The Curious Case of Street Sweepers

Recently, I was asked to give my definition of success. I was really intrigued by it, and, being me, I couldn’t just accept the first thing that popped into my head. It had to be more complicated than that. Listening to speeches at graduation (not mine) also stimulated this thought process, so here I am, ready to write.

I feel like I’ve always been aware of the fact that success does not correlate to how much money one might own. Mother Teresa was successful, was she not? If money and success were directly proportional, she would be considered a failure. And yet, she chose that poverty as her medium to touch hundreds upon hundreds of lives. So it’s not difficult for me to say that money does not indicate any level of success.

But then, what does? There’s no way to measure success. There is no formula that will calculate how successful one is. Because the term can be applied to so many different things, it’s hard to come up with a single definition for it. Alas, I come to my own definition, probably somewhat lacking in some way: doing your best with what you’ve got. Martin Luther King Jr. said (much more eloquently than I), “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.'” That, to me, sounds like a successful life. Street sweeping, like janitorial jobs, is not a glamorous profession. But thank goodness for the people who do it, because without them, our world might end up stinky and smelly and gross.

We all have different gifts and talents, different ways to impact the world. Albert Einstein is credited with this quote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Everybody has something to give. Mother Teresa gave her compassion. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his courage and leadership. Albert Einstein gave his brain. Were they millionaires? No. but they impacted the world because they saw what they could give, and they gave it wholeheartedly. Even if that something happened to be as unglamorous as street sweeping, they gave it. Success is not easy to attain, or else it wouldn’t be worthy of our notice. Sometimes we have to go through pain, stress, and hardship. And a lot of times, being successful won’t get us a lot of notice. No Nobel Peace Prize, no Tony. There isn’t a Parenting Olympics or a Good Advice Giving Award. But is it worth it?

Oh yeah.

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