developed sense of being alive and engaged in a lifetime task of collaboration with other human beings — their mothers and fathers, their family, their friends, their loved ones, the friends who are dying, the friends who are being born.’”
“‘Success?’ he repeated emphatically. ‘Don't you know it is all about being able to extend love to people? Really. Not in a big, capital-letter sense but in the everyday. Little by little, task by task, gesture by gesture, word by word.’”
Have a great summer!
Cynthia Espy (History ’81)
Definition of success:
To be in a mutually loving relationship with profound respect for the other; possibly raising children in an environment of love; fostering respect for family members and for people outside of the family; encouraging psychological independence; attempting to find and nurture the potential of one’s children; providing everyone with a beautiful living environment that affords areas for collective activities and privacy; helping to develop a passion for lifelong study, personal interests and a concern for the well-being of humanity; encouraging the development of compassion, love, empathy, forgiveness and the ability to be responsible for what one does in this world; encouraging everyone in the family to develop a strong desire to earn an honest living coupled with knowledge of appropriate charity; encouraging everyone to understand that all are individuals with different capacities and not to look down at those who are less fortunate; letting the family learn from the loving relationship of the parents who are together because that togetherness enriches their lives and those of many people around them; having the means to allow the children to engage in the best possible education that they qualify for, understanding that with formal training it is okay to then enter into something else that might present itself as if out of the blue, which points to their abilities to adapt and change throughout life without feeling stuck in anything at all.
With a profound, loving relationship with mutual respect and personal freedom to pursue individual interests, all of the above can take place.
Bevan Norkin (College ’68)
Colleen Morris (English, MT Education ’06)
Success is hearing adulation from your enemies, praise from your friends and warnings from your true friends.
You cannot achieve that which you do not pursue.
Christoph Mlinarchik (Economics, Foreign Affairs ’06)
Christina Poole (History ’05)
Success is a state of mind.
Christopher Noble (Foreign Affairs ’91)
Success is measured in the eyes of the beholder.
It is not necessarily measured by community, political, educational or financial benchmarks; it is the result of a lot of hard work.
Success is a product of achieving one’s accomplishments. That can be done in so many ways. We often look to religion, family and love of country. We contribute what we are able to in order to make a mark, helping others in the progress of our dreams.
On one’s deathbed he or she asks, what have I done to make a difference that influenced individuals or mankind as a whole?
Opinions will certainly vary; one’s self-worth and self-respect is measured by that individual’s interpretation of what life is about, for that person.
Educators, locksmiths, printers, farmers, civic leaders, politicians, administrators, librarians, art historians, writers, artists, sports instructors, policemen, firemen and military devotees can all achieve personal success; it does not have to be recognized by a large body of society.
Numerous University graduates have achieved great success yet have never been recognized by their alma maters. That is just fine. Each is happy with his or her accomplishments and does not need public kudos. That individual rests comfortably while waiting for whatever is to come next.
Our educational structure at the University gives birth to the beginning of the roadway-journey that each of us takes. The University performs its mission if we allow ourselves to become entwined within it, while we are being taught, instructed and totally educated; it takes the individual, like Mr. Jefferson himself, to follow through with the foundation that has been educationally established. A landscape architect with no national acclaim is just as important candidate for speaking to our student body as a Wall Street mogul. Reach out and give credit to our alumni and others who have accepted their own visions and personally achieved within their realms of life.
Charles T. Cudlip (History ’63)
Success, to me, is learning to bounce back from any failure. It doesn’t have to be a blue ribbon or a gold plaque. It’s just learning to cope with bumps in the road, replacing determination with hopelessness even if the odds are against you.
Chelsea Wilson (College ’08)
Success is making a positive difference in the world and in people’s lives.
Success: “To laugh often; 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 little 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 the meaning of success.”
Of course, I cannot take credit for this quote, but it hangs on the wall of my office, and I wanted to pass it along in response to your request. In case you don’t recognize the author, it is Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Charles Peterson (Psychology ’86)
Success is the opportunity to be able to continue doing interesting and useful work.
Charlie Dischinger (College ’73)
Success is progression to a worthwhile personal goal.
C.G. Cary (College ’57)
Definition of success:
Gaining the respect of those you respect and managing to keep it through all of life’s challenges.
Maria Freneaux (Studio Art ’82)
Success is and always will be a self-defined word; its roots mean, to me, the advancement of anything in question. Therefore, you can succeed in reading my e-mail, succeed in turning off your computer and succeed in your career. I can just hope that I can succeed in college, for that is what is in question in my life now.
William Ryan Caviness (College ’10)
Success equals happiness. That’s all that is needed. Of course, the trick is to define it in a way that brings meaning to your own life and gives it to others in equal measure.
Catherine (Burke) Sweet (Government ’77)
Definition of success: Accomplishing your goal with a certain degree of satisfaction that you did an adequate job and are proud of the result.
Allen F. (Buddy) Voshell (College ’52)
Success is being respected and loved by one’s family, friends and associates.
Frank Briggs (English Language and Literature ’65)
Success is the ability to reach Maslowe’s “self-actualization.” If you can look at yourself and feel good about who you are, you are without a doubt successful.
Bob Sinnott (Economics ’71)
Happiness is loving what you do! And having a great mate helps too!
