I. King Jordan

I. King Jordan

The former professor and dean was the first deaf president of Gallaudet University from 1988 to 2006. He earned his PhD in psychology from the University of Tennessee.


Defining success

Q: How do you define success?

I am an academic and have spent my entire career in and around the world of higher education.

In the academy, success is often defined in very measurable, objective ways. At the beginning of a class, students are given very specific instructions for just what must be done during a semester to achieve success. Sports programs, both intercollegiate and intramural, define success by the number of points scored, the number of games won. It's easy, therefore, to slip into the thinking that to be successful, one need only meet these criteria.

But real success, the success that allows us to sleep peacefully at night, is much more subjective and is defined differently for different individuals and on different occasions.

In my professional life, my work in education and in advocacy allows me both the objective, measurable and frequently visible successes as well as the more subjective successes that only I would experience.

In my personal life, as a runner, success for me has changed as I have aged and my body has slowed. I have stood outside myself and watched this change with real interest. It has been an important growth experience for me to learn how truly the definition of success changes over time and across situations. It helps me when I talk about these things with others to be able to show the shifting definition of success and to be able to explain how personal the definition often can and should be.

As a young assistant professor, I quickly learned that the more successful my students were, the more successful I felt I had been. Their success was my success. As an administrator it was gratifying to see the growth and achievements of others and know that I played some part in those things. But the truth of the matter is, that the most success I ever felt at the university was when I squeezed each and every hand as students crossed the stage and I handed them their diplomas at commencement.

Few can disagree that receiving a college degree ranks among our most important successes, but more importantly, when any one student received his diploma, an entire room of people shared in the experience.

Now that I no longer work at a university, my experiences with success are different. I work mainly in advocacy for the rights and abilities of people with disabilities and people who are deaf and hard of hearing. I know, and have known for a long time, that the single most disabling thing in our lives is the negative attitude that so many people have about disabilities.

My successes these days are when I can chip away, one small misunderstanding or ignorance at a time, at these beliefs. To see progress in this indeed allows me the peaceful sleep of success.

By I. King Jordan  |  December 18, 2009; 12:30 PM ET  | Category:  Defining success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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