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The Journey of Life

...and the nature of success

Just what is implied nowadays when we say that someone has led a ‘successful life’? I ask the question in general conversation from time to time and, as might be expected, find that nowadays ideas about what constitutes ‘success’ in life tend to be pretty narrow.

For more often than not, ‘success in life’ is generally taken to be (1), attaining a high degree of financial security; (2) having achieved a good social position; or (3), having acquired a fair number of impressive possessions – all opinions and attitudes which I would say reflect a widely held way of looking at contemporary life.

I remember a distinction made on a Royal Air Force Officer’s Record during World War II between two aspects of his overall performance, using a separate column for each: one headed OQ (Officer Qualities) and the other PQ (Personal Qualities). And it was necessary to have positive reports in both columns in order to maintain rank or be promoted.

I mention this ‘two column’ method here because these two ways of assessing overall competence in war are really also applicable to the struggle for success in normal peacetime living. For the OQ column recorded how intelligently and successfully one has responded to all the practical, day-to-day, ‘action-requiring’ decisions confronting one, indicating firmness of resolve in objective and positive action in responding to external situations of the moment… right now. The PQ column represented the extremely personal, psychological integrity of moral character, and insightful level of ‘wisdomly’ intuition, brought to bear more reflectively when taking action in any situation.

I don’t suppose that many contemporary psychologists would have much trouble in agreeing that the mental partnership of the OQ/PQ formula (as prescribed for wartime conditions), also plays a large part in determining the degree of ‘success’ when it comes to peacetime living.

But there is also one other mental activity at work in consciousness that should be recorded in a third column, one absent from official records, the purpose of which is to reveal those aspects of your own essential nature and character that are responsible for the decisions and the actions you take. For it may be in your nature to be constantly critical, even vindictive…. or generally fair and unprejudiced, generally disposed to be generous in the things you say and do. Judgements of this sort constitute a regular and important side of consciousness, and one should be aware of one’s own tendencies to be either hyper-critical or overly optimistic and generous to others as one goes through the day. Always let that well-known aphorism come to mind, ‘There but for the grace of God go I…’

In any event, the third column’s record indicates important personality characteristics: whether it is in one’s nature to be constantly critical, with a tendency to be condemnatory or more generally optimistic and sympathetic with regard to others. It is important to look over this third column from time to time, for it should be seen as a appraisal of one’s own character, speaking to levels of personal integrity and, as such, revealing just how humane you have become. This may help you determine your essential identity in terms of your humanity.

So I would suggest that success in life lies in coming to be aware of the comments secreted in the three-columned record of your life.

From the civilizations of Greece and Rome has come the injunction, ‘Know Thyself….’ in the belief that to know the content of your personal ‘three-columned record’, in and of itself, constitutes success in life.

(You may also attempt to make a ‘character test’ by trying to recognize the ‘face in the mirror’. Recognize Yourself, that is. Try it sometime. See how long you can manage to look into your own eyes. If you can manage two minutes, it is said you are in good humane shape.)

Dr. Carl Gustav Jung (who I regard as the greatest of 20th Century psychologist-psychiatrists), used the word individuation to describe this ‘three-columned’ mental journey as the course we follow to become unique individuals. And he saw the practice of psychiatry – talking to a patient to bring him or her to reach this very point of ‘Knowing Themselves – as the healing job of the psychologist.

But I am not sure if the following statement would carry much weight nowadays:

We moderns are faced with the necessity of rediscovering the life of the spirit; we must experience it anew for ourselves. It is the only way in which we can break the spell that binds us to the cycle of biological events….

C.G.Jung: Psychological Reflections

More from Graham Collier
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More from Graham Collier
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