"Try not to become a man of success but a man of value. " -- Albert Einstein
I often ask myself what success means and am I truly successful? Throughout my career I have had many successes: great reviews, amazing selling seasons, numerous awards, and celebrity fans. To the outside looking in, this would feel like success. But from the inside looking out, I feel that I have yet to be truly successful.
For years I have been haunted by what the fashion critics have said of my work (good and not so good), and how retailers have embraced or not embraced my brand. I have defined my concept of success from the outside, how others have viewed me. This is a trap, and it is only in the past couple of years that I have begun to understand what true success means (to me at least).
Success is not only determined by milestones and bank accounts. It is not defined by how others perceive you because, believe me, people move on and find the next big thing quite willingly. And it is not even making your dreams come true, because even that can leave one asking “ok, what’s next?”
True success comes with maturity and appreciation for what one has in their lives. It comes with a sense of how our values shape our lives and how one lives each and every day. When you pursue “success” you rarely achieve it, for like everything in the material world, success is illusive, much like wealth, looks, and even that damn six pack that us gay guys worship as an ultimate trophy. The only thing one can count on is change and holding onto a concept of what success may mean today will hinder one’s growth and keep us locked in a definition of ourselves that disallows newness and expansion for tomorrow.
I remember my father's advice when I graduated from Harvard and wanted to pursue social work as a career. He said “John, if you do what you love, you will be able to effect more change than limiting yourself to traditional avenues of giving”. And he was right. Through my career and through my chosen field, I have had so many more opportunities to reach out to my community, whether that is the gay community, the west village community where I live, or the community of people, like myself, who are devoted to animal advocacy and ending the needless suffering of innocent animals.
I am heading to my 25th Harvard College Reunion in a couple of weeks and it will be interesting to see how "successful"I feel and how my classmates define success now, 25 years later. Conan O'Brien is one part of my graduating class and I would love to get his take on this elusive issue.