The Meaning of Success by Gary Canant A Letter to sons Kevin and Corey December 5, 1989
Dear Kevin and Corey,
You are both approaching important turning points in your lives. Within a few short years you will both be leaving home and beginning you own lives and building your own families.
I wish both of you success in your life, but it it is important to define success. My view of success is based on the most successful person I know, my father.
Many people in this world judge success by material things, but they're dead wrong. Success is not a bigger house or cars or other visible things. My dad was never rich in terms of money, but he was richer in the things that count. When I was growing up, we never had a lot of money, but we were never poor.
We made do with what we had. In the early 50's, my dad didn't have enough money to buy a house, so he built one. He turned a corn field into a home. By today's standards it is not a big house or fancy house, but it was a place that he and his family were comfortable in and it was really a home. Today he still lives in that house and it-has lasted all these years when other houses have decayed and lost their value.
My dad didn't have the opportunity to go very far in formal schooling, but he was well educated. I remember the time when he took a course in drawing so he could draw the things he wanted to build. He ws always taking courses or learning on his own because he wanted to. He never wanted the degrees or formal recognition, he learned because he wanted to learn.
My dad didn't judge people because of their color or their money or for any of the exterior things that are so easy to judge. He was intolerant of people who were lazy or wouldn't try to help themselves. He was always there to help out if someone was in trouble and really needed help.
When I was young, I helped him build several editions of horse trailers. The first ones were o.k. for most people, but he wasn't satisfied because they did not meet his standards. The final trailer looked like it was professionally built and my dad was finally satisfied. He was his own critic. Other people were satisfied with his work, but he would not quit until any effort met his own standards of excellence. He applied that same standard of excellence to everything he did. He was never satisfied until he had reached the level of quality of work he knew he could reach. As you go through life, I would like each of you to keep your sights set on your own levels of quality and not stop trying for better in anything just because other people are satisfied - do the best for yourself. Set your own standards and achieve them for your own pride and purpose.
Many of my dad's friends died in their 50's and 60's because they did not recognize the signs of stress on their bodies. My dad realized that he had reached a point where the stress of his job was beginning to take a toll on him and retired from formal work. He didn't stop working, he just got out a situation that he knew would have ruined his health. Listen to your body; there may come a time when you may need to get out a situation that can hurt you. He survived a heart attack and got stronger. His friends that didn't listen to their bodies' signs didn't survive.
My dad never seemed to talk much, but he always said a lot. He preferred to show me how to do things and then let me try on my own. When I was a teenager, I built two soap box racers. Even though dad could have helped me make a more professional looking racer, he wouldn't help me with the actual construction because that was against the rules. Some of the other kids in the derby had their cars built by professionals and their cars looked better than mine. They didn't learn and I did. I may not have had the best looking cars, but I was proud of what I had done. To this day, I still use some of those lessons I learned building those cars. My dad taught me that doing it as best as I could at the time was good enough. He didn't tell me that, his actions told me. He didn't have to tell me.
My dad never talked about his own success because he viewed himself as being successful. He never thought about success as being something in the future; success was living each day. He had his dreams of making his life better and he made his own dreams come true. There was always a way to get the things he needed. We grew most of our food in the garden. He had a knack for finding things free, when we needed wood chips for the horse, we would find a chip pile in the woods and bring back a load of chips and the only cost was the our labor in loading and unloading it. He would always find a way to get hay cheap or free, all we had to do was go into the field and load it up. The list could go on, but I think you get the idea. Many of the things you need in life are there and don't take money to get. They may take work and effort, but they are there.
If you look at success as something in the future, you will fail. Take a lesson from my dad, his life was a success from day to day. Measure yourselves by the highest standards possible, your own. Learn to be your own worst critic, but learn to be satisfied when you have reached your own level of quality and go on to the next part of your 'life.
Lastly, I don't remember my dad as being religious, but he was always reverent. In other words, he was never caught up in the need to be honored by the church, but his faith in God was always strong.
As you go through life, I hope that each of you will reach the level of respect, love and peace he as achieved.