What would you say if you were told that the real secret of success was something no one ever wanted to do, but all must do in order to truly succeed? Few of us have ever had to actually be rescued by using the S.O.S. distress signal. Most of us couldn’t produce the Morse code dot and dash message by telegraph, flags or even blinking lights if our life depended on it! But I dare say that all of us have reached places in our lives where we knew the meaning of the word desperation. To various degrees we have all experienced our share of problems, whether physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, or a plethora of other sources. No one is immune to troubles and difficulties, though we spend most of our lives striving to be so.
As a radio and television talk show host, I have interviewed celebrities and dignitaries, many of whom would be considered among the most successful people on the face of this planet. From the President of the United States to movie stars, famous recording artists or sports figures, I always ask them to share their personal success stories. I have also interviewed many “unsung heroes” who by certain measures would not seem to be the epitome of what the world calls “successful.” However, in their own circle of influence and in their personal lives, they may indeed be aptly labeled as successful. So what is this elusive common denominator for achieving real success, and what does it have to do with the S.O.S signal?
As a University professor and retired English teacher, I must emphasize the necessity of first defining the term success. To Mr. Webster it includes: satisfactory completion of a goal or the gaining of wealth and fame. To many, success is often measured in name recognition, status, power, wealth, or prestige. But I would be remiss if I didn’t challenge you to consider the definition from one of my favorite authors, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who I believe has captured the real essence of 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 lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Obviously achieving the above does not depend on whether one is or is not part of the “rich and famous” but whether one can truly both achieve and maintain such a lofty standard. I believe this is not only possible, but here lies the paradox in the means by which real success is attained. The S.O.S. secret of success that few seem to know and no one would want is failure. Yes, virtually every truly successful man or woman throughout history can attribute his or her ultimate success to past failure. This may have been in the form of a major loss, a setback, a tragedy, an unexpected illness, a personal disappointment, a professional demise or numerous unattained goals. But in almost every historical, professional or personal example I have ever known, these very failures can and often have been used as catalysts toward achieving success. Thus begins my contention that when we reach the end of our proverbial rope and submit our own unique cry of S.O.S., in whatever form that may take, then what seemed to be the end may actually be the beginning. If we will not just ignore the areas where we have failed but actually use them as learning tools, we can then find keys that unlock new paths, unexplored resources, and capable mentors. With this comes the inevitable confrontation with self -- which can be either our worst enemy or best friend. One of the most difficult things for independent, self-sufficient, highly motivated people to do is to admit we all need help from time to time and that we all fail from time to time. Invariably when we read the biographies of some of the most successful men and women of our time, as paradoxical as this may seem, the very failures that each of them experienced became only the first chapter in their life’s book. I also submit to you that each and every one at some point in his or her life had to face the proverbial “man in the mirror.” How ironic that this became one of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits, and yet no one can now ever be sure that he did indeed take a long look at that ‘man in the mirror.” So I must ask myself, “Have I?” I challenge you to do likewise.
Dr. Debra Peppers, a professional speaker for 25 years, is one of only five inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame, which followed her retirement from Lindbergh High School. A member of the National Speakers Association, she has traveled to all 50 states and 60 countries teaching others that if she can go from being a 250-pound high school dropout, to Teacher of the Year there is hope for every child and adult. Her web site is http://www.pepperseed.org.