Cheers to the New Year!
In a few hours, most of us will wish and be wished good success in 2022. Long life, good health, happiness, and success! Blessings will abound. Champagne corks will pop. Tiny bubbles will dance and drift to the liquid surface, and burst. Elegant, long-stemmed glasses will clink together. Puckered lips will share a kiss while hopeful souls will tuck away the cares of yesterday and bask in the glory of the unfettered future before them.
We will hope, collectively – as a nation, a church, a family, a business – and individually to succeed.
Well, sort of. Or at least in one sense of the word.
succeed verb (ACHIEVE SOMETHING)
to achieve something that you have been aiming for, or (of a plan or piece of work) to have the desired results:
She’s been trying to pass her driving test for years and she finally succeeded.
He succeeded in building the business into one the leaders in its field.
Succeeding is having “the desired result.”
Or is it? How often have we succeeded in an effort that proved ill-conceived? We got the result we desired, we just didn’t know it would be an undesirable result. Did you ever succeed in landing a job you hated? Did you ever succeed in shouting down an opponent (whether friend, family, or foe) in an argument only to regret the damage done to the relationship after?
Success is relative, fleeting, and often an illusion.
I watched this play out in a football game recently. It was third-and-long. The defensive line was ready to pin their ears back and make a mad dash to the quarterback. The left defensive end soared past the tackle assigned to slow him with surprising ease. He had a bead on the much smaller man with the ball and looked on course to crush him. Then, the quarterback softly dropped a screen pass over his head into the arms of the waiting running back and, escorted in part by the offensive tackle who had “been beaten” so badly at the line of scrimmage, tore down the field on a long touchdown scamper.
On any other passing play, the defensive end would have been successful getting past his opponent like that. Not on a screen pass. His success was an illusion and a component of defeat.
But what about that other definition of “succeed?”
succeed verb (FOLLOW)
to take the place of another person or thing:
Kamen was named company chairman, succeeding Robert Schwartz, who is retiring after 44 years.
Success is one thing. Succession is another. It means you are filling a void. Was it left to you because another failed, or died, or quit, or retired? Whatever the case, the place or position you find yourself in was recently occupied.
I hope you attend no funerals in 2022, but if you do, you may hear your name when the officiant reads that the deceased is succeeded by certain close family members. That is not the kind of succeeding anyone is terribly fond of in most cases…unless, that is, the deceased was a real ass or left you an assload of dough. Then your sorrow may be tempered or alleviated completely. I also do not wish this on you because of the implied moral turpitude.
In the primary use of the word “succeed”, we do not usually associate it with following anything or anyone. In the secondary sense of the word, that is the only way we see it.
This is a microcosmic illustration of the cosmos, of life itself. Just as one commonly-used English word can have completely different meanings depending on its context, so may life. Being lauded and hailed a great success may only be a heartbeat from being succeeded. One moment, you are “faring sumptuously”, like the rich man Jesus’ parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus, and the next, “Thy soul is required of thee.” (Gospel of Luke 16:19-31)
Death is not all that may interrupt success. Maybe you just forgot to wear pants to the Zoom meeting. Or your company, so thankful for all you have done, nevertheless down-sized, or reorganized, and you found yourself a few weeks shy of financial ruin. Or a health problem sidelined you.
Maybe you are going into 2022 with a hangdog look. Your ears droop. Your eyes are red from the salt in your tears. Too many of your friends’ well-meaning words are salt in your wounds. Your nerves are shot. But…you are one phone call, one email, one handshake from turning the failure you wear like manacles into the cufflinks of success.
Or maybe what you think is failure is actually success. You just haven’t made it to the vista where you can see the big picture in all its glory.
For 2022, I wish you success with no successor in sight. I wish for you the wisdom to see the nuances and subtleties of life, the patience to withhold judgment on a thing until the final word is written, and the joy that comes from experiencing good success for your efforts. May you exceed whom you succeed, which will make you unprecedented regardless of whom you followed.
God bless you and yours. Happy New Year!