aesthetics beauty

Take your time, young lion: the secret to success might not be what you think

9:49:00 PMJoseph Anderson

We judge success based on how early a person achieves it. We are amazed by the young billionaires, millionaires, Olympic winners because at such a young age they have already achieved more than what the vast majority of us will achieve in a lifetime.

Successful people will tell you a mixture of things that they attribute their success to— things like hard work, perseverance and a little bit of luck. Yet we seem to have this list of ways to find social advancement already in our minds. We want to get into the right schools, the right cliques, get straight A’s and do well on the SAT’s. We have this almost superstitious belief in “the system,” as if by checking off enough of these boxes we might actually become successful.

Unfortunately, amidst all of this desire for eminence at a young age, our appreciation for the wonder and exploration of youth is trivialized. We encourage ourselves to trade hours of our youth in for stamps on our resumes and forget that, more and more quickly, our youthful days are disappearing behind us. We are growing up, but who are we growing into?
"The unexamined life is not worth Living" —Plato

Maybe that’s fine, you might think. Maybe you’d rather have a paycheck, a house, and a car than explore. Maybe you are planning to put off exploring till when you can afford to visit Costa Rica in the summer, and Australia in the winter. But is true self examination and exploration hopping from one airport to another? What does it mean to explore in a philosophical sense?

To truly know thyself means more than moving horizontally across the world in search of new sensations. Plato understood this well when he wrote in Phaedrus that “when he sees the beauty of earth, is transported with the recollection of the true beauty; he would like to fly away.” But what is this beauty Plato talks about?

Childhood and Wonder

The kind of beauty that gives us “wings,” like in Phaedrus, could be better labeled as wonder. It is the sense of wonder that awakens us to the mysteries of the world. You could even say that through wonder we experience the face of God. In fact, it is in this way that Dietrich von Hildebrand describes the experience of our encounter with beauty: “above all, beauty is a reflection of God, a reflection of his own infinite beauty"(1). And when better do we experience this wonder, this “reflection of God,”than when we are Children?

It is in childhood, perhaps more than any other time in life, that we have an inert awareness of the supernatural— because wonder is all around us. It is a time where fairy tales are not just stories, they are day-to-day occurrences. And because a readily aroused sense of wonder leads directly into the spiritual life, it seems reasonable to suggest that we should remain like children in regards to this sense of wonder.

With that being said, we cannot ignore the fact that our world is preoccupied with success —with jobs, money, and things that are “grown-up.” We lose track of wonder. .

It is the odd truth that in fact by becoming more preoccupied with grown up things, we become more childlike. Or, as C.S. Lewis puts it, “Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence"(2).

Does this mean that success is bad? No, not at all. But it seems reasonable to say that being preoccupied with success to the point that we forget our sense of wonder, could be. And that’s an optimistic thing. It means that we don’t need to find our sense of value solely in our career or in our accomplishments. It means that we can take our time to learn and grow, and accept the grown-up things as they come. But we should never forget that “youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the capacity to see beauty never grows old"—Franz Kafka.

Changing how we define "success"

Believe it or not, life is more than a series of steps to check-off an invisible “success” inventory list. Don’t take my word for it, check out this Ted Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth. After conducting intensive research on the topic of what makes someone successful, Angela found that IQ, good looks, emotional intelligence, and other things we attribute to wealth, cannot predict success. Instead, the best way to predict what makes one person more likely to be successful than another is that person's dedication and follow through over years, and years, of hard work. The successful person is the person who has the "grit" not to give up in persevering towards his or her goals.

The question we must ask ourselves is, what does success mean for us? Believe it or not, this is the same question we’ve been asking since forever-ago. It’s what the Ancient Greeks were preoccupied with, and it’s what our entrepreneurs are preoccupied with. But instead of pursuing a material ideal of success, we philosophers and lovers of wisdom have another calling. And what that will look like professionally might not mean material success at a young age. But chances are that you will find success in the long run. And a long standing success is much more beneficial than one that is here today, and gone tomorrow.

1. Hildebrand Aesthetics, p 2
2.Lewis, CS."On Three Ways of Writing for Children" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Oct 28, 2002)

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