The following is an editorial written by an acromegaly patient. The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in this article are those of the writer’s. Their beliefs and viewpoints are strictly their own, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of Acromegaly Community, Inc, or any of its agents.
Well the end of June is upon us, meaning that graduation season is ending, and next life-chapters are starting. I have always found this time exciting for the graduates, watching as they figure out how to apply their book knowledge into a successful life. This year was particularly exciting because I was honored to be invited to several graduations, and I must say that I am impressed with what the future generation holds. When I was in my teens and early 20’s, I certainly do not remember having the kind of drive and self-determination that I see in the coming generation, and I cant wait to see what their realized potential actually looks like as the next world leaders and news makers.
All of these graduations got me to thinking about the idea of what makes success? What separates the people who are seizing every moment life has given to them, as opposed to those who are trying to simply tread water… or worse, simply trying to not drown? As a passionate life observer, former teacher, and now leader of a charitable organization, I have seen the spectrum of personalities throughout my own life. When I started to actually think about who is doing what, I noticed several similarities.
For the record, I am not trying to write another rah-rah book telling you that you can do it, if only you decide you want to succeed badly enough. If success were as simple as deciding you want to be happy and personally satisfied, I think most of us would make that choice. Strangely, not all of us would choose happiness, but I do think that most of us would. Now, my belief is that we all have at least a little say in whether our lives have happiness in them. Also, please remember, a successful life is a personal definition. A person who is focused on altruism would not necessarily be excited to receive $1 million. An athlete may never make a $100 million, but would be thrilled to be a role-player on a team that won the championship game. And money? Well, if you are making $20,000 a year, $50,000 seems like unfathomable money, but if Bill Gates were asked to live off of $50,000 a year, he probably would not have a clue how to manage. That being said, I am sure he would forfeit every penny he ever had for the welfare of his family, which is a total different aspect of success. Your definition is just that- YOUR definition. The question for this article is not how to succeed for your neighbor’s happiness, but for your own.
Now, just to get the discussion rolling, the first category of life success I want to examine is the person who is born with every opportunity to make their lives as happy as they could imagine, and they just push it away. It is not often you see this, but it happens. These are people who you watch, and it almost seems like they are fighting against their own happiness and success. These are kids who were raised in loving homes filled with encouragement, where they don’t want for shelter or plentiful food. They go to good schools where the teachers are eager to help them succeed and help them flourish. Yet, in spite of all of it, they seem almost deliberate in choosing life’s hardest path. Yes, life will always throw us tough pitches all through life, but these are the kids who are most equipped to handle it, and still they almost invariably choose to get hit by the ball, rather than take a swing. Why? I don’t completely understand, but I am starting to sort out some of the possible reasons. Success is funny… it is not impossible to achieve, and happiness is far from elusive; but it does take commitment. Simply waking up every morning is not enough to complete a life; you need to actively work to achieve what makes you most happy.
I am the middle category. I started on path one before I got back on track. I had a super supportive family, and a great education… but I was a difficult child, needing to learn everything the hard way, until eventually, almost in spite of myself, I chose to make better choices to get my life back on track. I grew up in the “ideal” suburban middle class society, and rather than embrace life’s opportunities, I chose to feel suffocated! Just like in the lyrics from Rush’s Subdivisions, “In the high school halls/In the shopping malls/Conform or be cast out.” Well, I was not willing to conform, so I went against the grain and it seems in hindsight that I had to almost fight success- and I did! In a weird way, I was successful at fighting success. It was not until I hit my late 20’s that I discovered that poverty… well, its just not all that much fun! I went back to college for serious this time, and worked my butt to the bone. Between college and work, I put in no less than 100+ hours per week doing something for someone else, all while battling an undiagnosed disease that added to the exhaustion. Good decisions and a blind work ethic got me back on track, but I got very lucky that I was able to play through a whole lot of pain. I realize I was one of the lucky ones that I got another chance to fix my issues- but that is why I say that no opportunity can ever be squandered, because you don’t know when the next one will arrive!
