Helen Keller on Success
I get a newsletter called Funds for Writers, and its publisher, Hope Clark, included this quote in the October edition:
WORDS OF SUCCESS
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.
Only through experience of trial and suffering
can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared,
ambition inspired, and success achieved.
~ Helen Keller
It’s a great, thought-provoking quote, and it is by Helen Keller, whom I have always found one of the most intriguing figures in modern life. In fact, I got a bit obsessed with her in high school. I went to a performing arts magnet school, where we put on elaborate plays and musicals. I lobbied for The Miracle Worker, the story of Keller and her amazing teacher Annie Sullivan, for some time (alas, to no avail) .
I wrote my senior AP English capstone project about Helen Keller. I read all of her books (there are many — a great start is her The Story of My Life) and wrote a play about an incident in which she was accused of plagiarizing a children’ s story. In her writing, Keller referred to this plagiarism accusation as the worst thing that ever happened to her.
This is a woman who was deaf and blind. And being accused of dishonesty, when she sincerely did not believe she had committed the offense, was way worse to her than any of her so-called disabilities. What does this say to us about Keller’s approach to life, her attitude?
To me, what has always been so intriguing about Helen Keller is that she took what so many of us would see as impossible obstacles in stride. She did not find them as important as bigger issues in our times and among people. And she based her idea of success in life not around her disabilities, but around her relationships with others. The more I read of her writings, the more I understood the power of this.
Many who have not read her deeply may think of Helen Keller only as a champion for the blind and deaf. Which she was, of course. But in her mind that did not nearly define her. What defined her was her character, particularly in relation to the people in her life. And when her integrity and character were questioned by one of those people, she found that way worse than any external “problem” she ever had.
A lot of times, when women in particular prioritize relationships over some other external aspect of success we are considered “weak.” Yet, I think Keller’s approach to life is the strongest, most powerful way to live. If we focus on our connections with one another — attempting to grow and learn together, to give and take, to become deeper and more compassionate people through our relationships — how much more can we accomplish than if we try to live in our own little boxes and think only of #1?
If anyone can give power to this idea it is Helen Keller. She did live in a figurative box, with no sight or sound at a time when people truly believed this meant no life. She found ways to communicate and to love — with the help of others, of course. And at the end of her days, she saw those deep connections with others as the highest testament to who she was — her greatest successes.
It’s not easy to be interconnected as we are, to communicate clearly, to understand one another’s intentions. But, taking a lesson from one of my long-time heroes, for me, the greatest successes in my life revolve more around my deep connections with the people in it — and thus a deeper connection with myself and with something way bigger than me — than any independent accomplishment I could name.