I've been thinking about a comment I left for Nap Queen on her blog about worrying about issues of aging, and I realized that what we were really talking about is being successful in our lives. "Success" is a relative term, I think. If working at McDonalds makes one happy, then I think that is success. If a person has tons of money her life isn't necessarily a "success" if she doesn't feel good or comfortable about what her life has represented.
It took me a little while, but I found the following quote: "You and I want our lives to matter. We want our lives to make a real difference-- to be of genuine consequence in the world. We know that there is no satisfaction in merely going through the motions, even if those motions make us successful, or even if we have arranged to make those motions pleasant. We want to know we have made some impact on the world. In fact, you and I want to contribute to the quality of life. We want to make the world work." -- Werner Erhard
Most of the time I feel my life accomplishments are something of which I can hold up for examination and be confident that my fellow travelers will deem worthy. These deeds might not be of the ilk that are even in the shadows of the Nobel Prize, even vaguely in a plane with "The Grapes Of Wrath," or will never earn me a red carpet, but I think I can say that I've left behind me some remarkable treasures: some lovely children and grandchildren of whom I am immensely proud, and on whose lives I've had some certain impact; a career in which my influence has changed for the better the lives of clients; family and friends that have been able to laugh with me or have shared a difficult stint together with me and we are both better for the experience.
So, if you find me working at McDonalds, don't assume the worst. If I'm smiling, I'm happy. And when I'm happy, I think the world is better. Making just one other person smile might be as rewarding, maybe more so, than the big showy accolades. That is "success."