The third category is the group I believe needs to be celebrated. I have been working on this article for several days now, and have thrown away several drafts because it wasn’t quite right. The other night I figured out why I was failing. I had great focus on the failure and the catch-up in success, but I was missing the massive success of people who beat the odds. And I found the missing piece while I was attending a high school graduation. This young man has been one of my major inspirations since I met him several years ago. He came to us in the middle of 10th grade, around January/February as a refugee from western Africa. “Franklin” barely spoke English, but he clutched his French/English dictionary everywhere he went. When I saw him in the hallway, it was always “good morning/good evening sir.” When I told him he could call me Mr. Brown, he informed me that he could not because I was “a man of education, and I must show you respect.” Franklin was ravenous in his learning. At the time I was teaching in an impoverished, underfunded city school, and I was concerned about my students’ ability to succeed on the state’s hardest standardized test, so I volunteered my time to students who wanted extra help getting ready for the state exam. I was available after school or during lunch (glad the union never found out!), and he was at EVERY SINGLE study session that I offered. He asked questions in and out of class, and had a genuine curiosity that most teachers only dream of encountering once in a career. The day before the state exam, he came to me out of concern that he might not succeed. I told him not to worry, that this is a two-year test, of which he caught 1/2 of one year’s material! Take it as practice. If you succeed, fantastic! If not, you definitely will next time. He smiled and liked my plan, but told me he really wanted to pass. Trust me, Benjamin, I knew that! On test day, he was as ready as he possibly could be, and was still one of the last to finish the test. For what its worth, I think he got the highest grade in the school. Some people are determined to succeed, no matter what life throws in their way!
Now I don’t know exactly what Benjamin’s life was like before he walked into my life, but I do read the newspaper, and occasionally watch international news on television. I would imagine his easiest choices in life were far more difficult than my most difficult. After the school year, he applied to one of the prestigious private high schools in the area. While they accepted him into the school, they informed him he would have to repeat the 10th grade. I would imagine it was in no small part where he went to school that year. The school where I taught him has actually been shut down because of insufficient academic success, but he came out of that school with an amazing education, because that is what he wanted to get! When the private school told him he needed to repeat, I told him it was nonsense, and he got accepted into Buffalo’s City Honors, a school ranked #9 in the nation, and #1 in the northeast United States by the Washington Post. The private school’s loss was the city’s gain! In September of 2010, he asked me if it was ‘okay’ that he wrote an essay about me. I said of course it is, but what is it about? They were asking them to write about one of their heroes. I can tell you I was so proud that I had to dry my eyes several times!
Last week, not only did he graduate, and on time, he received the school’s Teachers Award for academics, positive attitude in the school, and being a model student based on City Honors’ tremendously high standards. I was so proud! Now, Benjamin could have bemoaned the private school, or used it as an excuse to fail. Instead, he showed them that they lost out. Benjamin is a young man who is going to grow into an exemplary adult, and I can’t wait to see what he accomplishes in life. I am honored that he considers me an important part of his past, and thrilled that I can be part of his future.
Now, for my other students who have been kind enough to come back and honor me by telling me their success stories, trust me when I say that I could tell all of your stories in equally vivid detail. I am very proud that I was able to take all of the hardships I have suffered in my own life, many of which were self-inflicted, and help inspire others to get more out of their own lives than they thought was possible. Success is sometimes as simple as exceeding your own short-term goals, so the next goal can be grander and more exciting! There should always be something new to chase.
I have a million other stories for all three of the above categories, but instead, lets get into some of the goals to focus on if you want to be in groups 2 or 3…
1. Don’t fear them, failures in life are a certainty. If you show me someone who has never failed in life, I will show you someone who has accomplished NOTHING! In Babe Ruth’s best year playing baseball, his batting average was .393. That means he failed more than 6 out of every ten attempts! Want more proof? Jim Kelly, Fran Tarkenton, and Dan Marino combined for an inauspicious 0-8 in Super Bowls, yet all of these guys are in the Hall of Fame, and are considered amongst the best of their sport. Look at the Detroit Lions’ Barry Sanders. His team never won a trophy ever in his career, but his work ethic made him one of the most respected ever to play football. Here is a quick test for whether you are trying to accomplish something important. Is someone else doing everything possible to stop you? Any goal worth achieving is going to be fraught with challenges, and people working hard to stop you from succeeding. The only way they win is if you quit. Trying and not succeeding doesn’t mean you failed. It just means you need to try a new way to succeed. Yes, there is a chance you will never win the accolades you deserve, no matter how good you are, but you know you made a difference. In my teaching career, I never had a principal say I did a good job- heck, I got yelled at a lot through my career. But… I can point to a lot of former students who have gone on to massively successful lives, many of whom think I am at least part of the reason. You don’t need a trophy or an accolade to know you did good. I stopped teaching, not by my own choice, but if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I love my students, and I am honored to have known them and helped them on their life paths. That IS success. It is when we simply paralyze ourselves anticipating failure- well that just guarantees our failure! Don’t make yourself a self-fulfilling prophecy.
