“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful” (Herman Cain).
I was with a group of friends this weekend when, in an exasperating tone, one of them complained to no one in particular: “I sometimes wonder whether those of us who are in the academic world are not wasting our time doing what we do best. We toil and toil and toil all in the name of advancing knowledge…all for what…$50-75k a year? That’s not fair; it is not fair at all!My cousin, with just a polytechnic education, bought a house in one of the posh areas of Lagos, for 88 million naira. But here I am, toiling all day and all night and don’t even have one thousand dollars in my account…”
Suddenly, there was a deafening and uncomfortable silence, lasting no less than ten seconds. Almost in unison, the silence was punctuated by roaring-deep-belly-laughs: the kind of laughter that tugs at your ribcage and makes you want to pee, or that make ones eyes misty. We laughed and laughed and laughed; and then chuckled. Some then extended their hands to grab their bottle of beer or glass of Jack Daniels. Others returned to their bowl of goat-meat pepper soup or sticks of home-made suya. Life! Academic life or no academic life, there was a feeling in the room that none of us could come up with that amount of money — be it in Naira, Cedi or CFA Franc — anytime soon.
When we all seemed composed, another friend asked: “Does that mean none of us in this room is successful…Does it mean we have just wasted our lives helping to develop God’s own country…Does anyone regret coming to Yankee…Given the chance, what would anyone in this room do different…?” Another friend objected to this line of questioning and asked, “What is Success…what would you or anyone in this room consider ‘successful’…how would you define it?” It was at this junction that the atmosphere got rowdy, with a dozen or so voices trying to make sense of a relative term (without engaging in “conceptual stretching”). And so it was for half-an hour — men and women, all debating this simple question: “Do You Consider Yourself Successful?”
The least vocal in the group then called all of us to order. She wondered: “May be we are asking the wrong question. Why don’t we think of success in terms of inner happiness, contentment, and satisfaction; why don’t we look at the big-picture…our quality of life, instead of measuring our lives in terms of money and material possession. At this point in my life, I am absolutely happy with myself and my family. That, however, is not to say we have stopped dreaming and or that we no longer have other aspirations.”
Our host raised his hand signifying he needed our attention. First, he reminded us there are more drinks and food to be eaten; secondly, he reminded us of our planned trip to Buenos Aires; and finally, he said: “quality of life matters…but hey, I won’t mind 88 million naira in my bank account…does anyone have Obasanjo or Atiku’s phone number…I want my share of the petrodollars…” The room went nuts with prolonged laughter…eating and drinking…and dancing…and laughing. But really: what is success?