While I understand the sentiment that motivates Washington’s assertion, I do not believe that struggle is a more important measure of success than accomplishment. Washington’s quote appeals to our notion of fair play: we are not all born equal, and some people, through courage and will, overcome immense hardships that others need never even contemplate. But while we tip our hats to those who achieve despite long odds, there is also such a thing as objective ‘success.’
We celebrate the human spirit of those who refuse to accept hardship and struggle to succeed. In My Left Foot, for instance, a man born with a debilitating disease – leaving him with nearly no control of his body – manages to learn to function and even paint with his left foot. Yet no matter how amazing his achievement may be, he cannot succeed at many endeavors we take for granted. A man who walks again after suffering a spinal injury may have shown unbelievable perseverance and drive, but he will not ‘succeed’ as a professional athlete or a tap dancer. While I may be proud that I mustered the courage to ask out the hottest girl in my class, I did not ‘succeed’ at much of anything when she flatly told me ‘no.’
Ultimately, the very term ‘succeed’ is drained of meaning if the follow-up question is not answered: succeed at what? Washington’s quote inadequate to describe the quality we admire in one who struggles. It is not her success we admire: on the contrary, it is her struggle itself.
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