Earned Success in the WSJ

My op-ed in this morning’s Wall Street Journal tells a bit more about why I care so deeply for America’s free enterprise system.

“At age 19, I dropped out of school to pursue a career as a French horn player. After a few twists and turns, I wound up in the Barcelona Symphony, which was a Spanish government job.

Even as a foreigner, I had the same lifetime work status as a clerk at the water department. Nobody ever left these jobs, except with lavish disability packages. (One colleague who injured his lips moonlighting at a dance-hall gig ended up spending the next 20 years collecting a full salary to stay home.)”

It goes on to tell how, despite family objections, my Spanish speaking wife and I moved back to America to try our luck on a different path. Everyone thought we were crazy, and at first times were hard. But the beauty of American free enterprise is that the truly dedicated can make it through the ups and downs to earn their success. And only earned success brings true happiness.

Earned success means defining your future as you see fit and achieving that success on the basis of merit and hard work. It allows you to measure your life’s ‘profit’ however you want, be it in money, making beautiful music, or helping people learn English. Earned success is at the root of American exceptionalism.

The link between earned success and life satisfaction is well established by researchers. The University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, for example, reveals that people who say they feel ‘very successful’ or ‘completely successful’ in their work lives are twice as likely to say they are very happy than people who feel ‘somewhat successful.’ It doesn’t matter if they earn more or less income; the differences persist.”


Arthur Brooks