Fake Success?

Last week a Palm Springs, CA man who was never in the military was charged with wearing the Navy’s highest honor.  Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles say 39-year-old Steven Burton was photographed wearing the Navy Cross along with the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and other medals.

This guy made his grand entrance at his high school reunion.  I guess being a bank teller wasn’t the image he wanted to share with his former classmates.  Unfortunately for Burton, another classmate was a real Navy commander and after a few questions decided to contact the FBI.  Authorities say Burton could face up to a year in federal prison if convicted.

Are we really caught up in that much pressure to appear “successful?”  Is it embarrassing to be a faithful and happy family man who drives a UPS truck, or grows organic vegetables, or works on an assembly line?  Or a woman who has chosen to be a stay-at-home mom rather than climb the corporate ladder?  Would being a marriage counselor or a grade-school teacher be viewed as adequate success? 

What parts of our lives do we want our old classmates to know about?  Are good health, spiritual vitality and loving relationships enough to be proud of as a life well lived? 

For years I have borrowed this definition of success:  “Success = the progressive realization of worthwhile goals.”  That allows success for a college sophomore who is learning to learn, or for the person who chooses to teach reading in the ghetto, or for the artist who create beautiful works, or for the individual who delivers the mail – and a smile. 

Stories of faking success are not new.  Frank Abagnale, Jr. (inspiration for the movie Catch Me if You Can) successfully impersonated an airline pilot, a doctor, a prison inspector and a lawyer – and passed $2.5 million in fake bills – all before he was 21 years old.  In the movie, the pursuing FBI agent observed that “sometimes it’s easier living the lie.”  I suspect that’s true for many people.

Does your definition of success match where you are in life?  Or do you find it necessary to fake success at your high school reunion?  If you could write your life as a movie script, what changes would you make?

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17 Responses to “Fake Success?”

  1. Sean Says:

    Just don’t go to your high school reunion. You didn’t like any of those people anyway — and they don’t really like you! Problem solved.

  2. DJ Says:

    Dan, honestly, don’t you think even the Bessie Stanley poem holds up an impossible standard? I mean, read it again, carefully. Can anyone ever actually do all that? I think it was intended to paint a contrasting view to purely financial success, but it swings too far the other way, leaving at least one reader discouraged rather than encouraged. Does anyone else have the guts to admit they feel the same way?

  3. DJ Says:

    Here’s the poem for those who didn’t read it in the email newsletter:

    He has achieved success
    who has lived well,
    laughed often, and loved much;
    who has enjoyed the trust of pure women,
    the respect of intelligent men
    and the love of little children;
    who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
    who has left the world better than he found it
    whether by an improved poppy,
    a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
    who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty
    or failed to express it;
    who has always looked for the best in others
    and given them the best he had;
    whose life was an inspiration;
    whose memory a benediction.
    1905 by Bessie A. Stanley

  4. Brian Says:

    At my grandfather’s funeral, the pastor spoke of his success, not in the typical terms of money and position or prestige (he worked almost all his life in a factory), but that he was a faithful christian man, who showed up to church every Sunday, was well-liked, raised two daughters who themselves became christians, was honest as the day was long, etc. I am proud to be his grandson.

  5. Dave Says:

    If I could write my life as a movie script, I wouldn’t change anything up to this point. But I can and will change the ending!!!

  6. Marla Martenson Says:

    Oh boy, if I had to write my life as a script, I would change a lot! But I like where I am now and what I am doing. It goes back to that old saying, if I only knew what I know now when I was young. No need to fret about the past, be “right” where you are and know that there is always a second chance for everything.

  7. therealmotherlode Says:

    DJ- Sorry guy… can’t commiserate with you. I found the poem very encouraging. I didn’t consider the things she listed as a “to do” checklist, rather, like you pointed out….a contrast to the things our culture deems important. I’m a stay at home mom and have achieved squat as far as worldly successes but I feel I am one of the richest humans on the planet.

    Now about Mr. Fake….Geesh. I just don’t get it. Never “got it” in High School and still don’t get it. My transparency has gotten me in trouble at times but I’ll take that any day over phony baloney game playing.