2. Who are your teammates in the game? Who are you choosing to surround yourself with? While Barry Sanders couldn’t choose his teammates, and in spite of the fact that he was on some BRUTAL teams, he went to the Pro Bowl (All Star Game) every year he was in the league. We don’t get to pick our co-workers, but we have the option to be the best at our profession, or slip into the endless sea of mediocrity. In today’s economy, which do you think is the better choice? Don’t be afraid to be the hardest worker at your job. Sure, you may not get the huge raise you deserve, but being good at what you do, and having pride in your work can only help in the long run!
3. Who are your teammates away from the game? Everyone has challenges throughout their lives. If you are dealing with the effects of illness, that only serves to heighten the stress. If the people around you are tearing you down, you are better off with them not in your life! Simply put, analyze who your friends are, amongst the people you are closest to. If you were going through a bad time in your life, who do you think would truly help you through the storm, and who causes you more aggravation than they offer strength? If you answer HONESTLY, you may surprise yourself. Your best friends might be your biggest stress providers. These are the people who you are always there to help, but either they grow conspicuously absent or, even worse, hinder you when you most need a boost. You may have other people in your life (co-worker, buddy, neighbor, etc.) who seem to instinctively know when you need a pick-me-up, and they just know what to say to cheer you up, or they are actually there to lend a helping hand. The best thing to do here… if you want to be a 2 or a 3, shed the dead weight. There have been several times in my life where I realized I was surrounded by toxic people and making awful decisions. Sure it is scary to have no friends for a time, but there is not one person I count as a former friend that I would be better off if they were still in my life. The friends that I do have today? Well anyone would be lucky to know them. Takes hard work and difficult choices, but in the long-term, it is worth it. If you cant get rid of someone because they are family, your boss, or some sort of other bond you cant disconnect, you are best off to limit your contact, and try not to internalize their toxic feedback. They are probably #1’s, or feel that they are #1’s, and truly try to prop themselves up on everyone else’s shoulders. You don’t need that! Remember, just because someone calls you their best friend, doesn’t mean they are truly there to make your life easier and/or happier. And most important to remember… to have good teammates, you must be a good teammate.
4. Have incredibly high standards for yourself! If you have unwavering standards for everything you do, you are less likely to ever do inadequate work- or at least not know how to fix it. Does it mean you will not be criticized? NO! If you are contributing, someone will be there to point out why you failed. But if they are not getting the results you want, who cares? When I was in my second year of teaching, my principal yelled at me because I was not going to the mentor she chose for me (coincidentally, her friend). In the previous year, I had 80% of students pass the state exam, with another 10% on the bubble, in a weak academic school district. This guy NEVER had a student pass the exam. Why would I want to model his work?! Just because others accept second best doesn’t mean you should. Always try to be the best version of you possible! Like I mentioned earlier in this article, this is the fourth version of this article. Numbers one through three were completed, but when I went to edit them, I disapproved of enough major themes that they required a restart. Its not that the other articles were bad, they just weren’t saying what I wanted them to. So I let the ideas cook. Inspirations came in bits and pieces, with the capper coming last week- and I realized it one morning at the gym… feeding in to #5…
5. Know what is going on around you all the time! Most of the time I am inspired to my best ideas in a way that most sane people could NEVER make a connection, but I do! This is why I keep a pen and paper with me most of the time, and when I don’t, I will email myself the idea in my phone. Great ideas will vanish, and if you don’t nurture your best ideas, you will stop looking for them. If you want your own great ideas, pay attention to the life going on around you. Being a good listener will give you great observations and sometimes some laughs too. But more than that, people who want to be successful at interaction know they need to pay attention to what others communicate- both verbally and non-verbally. I love dogs, and will play with all of them that let me… In most cases, a dog will warn you before it attacks, which is a trait that is far nobler than most humans. Try to be aware of who is getting ready to attack you before they pounce. If you can try to neutralize other people’s harshness before it is realized, there is a lot less cleaning to do.
