On the front page of Google Scholar, there’s a citation that made me think about the people we give credit to when it comes to success and happiness in our own lives. It reminds of Isaac Newton’s quote:
“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”
I remembered a conversation I had with a friend. His brother Mike landed a well-paying job in the biggest company in the country and year after year, his family saw him advance in his career. This was praised as a success.
When I asked who my friend thought was accountable for Mike’s accomplishment, he said it must be the series of life choices his sibling made and the circumstances that supported them.
Underlying conditions for success
The sibling insisted on studying in a prestigious business school, and the family was able to financially assist with this demand. The university was well-known for its collaboration with the company, and they selected the best students for their internship program annually. After finishing the internship, Mike was offered a permanent position and a couple of years later he became the head of the department. In the end, my friend concluded that luck also played a part in his brother’s success.
Sure, we owe much of our success and happiness to the decisions we make as students. The profession we choose, the school we attend, and the people we connect to while studying are all factors that govern favorable outcomes in the following years of our lives. Many Universities have good relations with companies that scout for the best students at the end of their studies which opens the doors to other possibilities.
Our own passion and perseverance in fulfilling our dreams must be a big factor in achieving what we’ve envisioned. Our families, their support and their financial status play a big role in that decision.
The role of legacy in success
But, on a larger scale, we owe it to the people that came before us. My life, as I know it, besides the support of my social circle, my own well-calculated choices, and my persistence, is shaped by the struggles and victories of my predecessors.
An African proverb says:
“If we stand tall it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors.”
The legacy of my ancestors plays a big role in my success. I can choose who I want to become, who I want to represent me, and finally who I want to love. The success that determined my life stemmed from the freedom that I was granted by birth: to choose. That liberty should not be taken for granted. I am aware many generations had to fight, believe, persist and even shed blood for me to be able to stand where I am now. From my point of view, this freedom is a success by itself.
I, as a woman, am free to go to school and get the same education as men. For my foremothers from 200 years ago, that was impossible. For years, the quality of their education was lower. Women were regarded as biologically and intellectually inferior, to that extent that schooling would disrupt them from preparing for their role as a mother and wife.
In medieval Europe, the best chance for a decent education was becoming a nun. A Spanish nun, Juliana Morell, was the first woman to graduate from a university becoming a Doctor of Law in 1608. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that women got to enroll in all-female universities.
I am free to choose how to earn my income and how to spend it. In the 19th century Spain and France, a woman’s property and income relied on her husband’s goodwill. It was in the mid 19th century Norway that women were given equal rights over inheritance and, later on, the freedom to work in their profession of choice. Similarly, the late 19th century Married Women’s Property Act in England gave authorized married women to manage their own property and funds without husband’s interference.
Love & Marriage
I am free to choose who I will love. For decades, mixed couples have been faced with a number of challenges, ranging from friends and family’s disapproval, societal prejudice, and even anti-miscegenation laws. In some countries, it’s been more difficult than in others.
One of the most famous court cases won for interracial couples was Loving v. Virginia (1967). Mr. Loving, a white man, and Mrs. Loving, an African American woman, got married in the district of Colombia, because in their state of origin, Virginia, their relationship was illegal. The local law enforcement, after discovering they lived together, ruled exile and prohibited them to reenter Virginia together in the next 25 years. The Lovings brought the state to the US Supreme Court and eight years later, they won by a unanimous vote.
Fortunately, due to public and media validation, the social norms have shifted in recent years, making it possible for my African-born husband and me to live together. I appreciate this freedom of choice every day because I know that for many couples before me, it was impossible.
Who do you have to thank for being successful? Whose past courage and perseverance do you acknowledge for giving you the freedom you have today?
Much like your success depended upon your predecessor’s efforts, what you achieve in this life will be a building block of someone else’s beginning. This is where we circle back to sustainability. Living your life with the future of those to come in mind, while being grateful for what you already have is what sustainability and success have in common.