Thanksgiving reflections on the meaning of success

Image: John Oliver via Slate

It’s been a hell of a year.

The election didn’t turn out the way I expected or hoped. A lot of people that I admired have died. Facebook is full of angst and fake news stories. It is easy to despair.

On a personal basis, I am now a year and half into the experiment of working outside of the corporate world. My book has not sold as well as I hoped, so far. I am not traveling all over the planet or getting published in The New Yorker.

And if you were the type of person who judges, you might look at the people I love and judge them to be “not normal.” Some of them don’t match the exact, traditional template of what an American is “supposed” to be.

I choose to look at things differently.

I choose to look at America as a place of endless potential. There are terrible people here, as everywhere. But we are a country of laws and elections and checks and balances, and we have always had terrible people and managed to move forward anyway. We have a free press and it strives to do its job well, and often does. Nothing horrible goes unopposed or unexposed, and tyranny does not rule. When we reach extremes, we tend to swing back. So I have hope. I will be vigilant, but I have hope. Nearly 64 million of us voted for a woman, more than for any other presidential candidate in this election. I have no doubt that before I die, I will see a woman president, a Jewish president, and a gay president.

The famous people who died this year had amazing lives. The artists and statesmen and women lived lives worth celebrating, and left legacies behind.

The angst on Facebook is an exaggeration — and Facebook will exaggerate hope, too, when it inevitably arrives. The fake news problem is a problem that technology can solve. In two years, it won’t be an issue. We also have the wonder of instant access to any news source on the planet from the palm of our hands. Anything we read, we can verify. That is a wonderful thing.

When it comes to my personal success, I look at my life with happiness and satisfaction. I am proud of my book, and nearly everyone who reads it loves it. So many people are benefitting from it. I keep hearing from people who want me to speak to their customers, conduct seminars for their staff, help them get published, or edit their books. They are happy to pay me for work that I enjoy. In this life I have built, I get to write, to edit, to think, and to talk about writing, editing, and thinking every day. I may not be published in The New Yorker, but I am published in the site of the Harvard Business Review and soon, in the Wall Street Journal. People have read stuff on my blog a million and half times. These are things that make me happy. As for traveling less — that makes me happy, too.

Then I look at my family. I have been married to the same person for 36 years, and I love her. My children may not match what somebody else thinks they should be, but they match what I think they should be: independent, thoughtful, free-thinking, and intelligent. Of course I love them, but now that they are young adults in college, I like them, too.

My parents are still vibrant and independent and together in their 80s — my father is still teaching! My siblings have married terrific people and built lives and families that I admire and enjoy. While we will not be together today, we’ll all be together in January — and that is not something that you can take for granted.

So I choose to be thankful for all the things I have. Some things will get worse. Many things will get better. But to live in a situation in which I and those I love can strive, succeed, accomplish things, and be together — that is truly a blessing.

I am thankful that you are reading this, because without readers, I am nothing. I hope that, like me, you get to attain the success that you seek, and more importantly, to recognize it as a success when it happens.

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  1. Josh – Another great post and congratulations on reaching your own personal definition of success. I’m thankful for many of the same things but also for writers and thinkers like you who keep me informed, curious…and entertained. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  2. So wonderful to be mentioned in things you are thankful for.
    Dad and I love and admire you.
    We are thankful for making the world a better place through our children’s and grandchildren’s accomplishments, and dad’s science lectures.

  3. I’m undubscribing after this post.
    Why should we elect a woman a Jew and a gay to be president? What happened to the best PERSON for the job.

    That’s your problem.

  4. Josh, I watched you grow up from a
    Inquisitive child , to a gifted young man and now to an accomplished adult.
    Your comments about what you are thankful for speak volumes about
    you. Ferne and I are thankful for being close friends of your parents and
    knowing you and your siblings .
    We get to visit with you every week
    through “withoutbullshit”
    Happy Thanksgiving

  5. I’m thankful for Bad Writing Is Destroying Your Company’s Productivity which directed me to Writing Without Bullshit.

    You’ve re-invigorated my professional passion for clear, concise internal communications.

    As Communications Director within the fortunate, Fortune 100 my mission is to sell the value of Writing Without Bullshit and consistently demonstrate how it’s done. If we continue to require our salesforce to “interpret” poorly written internal announcements, the results could be significant.

    Thanks Josh!

  6. Wonderful post. As one of your blog followers, thank you for this meaningful post and all of your work. I have become better at communicating because of you, thank you; and from your posts I find myself empowered to “choose to look at things differently,” for that I’m most thankful. Stick with your “experiment” – the world needs more Josh! (& needs more Canada too!)

    1. he wants a multi-polar world ONLY because he dislikes being a minor player in the global power game. Since he opposes ANYONE having more power than he does, he seeks to diminish the power of major power brokers of the world by &#sup0;822porting” multi-lateralism. IF (and this is only hypothetical) he were to ascend to a position of superior power, he would discard the concept in a heartbeat.

  7. Hear, hear, to a Jewish President and one who is a deep thinker, can cut through all the fluff, and inspire people the way this blogger does. That would be my idea of a “best PERSON”, to quote from an above post.

  8. Having preached the same message for 30 years in the corporate world, there have been times when I’ve questioned myself. Seeing you carry the message to the next level erases all those doubts.
    Though ignored by the majority of corporate writers (probably the vast majority) there is no question that writing without bullshit is the right thing to do.
    Thanks for the validation and keep up the fight.

    A Kindred Soul