William H. Talbot, Jr., M.D. (College ’70)
Being paid for what you enjoy, or what you would do for free.
William Mattson (Chemistry ’69, PhD Chemistry ’75)
Success ... setting challenging goals and achieving them ....
Bill Hunt (Economics ’62)
Hello, I did an MA in European History in 1981. I am now 50 years old and hopefully wiser. I believe now that success is getting up every day and going out there to help people, do a good day’s work, earn your pay, then come home to support and love your family. It’s not about titles, awards or even money for its own sake (radix malorum est cupiditas — Canterbury Tales). It’s about providing an environment for growth, understanding, and yes, some fun as well.
Bill Hockensmith (MA History ’81)
Success: When what you need and what you want become one and the same!
Carla Besosa (Spanish ’80)
My personal definition would not include “stuff” at all. No one will care (and neither will you) what kind of car your drove or how big your house was when you’re on your deathbed. Your thoughts will not be about your job, the office or how much money you made.
Personal success is defined by how content and enjoyable your life is. That is not to say that challenges and disappointments aren’t included in this. A rich, eventful and challenging life doing what you enjoy and positively affecting others seems to me to be just about right. Find a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life. I know I won’t. In my business, I’m always amazed at the clients I run across who have worked 40 years at a job they hate. That’s no way to live and leads to an early death and a stressful, resentful life, and is very hard on your family. Past, present and future are all important to keep in perspective. Looking back and not having regrets is extremely satisfying. Your current situation and your contentment with it are also very important, and having goals and milestones to work toward in the future keeps you motivated and keeps life interesting and challenging.
In this age in which we live, success is generally gauged by the amount of money you earn, or the amount of wealth or power or number of promotions you’ve accumulated. I find that the older I grow, the more I view the people who are most happy and content with their lives as the most successful. Rich, poor or in between, they’ve tended to treat life as a journey, not a final destination. They took that trip when they were 25 even though they really couldn’t afford it, they ordered the $55 bottle of wine with their filet because they knew that even though it was expensive it would enhance the meal so much more than water would. They took a chance on a start-up company, moved to Europe or Asia and experienced things that most people only dream about. If they managed to grow wealthy from the experience, so much the better. As long as moderation with most things is practiced, things won’t spin out of control.
Bottom line rules for a successful life:
Always try new things.
Listen twice as much as you talk.
Travel as much as you can comfortably afford.
Faith and family always come first — no exceptions.
Find a hobby (or several) in which you can completely lose yourself.
Ask someone older than you about his or her life and sit back and enjoy.
Find a career you love; if it pays well, so much the better, but don’t let salary or position be your guiding force.
Get plenty of sleep.
Ben V. Pearman III (Sociology ’00)
Success is what happens when you pursue the things you’re interested in, good at and love to do. Proximately, it is when you are persevering in discovering those interests. Ultimately, success is a process of recharging and trying again.
Beatrice Yarney (Chemistry ’03)
Success is not measured in material things — not money, nor job, nor possessions. Success is a state of mind. Many people might not feel they have succeeded despite having everything they could possibly want or need and more, while a pauper who is happy enjoys life. Who, then, has succeeded?
Brian C. Drummond (Sociology ’81)
What a great question! My definition of success is being able to feel at peace, being happy with the person I am and appreciating what I have instead of longing for what I do not.
Kimberly Baumstark (Psychology, Biology ’99)
“Fall down seven times, stand up eight times.” (Japanese Proverb)
Barry Smith (College ’71)
My definition of success has evolved since graduating from U.Va. I used to think of success mostly as a comfortable monetary state with time and freedom to enjoy the spoils of my efforts. I have learned that success, for me, is the ability to appreciate the educational opportunities that I’ve had, being mindful of the wonderful family and friends that I am blessed with and making time to enjoy the world around me (that whole stopping to smell the roses thing). But hey, that comfortable monetary state wouldn’t hurt.
April Garrett Russell (Sociology ’91)
Success is happiness.
Antonio Navarro (College ’10)
Success is when you stop saying “I need …,” unless maybe it’s a kidney.
Ann Marie Gardner (English Language and Literature ’90)
Not being afraid to try new things, appreciating small gestures, treating others as you would want to be treated, loving yourself and being able to fall asleep at night with a clear conscience.
Amy Probsdorfer (Sociology, Architectural History ’97, MP City Planning ’99)
To whom it may concern:
Happiness. That’s all success is.
Amanda Naujelis (College ’10)
Success is helping people realize the power within themselves to make a change.
Allison Trumbull (Slavic Language and Literature, Government ’97)
Success: Constant enrichment and engagement of your God-given talents, thereby producing blissful happiness.
Alice Dearing (English Language and Literature ’89)
Success: Attaining a state of happiness due to achieving freedom to live as you would ideally.
Ali Tahbaz (Economics, Biology ’97)
Success is not necessarily “winning” or “not losing.” It is challenging oneself and doing everything in one’s power to accomplish that goal.
Aaron Shedlock (Chemistry, Psychology ’07)
Peace of mind.
Thomas O’Donnell (PhD Environmental Sciences ’02)
Living your dreams.
Muxin Li (Anthropology ’09)
I have always liked Ralph Waldo Emerson’s What is Success?
“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.”
Robert L. Phillips, Jr. (Economics ’81)