6. Try to put out the fire before anyone smells smoke. I already told you that if you are working to be successful in life, or you already are, attacks are inevitable. Sometimes a hit is going to connect, but not hurt that bad, and sometimes it is going to knock the cream cheese out of you. The more viscerally you react, the worse the pain. Work to fix the problem in a way that spares all people’s feelings, and move past it as fluidly as possible. While it may seem cathartic to get down in the mud with someone whose natural instinct is to fight dirty, you are fighting on their turf. Keep it clean. The happier your enemy walks away, the greater the likelihood they will leave you alone next time.
7. Your actions speak volumes about who you are. I have never been at a convenience store and seen a man in a tuxedo buying a lottery ticket, and conversely, I would never hire an accountant or lawyer who came to work on a weekday wearing torn jeans, a tye-dye t-shirt, and reeking of… um… incense. I don’t care what (s)he wears at home, but when you are in public, your appearance speaks before you can. Teaching your child that they can steal because the chain store has more money than you do, or that its okay to pirate music because the artist is rich is doing your child a disservice. As a parent, you are best to teach them that this man or woman is to be respected because they have reached the zenith of their career, and if you work really hard, perhaps you can make a good living doing what you love to do. Isn’t that a great success?
8. Not all of our circumstances are by choice but our response is our own choice! When you are faced with a situation good, bad, or otherwise, the choices you make will determine all future decisions in that regard. A shortcut now may only double or triple your work to catch up tomorrow. Have I ever chosen to watch the big game rather than do the work due the next day? Of course! But if you are going to be successful in life, your best option is to do your work before the game starts… otherwise; you had better be ready to start the work the second after the game is over. People who are success-driven are always success-driven! Imagine going to school and saying ‘I only want A’s in History, English, and Gym.’ Of course you want A’s in Science and Math too. If that is hard for you, well, I guess you just have to work harder. Maybe even with a tutor you still only get B’s and C’s, but think what grade you would get without the help. Sitting around bemoaning your bad luck does not fix your failure. You need to proactively make your own luck better!
9. During a storm, make sure you have a strong buoy. One of the major reasons I believe I am successful today is because of all of my loved ones. Yes, my family is very important to me, but I love more than just the people genetically bonded to me. When I was in the worst of the worst of my horribleness, I was lucky enough to have close friends that let me hold onto them, sometimes very tightly. Pick the right buoy though. Someone who looks strong, but has a history of collapsing, well all they are going to do is take you underwater with them. I can honestly say that I truly love my closest friends. And the only people I consider to be amongst my best friends are the people that have been as strong as I have been weak, and never left my side when I needed them. The trade off is that sometimes your friends need you too. You need to be as strong for your friends in their time of need, as they were for you. If you are lucky enough to have one person like this in your life, you are lucky. I have several. And yes, I know I am beyond any measurement of luck. Just remember, if you want it, you need to be it!
Life is filled with adventures. Some are good trips, some are not so good, but all offer plenty of excitement for those brave enough to take the chance. No matter where our path starts, we all pick the ending. Plenty of millionaires and billionaires were born into poverty, and there are a lot more people born into exaggerated wealth that die penniless. The proof is there. Even if your circumstances are beyond your control, successful people focus on what they can control. When the challenges are not your fault, and you feel like you are struggling to not drown, look for that first step, even if it is just a little one. I have known the depths of human despair, and through blind determination and strength that no three people should be asked to come up with, I actually dug myself out of the hole. I didn’t do it on my own- that would have been almost impossible. I had amazing people around me, and we all made ourselves better. Now, I spend my days helping more people than I could possibly realize. I will never have the big house on the hill, but when I think of the people I have touched in my life, well I have the success I want from life.
At the end of the day, how is success measured? Well, if you ask 100 people, you will likely get 1,000 different answers. Figure out what your definition of success is, and go for it! Success is achievable for all of us who want it. The question is not whether you want to be successful. The question is whether you are willing to do what is necessary to get to your land of success. I fight to stay there every day, and I hope to see everyone here soon.
Wayne Brown is the founder of Acromegaly Community; a group focused on patient advocacy, and was the lead writer for the collaborative book Alone in My Universe: Struggling with an Orphan Disease in an Unsympathetic World. He can be reached at