Success: profit or purpose?

Success: profit or purpose?

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.” — Albert Einstein

From his $5,000 suit to his subtle swagger and Mona Lisa smile, Harvey Specter is the epitome of success. The male protagonist of Amazon Prime’s movie, ‘Suits’, embodies achievement in the most commonly accepted meaning of the word. While I’m sure most people would recognize the first definition of success offered by Webster’s Dictionary, the accomplishment of an aim or purpose, we’d also acknowledge the second as more widely used in our culture today: the attainment of popularity or profit pulls rank on aim or purpose any day.

How ironic, then, that Harvey Specter isn’t actually representative of the popularity or profit motive at all, as he seems at first glance, but is driven by the accomplishment of an aim or purpose, the objective to be determined by him and his own value system. He decides the appropriateness of the goal often in direct opposition to society or those in power. If you’ve never enjoyed the tortuous twists of this series yourself, but this description intrigues you, click the link on the ‘Suits’ title above and start your own infatuation with Harvey Specter and his collaborative cohorts at his law firm. It’s a reminder for me of the foolish and often hilarious addictions to success in today’s culture, and how an outlier can turn that definition on its ear.

You might wonder why Mr. Specter has captured my attention, aside from his classification as one of the most appealing and authentic hunks with a great sense of humor since Cary Grant. It’s because I’ve been playing around with provocative thoughts about success ever since I unexpectedly received a wonderful review of my published book of essays, ‘Twilight Perspectives’, and lately my historical novel, ‘Certain Liberties’. These reviews have stoked my personal version of success ever since I started writing again, and the recent one is a perfect example:

This review reminds me of the day a friend questioned me about the sanity of my commitment to writing so late in life, saying that unless I knew for a fact I’d be making a great deal of money and would be a great success, he couldn’t see the sense of putting in the precious time and effort ‘at my age’. I explained I wasn’t doing it to make money or reach hundreds of thousands of people, realizing as I spoke that my disclaimer was falling on deaf ears. I chalked his inability to hear up to his lack of artistic temperament, knowing full well that he actually had quite a lot of talent, but was motivated by a competitive drive that could only be satisfied by profit; he and millions of others. If it isn’t money, it’s numbers of another kind (readers, publishers, agents…), but success is still often measured in data points; though not for everyone, and certainly not for me.

In my Harvey Specter-like fashion, it’s the individual voices of real people telling me they’ve heard what I was saying and understood why I said it that mean the most. There are no other data points that could measure success for me. To have arrived at my age (I’m writing this bit of nostalgia on my birthday) and found that my work matters and has reached someone, is the most spectacular measure of success I can imagine. And truly, I never did picture it as a possibility when I first started back to writing. Of course it’s my sole purpose now, after my need to get the characters and stories out of my head. Satisfying that collaborative purpose, not profit, is my measure of success, and I’m grateful for every reader who gives my work the consideration it’s due without regard for my age or number of years assigned to my work. You’re all proof that success should be purposeful rather than profitable. And my only appropriate response is, thank you.

6 Responses to Success: profit or purpose?

  1. “The Stranger we Must Know” in May of 2018 is the name of the sister piece I was referring to. Hint.. hint … a book of essays?

  2. Sidney, I think today’s essay is hinged to your former essay (spring, 2018) about getting to that place of being comfortable in your skin. That does not come, as as you suggested, as an epiphany one day as you are walking down the road but after much soul-searching and hard work. This, I believe, is the prequel to authentic and purposeful success.

    • Perhaps that’s our journey, being comfortable in our own skin. Suits is my current favorite, and Harvey is on a journey and don’t want to spoil it for others, but the payoff is when his direction and final comfort comes at the very end when he makes two significant changes in his personal and professional life.

      It gives me pause when others, particularly people use to financial success cannot comprehend the creative urge that is in everyone.

      It goes to the heart of the illness that inflicts our current form of capitalism. Rather rich or poor or no matter how many achievement markers one accumulates, the end is the same for everyone and thus the journey is more important.

      • I don’t quite know yet what it is, but as important as the journey is, I still feel there’s something even more important. We could go back and forth on this forever, and maybe that’s the goal. It’s certainly not of any real value to try to affect a change in another’s point of view. But getting them to explore it is the point and the journey. But I admit, I want to know where I want to go, even if I have to change the destination before I get there. Thanks for stirring this issue up further, Paul. The stimulus is what keeps the momentum going.

    • Oh, my yes. You’ve certainly hit on it. And the poignant thing about it is one also doesn’t even realize the goal has been reached ‘all of a sudden’. It can be a shocking revelation that sneaks furtively up on one. But what a nice surprise. Thanks, Kathleen. You obviously practice the walk and the talk!

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