Opinion Reader Contributed

The Measure of Success: Advice for West Hartford Students

Submitted photo

An essay by James Johnson, Conard ’60.

By James A. Johnson

“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions, I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot … and missed. And I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why … I succeed.” –Michael Jordan

What is success? How do we define and measure it? Societal success and personal success are not the same in America. When you measure a person, you should take into consideration the roads, valleys, hurdles and other obstacles that he or she has to deal with or overcome. From the moment of birth, life presents a constant challenge to everyone.

Society often unfairly determines who makes it and who does not. Success is not a simple function of individual merit. Opportunity plays a critical role in success. Success is the result of what some sociologist call accumulative advantage. Passion, innate talent and hard work are not the only ingredients of success.

There is another element – extraordinary opportunities. For a basketball player it could be do you live near a park, playground or school. In addition, do you have almost unlimited access to these places with a basketball court? Do you live in an environment where your father or neighbor can put up a basketball goal? Can you afford a portable basketball goal?


I believe that success is complex and that it includes family, culture and class. It matters where you were born and to whom you belong. For example, if Peyton Manning at 6’5” was reared in New York City, Indiana, Michigan, or Illinois chances are that he would have been a basketball player rather than a football player. The same could be said of 6’8” Lebron James of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, if he grew up in Beaumont, TX like Bubba Smith of Michigan State and NFL fame.

Keep in mind parents do not knowingly keep important information from their children. However, parents cannot tell their children what they do not know.

For example, informing their children to take Algebra in the ninth grade, Geometry in the 10th grade, Trigonometry in 11th grade and Physics in the senior year. Notwithstanding, those who are high achievers early in life are often given special opportunities. A caring teacher, coach or relative who sees great promise in a young student and provides unusual assistance and guidance.

However, what about the average student in academics and sports? Now this is where passion and hard work can manifest itself.

For these people success is failure turned inside out. A case in point is Pete Rose formerly of the MLB Cincinnati Reds. Early on Pete was nothing more than a slightly above average baseball player. Pete with an intense passion, hard work and an iron will made himself great. Just ask Pete or his teammates.


Society and academia in some middle and high schools make rules that impede success and achievement by creating divisions and categories. For example, Division “A” for the very bright students, Division “B” for bright students, Division “C” for average students and Division “D” for slow learners. We make rules and groupings that frustrate, impede progress and achievement by creating divisions and categories. It engenders low self-esteem. We reward success and refuse to lift others to the top rung. When it comes to a job, the employer wants to know if it is the Ivy League or state university. All too often character, personality, creativity, and being a team player are secondary.

Back in the day, if you scored 650 out of 700 on the LSAT exam you could gain admission to many elite law schools. For example, during my time and even before Bill and Hillary, I can tell you that more than 80 percent of Harvard Law School students were rejected at Yale. I know these facts because I was raised and educated in the Cradle of Intellectual America. If that does not satisfy you, ask your Harvard Law School friends, classmates or partners: Were you accepted to Yale Law School? In America where you went to law school and your ranking is directly related to your professional opportunities with few exceptions.


The majority of people quit at the first sign of adversity. Success is given to those who have the courage to forge ahead in the face of failure. They are inspired with a greater effort. In the words of Muhammad Ali, “It is not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up.” Ali personifies the power of persistence.

Everyone has experienced some kind of emotional pain, disappointment or just plain bad luck. The loss of a loved one, death of a parent, child or sibling. Also divorce or loss of a job are extremely painful. But, it is how you deal or react with adversity that will determine who you are or will become. The following are a few words of guidance in the time of adversity.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can change and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Take the advice of Calvin Coolidge the 30th President of the United States:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Keep in mind that you may not be able to control the events in your life that happen to you – but you can decide not to be reduced by them.


Faith is a state of mind and can be acquired and developed by positive thinking. Faith gives life, power, and action to the impulse of thought. It is the cornerstone of success because with every failure there exist an equivalent benefit. Persistence of purpose is an essential factor to success and there is no substitute for it.

When things go wrong as they sometimes do and the road your trudging seems all up hill – rest if you must but do not quit. Faith and persistence combined are powerful components to accomplish goals.

For those who have cultivated the habit of persistence enjoy insurance against failure. One must go forward after defeat and keep on trying. When an individual establishes definiteness of purpose coupled with persistence he or she is well on the way to achieving goals. They have developed an iron will to succeed.

Life presents constant challenges to everyone. No one is immune to failure. The key is how you react to failure.

How we feel about ourselves is the key to success or failure. Self-image is the all-encompassing concept of the kind of person we see ourselves. Self-image is the foundation upon which one’s personality and character are developed. A leader is never subdued by failure because he or she realizes that success is failure turned inside out.

The British poet, William E. Henley said it best in his poem:


Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Dr. Sandra Johnson, chairperson of the State Board of Psychology. Submitted photo

You are probably asking yourself what is this writer trying to tell me. The answer is: You are unique and capable of great accomplishments. Not necessarily to discover an invention to patent or to become a millionaire, but to truly discover your abilities and worth. This is the reason I share information with you. To help you achieve your goals in life. How you feel about yourself affects virtually every aspect of your life.

Frequently I have been asked how I got to be James A. Johnson, Esq. My father has the same name. My mother was an educator with a master’s degree. Two of my older sisters earned Ph.D degrees at the University of Michigan. The girl in the picture at right is my sister who graduated from Sedgwick, Conard and the University of Saint Joseph (Master’s Degree) in West Hartford. She was voted “Most Friendliest” in her class at Conard. Obviously, I had supreme guidance in my educational journey. Moreover, I have relatives who graduated with professional degrees from Harvard, Yale, Fordham and UCLA.

As an interesting aside U. S. News and World Report in 2017 ranked Conard the sixth Best High School in Connecticut. Conard ranked 450 nationally out of 22,000. The only reason Hall was not ranked in 2017 is because of some quirk. Keep in mind that Hall is an outstanding high school and in past years ranked slightly higher than Conard.

I believe in Maya Angelou’s philosophy and strongly suggest that you do the same: “You should not go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.” This is why I share information with you. Success in life is a journey and not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.

About the Author

James A. Johnson, B.S., M.A., JD is an accomplished trial lawyer and listed in Michigan Top Lawyers. Johnson concentrates on serious Personal Injury, Insurance Coverage, Sports & Entertainment Law, and Federal Crimes. He is an active member of the Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas and Federal Court Bars. Johnson can reached at www.JamesAJohnsonESq.com.

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1 Comment

  • , you were in my class at Conard, and well-liked, as well as respected for your achievements on the basketball court. As for me, a girl, that was not a dream I pursued. Nevertheless, I enjoyed attending the games and cheering on our team! Until we celebrated our 25th class reunion, I was unaware of your academic success. This article should serve to inspire young people to realize that they can attain their life goals with patience and persistence. I do remember your sister, Sandy with her friendly smile. I know she is deceased, but clearly did well in life.

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