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?