Success (discussion)

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English Corner--TEFL Discussion Guide

Sister-pages:   Home Up Success (discussion) Mom's Day (discussion) Motivation (discussion)

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Topic: Success

Prepared by Michael Krigline, MA (2012)

 Teachers/discussion leaders: see "How to use these discussion guides" on the index page (click "up").

.1. How would YOU define success?

suc·cess (sek-sès¹) noun  1. The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted. 2. a. The gaining of fame or prosperity. b. The extent of such gain. American Heritage Dictionary 3rd ed, ©1996 Houghton Mifflin Co.


.2. Is there a “secret” or “key” to success? What do you think it is?

If you work harder and harder, you will get results. --Somalian proverb

If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut. --Albert Einstein (1950), German-born U.S. scientist.

Michael Jordan has reportedly said that the key to success is to find something you love to do, and then to do your best at it.

First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do. --Epictetus

I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure— which is: Try to please everybody. --Herbert B. Swope (1950), U.S. journalist.

Let loving-kindness and loyalty to the truth always show like a necklace, and write them in your mind. God and people will like you and consider you a success.  -- Bible: Proverbs 3:3-4


.3. What is the relationship between success and your family or culture?

The duck’s son is a swimmer. --Libyan proverb

Italian novelist Umberto Eco (1988) linked success with religious heritage: he said America’s Puritan ethic tells people that “He who is successful is good,” while in Latin countries the religion makes people think: “a successful person is a sinner.”


.4. What place do hardship and failure have on the road to success?

I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right. --Albert Einstein

People seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant success is achieved. --Anne Sullivan (1903), U.S. educator of the deaf and blind, esp Helen Keller.


.5. How much of one’s success is due to individual effort, and how much is the result of the effort of others?

No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helps you. --Althea Gibson

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. --Henry Ford


.6. What are the benefits of success? Why do you want to be successful?

There’s no point in success if you don’t let it go to your head. That’s what it’s for. --John Otway (1990), British rock musician, known for reckless spending upon signing a record contract at age 24.

The compensation of a very early success is a conviction that life is a romantic matter. In the best sense one stays young. --F. Scott Fitzgerald (1937), U.S. author.

No illusion is more crucial than the illusion that great success and huge money buy you immunity from the common ills of mankind, such as cars that won’t start. --Larry McMurtry (1989), U.S. screenwriter, novelist.

Success isn’t everything but it makes a man stand straight. --Lillian Hellman (1959), U.S. playwright.

Your success story is a bigger story than whatever you’re trying to say on stage. . . . Success makes life easier. It doesn’t make living easier. --Bruce Springsteen (1992), U.S. rock musician.


.7. What is the “price” of success? How does success change people?

William James (1906, US psychologist & philosopher) called success “our national disease” because of the “cash interpretation put on the word success.” He says “moral flabbiness” is born of the worship of success.

The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egotistic, and self-complacent is erroneous; on the contrary, it makes them, for the most part, humble, tolerant, and kind. Failure makes people cruel and bitter. --W. Somerset Maugham (1938), British author.

US author Robert Warshow (1948) said that people subconsciously ‘punish’ others for both success and failure.


.8. What are the dangers of success and how can you avoid them?

Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility. --Pablo Picasso (1956), Spanish artist. (Picasso also said that an “unsuccessful” genius is treated like a genius, but when you become “successful” family/others only treat you like a success.)

♦Success can make you go one of two ways. It can make you a prima donna, or it can smooth the edges, take away the insecurities, let the nice things come out. --Barbara Walters (1974), U.S. journalist, broadcaster.



(continued in the next column)

 .9. How will you know when you are successful? (Does it have to do with acquiring a certain number of things, or fame, or what?) Who sets the standard for how you measure success? (Who or what are you living for?)

♦The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy: the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real! --Thomas Merton (1948), U.S. writer, poet.

