The Success Poem

The success poem

“Success –

  1. To laugh often and much;
  2. to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
  3. to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
  4. to appreciate beauty;
  5. to find the best in others;
  6. to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
  7. to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived;
  8. this is to have succeeded.”


The origin of this quote has never been reliably established, despite it being commonly and possibly wrongly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet, writer, philosopher, 1803-82.

There seems clear evidence that a different version of the ‘Success’ poem was written in 1904 by Bessie A Stanley, an American housewife, in winning a competition organised by the Lincoln Sentinel newspaper, Kansas USA. Bessie Stanley’s version apparently appeared in the authoritative Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations until the 1960’s.

See the research by Dirk Kelder, and Robin Olsen which argues strongly that Bessie Stanley’s version is the original:

“Success –

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.” (Bessie A Stanley, 1904)

“When every situation which life can offer is turned to the profit of spiritual growth, no situation can really be a bad one.” (Paul Brunton, 1898-1981, writer and philosopher, thanks G Eardley)

“One hundred percent of the shots you don’t take don’t go in.” (Wayne Gretzky, former National Hockey League superstar. (Ack D Christian)

“In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” (attributed to Theodore Roosevelt. Ack DC)

“People who regard themselves as highly efficacious act, think, and feel differently from those who perceive themselves as inefficacious. They produce their own future, rather than simply foretell it.” (Albert Bandura, b.1925, American psychologist, writer, academic and prioneer of social cognitive theory, notably the ‘self-regulatory mechanisms through which people exercise some measure of control over their thought processes, motivation, emotional life, and accomplishments’ – see the quote below also. Incidentally, ‘efficacious’ means ‘sure to produce desired effect’.)

“Humans are producers of their life circumstance not just products of them.” (Albert Bandura – see above.)

“A gossip talks to you about other people. A bore talks about himself. A brilliant conversationalist talks to you about yourself.” (attributed to William King, whoever he was – possibly William Rufus King, 1786-1853, the US politician and US Vice President, or more likely judging by similarly witty quotes attributed to him, William Lyon Mackenzie King, 1874-1950, Canadian Prime Minister. See the notes on empathy.)

“Nietzsche was the one who did the job for me. At a certain moment in his life, the idea came to him of what he called ‘the love of your fate’. Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, ‘This is what I need.’ It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment – not discouragement – you will find the strength is there. Any disaster that you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege! This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow. Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true. Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.” (Joseph Campbell 1904-87, American writer, anthropologist and philosopher – see the related Nietzsche quote below)

“There are victories of the soul and spirit. Sometimes, even if you lose, you win.” (Elie Wiesel, b.1928 in Transylvania, Holocaust survivor, American citizen since 1963, author of several significant humanitarian books, 1976 Andrew Mellon Professor of Humanities at Boston University, 1978 appointed Chairman of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, 1980 Founding Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 1986 Nobel Peace Prizewinner and established the The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, which seeks to promote and aid the nurturing and inspiration of young people to build a better, more harmonious and humane world. With thanks to C Byrd and her teacher Da Shi Yin De. This wonderful quote provides an inspirational example of a deeply positive attitude to life and experience far beyond conventional measurement of reward.)

“Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.” (Elie Wiesel, writer)

“Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.” (Edward Estlin Cummings 1938, poet, 1894-1962. Think about it. Whatever its original context, the quote serves well to illustrate a central idea of coaching and helping people; ie., when someone asks for advice, they don’t want someone else’s answer, instead, they want help finding their own. A ‘more beautiful question’ can provide such help. This philosophy is also characterised in Sharon Drew Morgen’s Facilitation methodology.)

“Seeker of truth, follow no path. All paths lead where truth is. Here.” (EE Cummings. Incidentally there is plenty of evidence that Cummings did not expressly wish his name to be shown in lower case: ‘e e cummings’, as is the common pratice. Cummins did use lower case in his poetry but the consistent use of lower case for his name has been perpetuated by commentators since his death, erroneously.)

“Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.” (Will Rogers, cowboy, actor, philanthropist, 1879-1935. Ack CB)

“The average man’s opinions are much less foolish than they would be if he thought for himself.” (Bertrand Russell, 1872-1970, English philosopher, mathematician, writer, peace-campaigner and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.)



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