  8. maryb Says:

    When my husband died over 2 years ago, over 900 people (by counts of the funeral home) came to the visitation, and the church in our little town was packed for the funeral. He was a laborer for the state, and always had a 2nd job, as did I. So, we weren’t rich or “successful” in worldly terms. But my husband always had a kind word for others, helped wherever he could and was an example of community and church service to others. He had the respect of many, and many more called him “friend.” In my eyes he was more successful than most.

  9. RH Says:

    It is very sad that a person would impersonate a soldier and make it look like he had won several awards. It is also very sad that one of his classmates would show his lack of Christian love for this person who is obviously hurting very much and launch a government investigation. What a tremendous waste of taxpayer money for such a senseless act committed by someone you went to school with.

    Wouldn’t it have been better to first approach this person, tell him that you know he is not all he is claiming to be, and then ask for him to admit to his classmates that he had done a terrible thing? Or even offer to have him meet with a pastor to discuss his actions and confess his sin to God instead of embarrassing him in front of the entire world. Perhaps the classmate should have first removed the log from his eye before very painfully removing the splinter from his classmate’s eye.

  10. kay Says:

    I have to agree that a federal investigation was taking it way too far. I mean seriously was the reunion that miserable that he had to focus so in depth to where he reports his ex classmate? or does he just take his job that seriously? WOW! Personally, I was not happy with where my life was when it was time for my 10 year reunion but since I don’t fake my life, I just didn’t go. If you have to put that much effort into portraying someone that your not. Don’t go and spend your time reevaluting how you can change that.

  11. Lyndon Says:

    One thing we forget in a country of achievement, is the pressure that exposes out frailties. This poor guy no doubt felt worthless and wanted to be a “somebody”. What if, he was the town’s poor kid who was always told he would amount to nothing. Even respectability as a bank teller would seem worthless. Guy needs treatment and compassion, not criticism or jail. Not a popular answer but, who is really above reproach? Dig down deep, or maybe even just below the surface, bet you will find you too have made such indiscretions.

  12. Richard Kruse Says:

    I measure my success on the number of people that I know and have helped out in some small way. If I make someone happy, even for a little while, I am successful. Although it doesn’t bring me wealth, maybe one day it will.

  13. Jeff Says:

    DJ, I did find the poem encouraging. If you view it as “therealmotherloade” stated it becomes options that don’t require money and are often more lasting than most of what one can do with money. No matter what your status or income you can spend time with a child and earn their love forever. No matter your role in life you can laugh and make others laugh, which makes life so much more pleasurable, etc., etc.

    I think the discouragement comes when you view the list as a must accomplish everything right now kind of mentality. If you just look at one or two of those items and work on them in the present and later pick up other items it isn’t so daunting. Everyone has time to volunteer and do things that could impact others for next to nothing on the monetary level, but our society fills most of their time with fruitless activities such as hours and hours of TV.

    Anyway, yeah, I did find it encouraging, and it also prompts me to look at my life and figure out where I can improve. However, DJ, I respect you for honestly speaking your true feelings.

  14. Drew Says:

    It is sad that people are so worried about what others think of them that they would lie to gain respect. We all have gained success in our own ways. If this guy would just stop worrying about what others think and follow whatever he is passionate about, he would have his own success to be proud of.

  15. Barbara Reiter Says:

    I find the poem encouraging and it is just another reminder of all that I desire for the second half of my life!!! I am moving forward and striving to make strategic choices to improve my life and am determined to have a wonderful legacy to pass on to my beautiful son! I feel for those people that allow themselves to be pressured into pretending….. We have one life on earth and we might as well spend our energy on learning about and developing ourselves and being the best we can possibly be and then using our God-given gifts to help others!!!!

  16. david Says:

    What he did is a crime? Where does it stop? My neighbor stated the flag he flies at American holidays was on his gunboat in Vietman , wher he was wounded. Comes to find out he was never in the military, much less Vietman.

    Another guy I was in the National Guard with claims to have been within shooting distance of Assar Arafat.

    I guess my point that being a liar should not be a crime. I agree with RH. It was a waste of taxpayer money. I know a guy serving time for rolling back an odometer , yet we let rapists and drug dealers go for lack of prison space. Now thats a crime.

  17. Self esteem and faking success. - Friday's Financial News! - Love More. Live Better. A Southern Couple's Guide to Successful Living Says:

    […] I’m using a blog post from a man I respect very much…Dan Miller.  The post is titled Fake Success?, and it centers on a man who went to his high school reunion pretending to be a Naval […]

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