The Blogger SAT Challenge

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What is the most important way to measure success? Booker T. Washington, a figurehead in the black civil rights movement and by any measure a successful man, claims that success of a man is measured more by the ‘obstacles he has overcome while trying to succeed’ than by his actual accomplishments. That’s easy for him to say — after all, he is a man of tremendous accomplishment and fame. But what of the individual who has more obstacles, and so has fewer obvious marks of success? Doesn’t he (or she) still need to be able to show something at the end of the day for us to see and recognize as ‘success’? I would say no, for accomplishment is measured not by the material things we can point to, but by the invisible struggles a person confronts and surmounts.

Some might believe that J.K. Rowling, author of the world-famous _Harry Potter_ books and one of the wealthiest women in the world, was merely fortunate — lucky to be in the right place in the right time. You can point to her books and her hundreds of millions of dollars as markers of fame and success, but didn’t she just get *lucky*? After all, thousands of people write novels and simply never get noticed by agents and publishers. That said, Rowling *did* work for her fame. She wrote her first book in poverty, estranged from her husband and with her baby in a stroller by her side while nursing a cup of coffee in a local restaurant. Rowling had plenty of obstacles to overcome, and *that*, not her books or her wealth, is why I believe she is successful.

By contrast, one of Rowling’s countrymen also recently rose to fame. His idea? A web site called the ‘Million Dollar Home Page.’ He sold pixels for $1 apiece, and through good fortune and few timely web links, he actually mad a million dollars. Can he be called a success? Absolutely not — he overcame little to achieve his goal. He didn’t even follow up on his original reason for setting up the site: he was planning to use the money to pay for college, but instead he dropped out.

Finally, I’d like to talk about a person much closer to home: my stepbrother Mark Hedden. Mark has had an incredibly difficult life. His parents split up when he was just 5 years old. His mother neglected him, but when his father tried to win custody, the courts sided with his mom. Ignored by his mother, he eventually dropped out of high school. But he was passionate about art, and inbetween working assembly-line jobs, he created sculptures on the side. They are gorgeous creations of wood and stone, a pleasure to hold and behold. About 5 years ago, Mark decided to go back to school. Since he loved sculpture, he decided being a dental technician might be the best job for him: he could use his knack with his hands to sculpt dental implants. But soon after he started in school, he suffered a paralyzing back injury. Today Mark can barely walk. He is in debt. He relies on Social Security Disability for a meager $500 a month in income. Yet I still see him as a success. Despite these setbacks, and despite being in incredible pain, he maintains a positive attitude about his life. Though it’s painful, he spends a few minutes each day trying to make art — out of clay, or whatever is at hand. His works are beautiful, and they inspire me every time I see them. Mark isn’t famous, and he’ll never be rich, but he is a *true* success.

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