Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Meaning of Success

If you don't know about Brandon, the amazing photographer behind the Humans of New York project, you are missing out on something really very cool. It was a project that started out in 2010 as a "photographic census of New York City" and morphed into something much, much more...a storytelling project, capturing snippets of stories and sharing them with the world.

So when HONY announced a couple of days ago that he'd started an indiegogo campaign to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief, I couldn't help myself. I'm a bleeding heart, after all, and the incentives - which I normally decline - were too good to pass up.

In one day - 19 hours - his campaign exceeded its $100,000 goal and, at the end of day two, has raised more than $150,000.

I love it when this kind of glorious, happy shit happens. I'd like to think he'd be able to, at least, quadruple it. *hint hint*


After I'd contributed to HONY's project, I was reminded of another indiegogo campaign I donated money to this year. One I'd completely forgotten about after the campaign ended...at least, until the other night.

If you don't remember, Karen Klein is a 68-year-old bus monitor who was bullied by several middle school aged kids on the bus as she simply tried to do her job. The video of said bullying was uploaded to youtube where she was displayed in all her humiliation as they poked her, taunted her, told her she should kill herself. And continued to do so after she started to softly cry.

A man, a stranger to Karen, started the indiegogo campaign on her behalf because he felt so bad for her. He asked people to donate a total of $5,000 to send her on a nice vacation...which I totally did. He would have had no idea when he started the campaign what would happen next when the internet took hold of it and ordinary people, people like me, got wind of it.

That campaign raised over $700,000. Every penny of it going to Karen and her "vacation". 

That money allowed her to take a nice vacation, yes. She also was able to retire from her bus monitor job so she could spend more time with her family. But, also? The other night when I was reminded of her and thought to check in on her and how she is doing, I discovered that she'd done something else extraordinary in addition to these nice things for herself...

She decided to pay it forward by starting her own foundation to combat bullying

This news compelled me to post this on my Facebook status:

Do you guys remember the bus monitor, Karen Klein, who was bullied by some middle school kids and the video depicting the bullying went viral inspiring a stranger to start an indiegogo campaign to raise a measly $5,000 to send her on a nice vacation? That campaign raised over $700,000 for her. It was enough for her to take a nice vacation AND retire. And then? She started her own foundation to stop bullying. She said, "I didn't feel like I deserved it." IT being the kindness and generosity of strangers. Well...guess what? We all deserve that kindness and generosity - from strangers and friends. Be kind. Be generous. And remember...when it comes back to you in spades? You deserve it.

Here's the thing...

You knew there was a thing coming, right?

Several weeks ago, in a somewhat public (but really family) forum, a ginormous jerkhead called to task a few people who had recently asked for financial help on said forum in the face of impending crisis. I took great exception to this for a number of reasons. And laid them out for him as succinctly as I could.

And then he came out swinging his "million dollar real estate" dick around and tried to force feed his idea of success - which, I'm sure you can easily define on your own by said description of said dick - and told all of us the same could be ours if we were all just willing to apply ourselves a little more.


Cocksucker. (Sorry. It still makes me mad.)

Visions of Mitt Romney and his 47% speech swim through my head.


The saving grace of the entire conversation - OK, fine, argument - was that it made me stop and think about what success means to me.

Me...the person he would judge strenuously and negatively because I live in a basement apartment, drive an 11-year-old (paid for) car, don't have cable or even Netflix, and shop regularly at the thrift stores. He would see me as an all out failure and, quite possibly, a burden on his idea of society...if by society you mean the 1%...even though I pay my taxes, don't acquire new debt, work hard, got my education, and make a moderate wage from a tax-deductible charitable organization. 

He would see me as a failure because, instead of trying to make more money and acquire material things, I volunteer my time and donate my money to people who need those things more than me.

The same reasons he would point accusingly toward as my failings in life are the exact same reasons I happily point to and say, "See? THIS is what makes me a success!"

I'm comfortable. I have a roof - that usually has heat and hot water - over my head, a job I usually love even though it doesn't pay as much as I could be making, reliable transportation, nutritious food, friends who love me, and pretty much everything else I need - even though it may not be the best, the newest, the prettiest, the shiniest - I'm happy and snug as a bug in a rug.

Success came to me when I was able to give a few dollars to HONY and the hurricane relief efforts, to Karen and her vacation/foundation, to the Information Cube project. Success, to me, is when a friend in need - no matter the reason - humbles himself and asks for help, and I actually CAN HELP. Happily.

That is success.

Seriously? Who honestly needs a multi-million dollar house anyway?

Am I wrong?

What does success look like to you?


Gaelyn said...

Only the 1%, or wannabes, would define success based solely on money and things. Success is personal and can only be self defined. Pity that idiot. As described, you are a marvelous success. It's a feeling from the heart. I'd rather be happy poor than sadly rich$

Masked Mom said...

I love your definition of success--I cannot do much financially for anyone at this point, but I can (and often do) contribute time, energy and effort on behalf of others. The satisfaction is priceless.

Unknown said...

I'm sorry I missed this when you first posted it, Jane. I have a sort of fist-pumping "YEAH! Tell it!" reaction to this.

I am a failure. I have bred too often. I have failed to marry "well." I have accumulated debt. I have fallen ill and I can no longer really work. I don't get government assistance, but I certainly am not your textbook image of this guy's (or Romney's) kind of success.

I have instead worked all my adult life to give my kids the chance surpass the status I have bequeathed them, I have nurtured growing things and dealt in pretty words. I like my way. Sometimes it hurts me deeply that it has no economic value—this fostering of the next generation to walk upon the earth. But I wouldn't change a thing.