Avoid Success At All Costs

by Scott London

“Be anything you like,” Thomas Merton once said, “be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success.”

I love this quote. It’s a reminder to slow down and reexamine what we’re doing.

The fierce drive to accomplish something and make a name for ourselves too often takes us down the wrong path. In the end, the qualities we’re looking for are those that go with being free of worldly success.

Ultimately, the aim must be to become indifferent to what people think of us — to become immune to applause and unmoved by criticism. There is integrity in that.

The goal must be to be present with what we’re doing — so present that we do it gracefully, effortlessly. There is great joy in that.

Success, when it does come, tends to be relatively short-lived in any case. That means that we’re all thrown back on ourselves sooner or later. When that day arrives we have no choice but to find something more lasting to pin our hopes to.

And that, I believe, is what Merton was saying.

Incidentally, he became very successful himself. But he understood what few of us, in our quest for worldly recognition, realize — that celebrity, when freed of the trappings of ego, is simply another path of service.