What is Success?

My wife and I went to see a movie with some friends last week and as we left the theater the husband of the other couple says, “Well that guy was a complete failure.” I replied that while there could certainly be differing opinions as to his level of success “that guy” was anything but a complete failure. 


Here’s a spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the movie “Hostiles.” It is a different kind of Western about an revered Army Captain (that guy) who is given the mission of escorting a hated and dying Indian Chief and his family, held prisoner for 17 years, from New Mexico to their homeland of Montana to die. 


The Captain is known for his fearlessness in fighting (and killing) scores of Indians. He strongly resists taking on the mission but relents when told his Army pension is at stake. He musters a unit together and along with the Chief, his daughter, his son and daughter-in-law and their young son they head north for Montana. 


To say the least they run into some trouble along the way. First it’s a scalp hunting band of Indians and then a murderous band of white fur trappers. The Captain rescues a woman along the way whose entire family had been killed by renegades but by the time the group reaches Montana all but one of the Captain’s soldiers had been killed. 


But they made it to the Chief’s homeland with all the Indians alive. Along the way the Captain and the Chief have come to respect each other and buried the hatchet. (no pun intended, well, maybe a little)


But the Chief is very sick and dies soon after reaching his tribes land. The Captain and his remaining solider bury the Chief as his family mourns his passing. They have no sooner finished burying the Chief than a man and his three sons ride up and demand that the Indian be removed from “their” land. 


The Captain refuses and a gunfight ensues. The landowner and his three sons are killed but so is the last of the Captain’s unit and all the Indians except the young boy. All that remains of the group is the Captain, the woman rescued early in the trip and the Indian boy. 


So did the Captain fail? He lost all his people so it’s hard to exactly call the whole thing a great success. But his mission was to get the Chief home to die and that mission was successful albeit not without great cost. So I don’t think the Captain could be described as a failure, certainly not a complete failure. 


What do you think? How do you define success? There are many levels to success and the best definition of success is a very individual and personal definition. 


As for me, I believe the Captain successfully completed his mission. He overcome great loss and many obstacles and still completed an assignment he didn’t want in the first place. He persevered and it’s hard for me to call anyone who does that something other than a great success. 

What say you?

9 thoughts on “What is Success?

  1. I really liked that movie. The Captain really kicked ass. The only question is. Did he get on the same train? Go see Lady Bird. It’s almost all about my daughter Sarah lol

  2. I agree with your assessment. The mission was accomplished. I would assume the Captain’s risk assessment before the trip was a consideration. If it was, what mitigation strategies were considered given the operating environment he was to face on this journey? Maybe added resources would have made a difference, maybe not. Was the captain’s assessment shared with his leadership?

    1. They didn’t look at that aspect in the movie, there looked to be a lot of improvising going on. It sure seemed to me that he would have wanted more troops with him, because they knew the risk was huge.

  3. Complete failure only occurs when you stop trying. This Captain cannot be a complete failure. Complete success IS the process of continual effort, assessment and adjustment. Could he have done better? Would different actions have led to better results? If he is pondering questions like these, it is as complete as success can be.

    1. Thanks Bryan, I agree, I think he asked himself those questions and found no answers, others looked up to him and saw him as a success, he doubted himself but by most measures, he was indeed a success.

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