Requiem for the Successful Man
“I’m obsessed with winning, with discipline, with achieving. That’s what this country’s all about, that’s what New York’s all about — fighting for everything.”
That’s a quote from George Steinbrenner that I saw in an obituary on Sports Illustrated’s website today. It seemed to sum up his general attitude toward life, but it also related to the overall tone of the article: over the course of three pages, there were only three fleeting moments where anything remotely warm and fuzzy was said about Steinbrenner. Two of those moments only had to do with his money and were sandwiched between less flattering descriptions:
“Steinbrenner would harass an employee to no end, humiliating and abusing them at his whim. Then he’d send their kids through college or hire them back with a bonus.”
“Steinbrenner was often the most-hated man in sports, a fitting title that he wore well. He was combative, belligerent, charitable and ruthless.”
Wait, did you catch the word “charitable” in that last quote? How nice.
Death is one of the few things we know will happen for sure in our lives. If all goes well, I won’t die any time soon. But if I kicked the bucket tomorrow, what would my obituary say?
Not My Kind Of Success
Steinbrenner was an incredibly successful man. He had more money than I will probably ever dream of having. He owned one of the most storied franchises in all of sports and played a big hand in restoring them to legendary status. He was driven, ambitious, and (in his own words) “obsessed with winning.” But the very attitude he cherished in himself meant he was remembered (by some) as a tyrant.
Granted, there were probably other memorials that were significantly more flattering. And to be sure, Steinbrenner likely had many people in his life who loved him (and the purpose of this blog is not to pick on him, as I have no personal agenda there). But the fact remains that even the more flawed characters tend to see their shortcomings mentioned only in passing when the media sums up their lives. And seeing that the most influential publication in Steinbrenner’s chosen industry could write such a scathing remembrance, I couldn’t help but think about my own life, incomparable as it may be.
In the grand cosmic scheme of things, our lives are infinitesimal. The universe is a place vast beyond our imagination, with light-years separating the stars. Our tangible successes on Earth can be fun and rewarding, but they don’t really mean anything. Money (and so many other ways we measure success) doesn’t really matter much. Creating the next killer iPhone app can be nice, and it can make some people’s days slightly more convenient, but it’s not the yardstick of true success. The only thing that has a real, meaningful and lasting impact is what you mean to the people around you. The world won’t flinch if you win the lottery, but having a real consequence on people’s lives can create a ripple effect that spreads across the globe. A gesture as simple as smiling at a stranger can start spreading the love like knocking over that first domino.
How To Be An Asshole In One Easy Step
Each day creates many easy opportunities to be an asshole. It’s much easier not to hold the door for someone, or to scowl at a cashier when you’re having a bad day, or to have a general “fuck you” attitude to people who get in your way. But I say the world has enough assholes already. It doesn’t need one more. So I try to make sure that’s at the top of my daily to do list. I certainly fail from time to time, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. Because nothing else is really gonna matter much after I’m gone, anyway.
A successful life to me is one where I’ve done my best to explore, learn, share and give a little love whenever I can. There is no example of “concrete” material success that I could achieve that somebody else couldn’t match or surpass, but nobody can take away the kind of life I will live. I’m sure George Steinbrenner was a guy with plenty of redeeming qualities. But if I ever have an obituary like his, I’ll have considered myself a failure–no matter what level of success it appears I’ve had.
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done. Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung. Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game. It’s easy…
I forget the next part. It was probably something super profound.