Sunday, April 19, 2015

The meaning of success: I suppose it depends on how you look at it

JM79 Senior Personalities
One morning in the spring of 1979, in my senior year of high school, I was sitting in homeroom with everyone else & listening to the morning’s announcements (over the PA system) when they announced the results for the ‘Senior Personalities’ of our class. I heard Mary Beatty & Bruce Howard for Class Clowns and thought “Well, I don’t really know Mary, but Bruce, yeah that makes sense” and next was Damon Wilson & Dana Policz for Famous Heights and again I thought “Well, I got those two right—I voted for both of ‘em.”

Then I heard Karen Huffman & Doug Morris, Most Likely to Succeed. I sat there for a moment, truly dumbfounded—me?

My next thought was “I’ve somehow managed to bamboozle enough of these people into thinking I’m going to amount to something, and I wasn’t even trying.”  I never expected to be a senior personality, let alone one I admired so much.

I wore that title like a badge of honor the next few weeks, it gave me a boost of confidence that I never really had. Graduation night, as I accepted my diploma with the rest of my class, so what if I wasn’t in the Top Ten? I was destined for success, I just knew it—I was special!

Graduation night: my girlfriend Sherri, older brother Duke and his first wife Cheryl, and our Grandmas Barnhart & Morris

Of course, I learned soon enough that early success wasn’t in the cards. I flip-flopped between jobs that first year after high school before I enrolled at college, only to drop out after my first year and return to my full-time job in lumber & hardware.

For some reason, that ‘Most Likely To’ really stayed with me. It may just as well been a sign around my neck, a constant reminder I hadn’t lived up to others (or my own) expectations. I can still remember coming to work one Monday morning in May 1983, and seeing the local paper in the employee lounge, opened up to Waynesburg College Commencement on Sunday and thinking “I should’ve been a part of that… that was MY alma mater. I should’ve been a college graduate today.”  Once again, that success label from high school dragged behind me like an anchor. I can also remember a few years later, running into an old classmate who was a nurse now, and when she asked me what I was up to, I immediately felt guilty and defensive and said “I’m going back to school in a couple months, in Pittsburgh!” She was nice enough, and said “That’s great Doug, good luck!” But as we parted company I could imagine her thinking “Most likely to succeed my ass!”

You know, because everyone remembers those senior personalities, and who was voted for what, right?  Right??

Anyway—I did return to school, got into the IT field and somehow wound up with some good positions with some good companies—Omega, GNC, Mellon, UPMC. I knew I was far from the leader of the pack on the success-scale when it came to others in my high school class, but I was living in the big city now, wore a suit to work everyday, carried a briefcase even.  Me and ‘Most Likely To Succeed’ were square.

My older brother Duke was also voted Most Likely to Succeed by his senior class a couple years earlier. He went on to become an attorney, but did not succeed in his plans for world domination—sorry, Duke!

I’m sharing all this now, because here I am, 35 years later and being reminded of that old sting. It’s been 4 1/2 months since I walked away from a good paying job (which was giving me some serious ulcers) and now I’m playing with different monthly budgets to ensure my investments will provide me with a roof over my head for the next 25-30 years. If I’m careful, it seems doable—but does getting out of the rat race a dozen years earlier equate to success?  A couple days ago when I was talking to my friend Kathy, and joking about being a free spirit now, I said “I have zero debt, I come and go as I please, eat and sleep when I want, where I want.  I no longer have a boss, project manager, or a team-lead telling me what to do.”  Well, it sounded good on paper…

So I’m never going to own a yacht or a villa in France, but if I can keep things going the way they are now, I’ll feel I’ve accomplished something?  This is still up for debate.

Oh and for the record—my other half in that senior personality photo, my friend & classmate Karen. She’s a wife, mom & has been an elementary school teacher for 30 years now, and is just as passionate about teaching as she was then.  If that’s not real success, then I don’t know what is.


  1. Being debt free and retiring early in this day and age? Yea,you can rock that success crown,brother!

    1. Haha, thanks Chip I appreciate that! Well, the plan is still theory--it depends pretty much on the stock market. Keeping my fingers crossed :)

  2. Doug, giving that gobshite outfit the big 'E' was pure tremendousness, and it is to your credit.

    As you wake whenever you bleedin'-well like and sashay about your pad, or go cold-struttin' down the ave like Billy McTrousers with a soft lob on, whistling a Lemon Sisters melody, you will surely do so with lightness of being only dreamt of by those cubicle wallahs you left in your wake, and to whom your legend grows in each whispered water cooler exchange:
    "Is it true what they say about Doug Morris? That he just came in one day and told management to kiss him at his highest when he picks strawberries?”
    “I heard he left from the roof, wearing a jet pack…”

    1. Haha! Thanks so much Andrew, much appreciated... :) In fact I enjoyed this so much that I'm half-tempted to get your words stitched on a sampler so I can hang it on the wall for easy viewing!


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