As the rain poured hard outside the classroom window in San Jose, Costa Rica, our Spanish teacher Olga was squiggling a word on the dry erase board: éxito. In my Spanish language studies, I hadn’t encountered the word before. Like a good instructor, Olga didn’t just give us the translation of the word into another language. She instead described examples of how one person had a big house, another one had an important job, and yet another person had a lot of friends. At first I was confused, because all the scenarios were so different from each other that I couldn’t figure out what éxito meant.
Éxito means success in Spanish. The reason that our teacher gave so many examples is that there really isn’t just one definition of success. It’s a matter of personal opinion. Our opinion of success is also influenced by our cultural background. Different cultures will prize certain aspects of success over others.
For instance, our cozy classroom was filled with a total of 4 people, all raised in different countries. I came from the United States, Olga was from Costa Rica, one of my classmates was from Italy, and the other student was from Germany. As we talked about success, Olga shared about how having a big community of supporters and the freedom to live an enjoyable life was a common value of Ticos (Costa Ricans). Living the pura vida (pure life) where people are generous to each other and are free to enjoy the sweeter things seen as a successful way of life. As an American who grew up in the NYC area, pura vida was seen as only something that you experienced in your later years when you retire. To get there, you had to work really hard and make a lot of money first. That hardworking American mentality taught us to measure our success by the size of our paycheck and by how many properties we owned. While family time was important, work always came first.
My classmate from Germany valued learning other languages, earning certificates and degrees, and traveling to other countries. My classmate from Italy wanted also wanted to improve his language skills, but seemed to put more emphasis on seeing the world rather than saving money or buying a house.
I’ve lived a very purpose driven life that has been plotted on dry erase boards filled with monthly and yearly goals. My success in life has been about building a body of work for the future generations, a legacy of guidance and validation for the changes that humanity must make in order to shift from surviving to thriving. I feel a sense of fulfillment each time I create something that will endure long after my ashes return to the sea.
Much of my work has culminated towards publishing my first book, Healing Our Bloodlines in September of this year. In kind, my first documentary, Sakura & Pearls: Healing from World War II will be premiering on Dec. 4th at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. While I greatly value the energy and time that I’ve invested into these meaningful projects, sometimes I wonder if I place too much emphasis on producing tangible finished products.
As the guidebook and documentary are coming to completion, I find myself shifting how I view my life’s success. These projects have been personally enriching, however I’ve recently realized that I’ve been gauging my life success by the impact I was having on the world. For instance, I look to the number of views I get on a video posted on social media to evaluate how successful my message was that week.
After living in the land of Aloha (Hawaii) for the past 10 years and visiting places like Costa Rica, I’ve opened my mind to measuring the success of my life in new ways. More and more, I value experiencing the sweetness of life as an important component of a well lived life. Sunset has been the time where I slow down enough to smell the floral scented breezes and to appreciate the colors in the sky. Naturally, I’ve taken photos of these sunsets and have posted them daily on Instagram and Facebook. But then I catch myself measuring how good that sunset was by the number of likes that a photo gets on social media. Perhaps the number of sunsets I catch with the people that I love has become more important to how I gauge the quality of my life, because I’m learning to consider the impact that life is having on me.