♦In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: They must be fit for it: they must not do too much of it: and they must have a sense of success in it— not a doubtful sense, such as needs some testimony of others for its confirmation, but a sure sense, or rather knowledge, that so much work has been done well, and fruitfully done, whatever the world may say or think about it. --WH Auden (1970) UK-US poet

Take heed and beware of covetousness (greed/materialism), for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. --Jesus (Bible: Luke 12:15 NKJV)


.10. What is the connection between success and morality? What “code” should people follow in order to be successful? (And where does one’s sense of “morality” come from?)

Virtue leads to happiness, and vice leads to misery. --Korean proverb

It is for man to plan, but for Heaven to decide. --Chinese proverb

Do what the Lord your God commands and follow his teachings. Obey everything written in the Law of Moses. Then you will be a success, no matter what you do or where you go. --King David’s “last words” to his son, the next King (Solomon, 1000 BC); Bible: 1 Kings 2:3 CEV.


.11. Is success something that only a few people can attain (i.e., does it require others to fail), or is success available to everyone (i.e., is there “a lot of room at the top”)?

US author Ursula K. Le Guin (1983) told graduating seniors that “success is somebody else’s failure,” and we can only dream the “American Dream” because millions “live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty.”

People think that at the top there isn’t much room. They tend to think of it as an Everest. My message is that there is tons of room at the top. --Margaret Thatcher (1988), British Conservative politician, prime minister.

In this world, things are complicated and are decided by many factors. We should look at problems from different aspects, not from just one. --Mao Ze Dong (1945, On the Chungking Negotiations)


.12. What responsibilities do successful people have to the “unsuccessful” (or to those who did not have the same advantages)? Is contentment/happiness related to success or to something else? What?

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be truly happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve. --Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965, German physician, theologian, musician. Winner of 1952 Nobel Peace Prize)

♦Strange is our situation here upon Earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others. --Albert Einstein, German-born U.S. scientist.

Mao Ze Dong (1937) said that a person “should be more concerned about others than about himself.”

Michael Card has several “gold records,” dozens of successful albums and books, and popular concerts all over the US. When asked to define success he replied that it has to do with your increased ability to serve others.

People think the “great” are those who exercise authority, give commands and require obedience. It should not be this way among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. --Jesus. (Bible: Matt 20:25,26)

Godliness with contentment is great gain. But those who desire to be rich fall into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed in their greed, and pierced themselves with many sorrows. --Paul (Bible: 1 Tim 6:6-10 edited)



He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction. --Betty Anderson Stanley, reprinted by advice columnist Ann Landers, 1995.

Sources include: The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, Columbia University Press. ©1995; Basic Writing, Joy Reid, Prentice Hall/Regents; The Holy Bible; and various unverified sources.


Exercise: Look for quotes with a beside them. Think about what the author is trying to say (look up unfamiliar words) and then re-write these quotes in your own words.

English Corner (Success), 3rd page

A successful life

He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant. We know little about his childhood or youth, but he likely worked as a carpenter until he was 30, and then for three years he was a traveling preacher. He never wrote a book, held an office or led an army. He never married or had children. His possessions were few and simple. He never went to college and had no credentials but himself. He never visited a big city, and in fact never traveled more than 200 miles (300 km) from his birthplace. He never did any of the things that usually accompany greatness or success.

He was wildly popular for about a year, especially among simple people who saw him work miracles. But while still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away, and one even helped his enemies catch him. After a mockery of a trial he was publicly executed for treason and for claiming to be God’s Son.

Today, 2000 years later, he is honored as one of history’s most important people by well over half the people on this planet. We mark our calendars from his birth, making him the centerpiece of the human race. His followers travel to the ends of the earth, sacrificing their money, fame and health, just to serve the people that others care about the least. In his name, people have built more schools and hospitals, helped more of earth’s poor and hopeless souls, written more books and music, and produced more art than in any other name.

All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever were built, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of a man upon this earth as powerfully as has the one solitary life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. (Adapted from “One Solitary Life” by Dr. James A. Francis)


Additional Quotes regarding success and being successful (some have been summarized above):


Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them the rest of us could not succeed. Mark Twain, U.S. author. (1897).

Success to me is having ten honeydew melons, and eating only the top half of each one. Barbra Streisand (1963), U.S. singer, actress. (Did success or something else make these stars selfish/wasteful?)

Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Mao Ze Dong (1938, Problems of War and Strategy)

Success is never final. Winston Churchill (//

The toughest thing about success is that you’ve got to keep on being a success. Talent is only a starting point in this business. You’ve got to keep on working that talent. Someday I’ll reach for it and it won’t be there. Irving Berlin (1958), U.S. songwriter.

Each wrong step is a lost destiny, and each problem in life is a gained experience. West Africa

God doesn’t require us to succeed; he only requires that you try. Mother Teresa (Quoted by RF Kennedy, Jr. ’92)

Arthur Miller (1966), U.S. dramatist, notes that most Americans greet others with ‘What do you do?’, but “it’s good for my soul not to know… (I should instead) see what I think of this person without knowing what he does and how successful he is, or what a failure. We’re ranking everybody every minute of the day.”

Contentment consists not in adding more fuel but in taking away some fire; not in multiplying wealth, but in subtracting men’s desires. Thomas Fuller (1608-1661)

In the United States there’s a Puritan ethic and a mythology of success. He who is successful is good. In Latin countries, in Catholic countries, a successful person is a sinner. Umberto Eco (1988), Italian novelist.

In the deeper layers of the modern consciousness . . . every attempt to succeed is an act of aggression, leaving one alone and guilty and defenseless among enemies: one is punished for success. This is our intolerable dilemma: failure is a kind of death and success is evil and dangerous. Robert Warshow (1948), U.S. author.

Success is somebody else’s failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. Ursula K. Le Guin (1983), U.S. author. (Commencement Address)

If you are a genius and unsuccessful, everybody treats you as if you were a genius, but when you come to be successful, when you commence to earn money, when you are really successful, then your family and everybody no longer treats you like a genius, they treat you like a man who has become successful. Pablo Picasso (1938), Spanish artist.

--success definition from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition  © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

--most dated but unspecified quotations from The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, Columbia University Press. © 1993, 1995

--several proverbs from Basic Writing, Joy Reid, Prentice Hall/Regents

--NKJV = The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

--CEV = The Contemporary English Version, c1995 by the American Bible Society.

--quotations without dates came from various unverified sources.


Still more quotes:

What kind of a man would live where there is no daring?  I don’t believe in taking foolish chances, but nothing can be accomplished without taking any chance at all. Charles Augustus Lindberg (1st pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean)

Listen to both sides and you will be enlightened, heed only one side and you will be benighted. Wei Cheng (Tang Dynasty, quoted by Mao 1937 in On Contradiction) (benighted = overtaken by darkness; in an unenlightened state)

Don’t fall in love with money. Be satisfied with what you have. –Bible: Hebrews 13:5 CEV

Do not talk behind people’s backs. Whenever problems arise, call a meeting, place the problems on the table for discussion, take some decisions and the problems will be solved. Mao Ze Dong (1949, Methods of Work of Party Committees)

But suffering is in store each day for those who sin. (i.e., fall short of what God expects). Even in times of success, they constantly hear the threat of doom. Darkness, despair, and death are their destiny. Job 15:20-22 CEV

If you have a success, you have it for the wrong reasons. If you become popular it is always because of the worst aspects of your work. Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), U.S. author.

Think of all the really successful men and women you know. Do you know a single one who didn’t learn very young the trick of calling attention to himself in the right quarters? Storm Jameson (1957), British author.

He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, and he who splits wood may be endangered by it. If the ax is dull, and one does not sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength; but wisdom brings success.  Ecclesiastes 10:9,10 NKJV

There is a vast difference between success at twenty-five and success at sixty. At sixty, nobody envies you. Instead, everybody rejoices generously, sincerely, in your good fortune. Marie Dressler (1934), U.S. actor. (age 61—died that year)

11But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:6-12 NKJV

There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same. Chinese Proverb

Man can climb to the highest summits, but he cannot dwell there long. George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), Anglo-Irish playwright, critic.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:11-13 NKJV

Godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. Paul in 1 Tim 6:6-10, NKJV

Love can achieve unexpected majesty in the rocky soil of misfortune. Tony Snow (Detroit News)

Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. Abraham Lincoln


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