Effective methods of measuring success are elusive. How does one seek to define something so impervious to quantification? The lines between Success and Happiness blur easily – susceptible to prejudices, personal experiences and presumptions. Success boasts varying degrees and extents – it’s like a vast litmus paper for the human condition and it seems every fool hell-bent on achieving it likes to think that his will be the sweetest.
For me, a wanderlustful college student staring down into the infinite abyss of The Real World, the notion of Success is daunting. I keep my curiosity about it and my nagging desire for it hidden out of sight for fear that doting on it might awaken its ugly counterpart, Failure.
Success has always made me anxious. I needed a way to tether it down – to break off smaller pieces, easier to digest on an individual level. To manage, I splintered Success into moments. I didn’t even realize I was doing it at first. I began to add small victories to my personal collection of Success moments (for instance: I actually made it to first base in a softball game!), and I stowed them away for safekeeping. As I grew older I began to think of Success as present in gestures. This past summer I witnessed a heartfelt one.
On our free travel weekend while studying abroad at Georgetown’s Villa le Balze in Fiesole, Italy, four friends and I decided to head for Italy’s version of the Riviera: a small cluster of towns called the Cinque Terre. On our third and final train to Cinque Terre we met a group of American travelers: Kathleen, her husband John and John’s sister, Anne. I’m just going to go ahead and say the thing you’re not supposed to say – sometimes there’s nothing quite as comforting as hearing an American accent when traveling abroad.
Our trains out of Pisa and La Spezia had been delayed and therefore we were arriving about an hour and a half later than we’d planned. We felt just as harried and travel-weary as we looked as we disembarked at the town of Monterosso. It was Anne who approached us first – apparently she too had the discerning ear of an American eagerly seeking out a familiar voice – and she offered us advice on how to get to our hotel. We exchanged pleasantries and found out that Kathleen is a Georgetown graduate of the Class of 1979. We wished them well on their trip and continued on our way.
Now granted, the town of Monterosso is not very large, but the greater area of Cinque Terre offers numerous vistas, restaurants and beaches. Yet somehow we managed to run into our new friends four different times over the course of the weekend. It was like having surrogate parents watching over us on our Italian vacation. Running into them became almost second nature and so we were unsurprised when they strolled into the same restaurant (to be seated at the table directly behind us, no less) on our final evening on the coast.
We were just getting ready to ask for our check and head for a final stroll along the sea when Kathleen came over and asked how we’d feel if they sent over a bottle of wine to our table, “As a thank you for helping make our trip a success – and for Georgetown, of course!” As American college students who had forgone wine due to budgetary concerns we replied, perhaps a little too eagerly, that we’d feel great about this offer. And so they ordered us a bottle of the house specialty and we toasted to our friends for their kindness.
This sounds like a seemingly insignificant moment, but it resonated with me. Kathleen, John and Anne made this act of generosity seem effortless. It was as if they had stored up enough of these kinds of moments of their own and now sought out ways to bestow them upon others – handing them out to eager recipients like us.
“That’s when you know you’re successful,” we joked, “when you can just send over a bottle of wine to a few acquaintances.” I know this much is true: It was a Success moment – I tilted my head back to savor the last dregs.
Margaret Delaney is a junior in the College. She can be reached at mdelaneythehoya.com. I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE appears every other Tuesday.