ICS Magazine

The Slippery Subject of Success

January 15, 2004


"I keep six honest serving men (they taught me all I know). Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who."
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Here's a riddle for you: What is universally wanted but with almost complete ignorance of how to achieve it and, even after having attained it, many don't know how to recognize it or benefit from it?

Answer: Success in life!

One dictionary definition of "success" is "the attainment of wealth, favor or eminence." I would never argue with Mr. Webster. But can't we all agree that no sane definition of success should ever be based on:

The number of truckmounts or employees in your company. I know of many multi-truck operations that constantly operate in "crisis mode" and lose money on a regular basis. Even worse, both the owner and his employees hate their jobs and their lives. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of these company's customers never do business with the firm a second time. Doesn't sound too successful to me.

Your monthly income or your net worth. Do we really need to flog this one? Some of the most miserably unhappy people in the world are also among its wealthiest.

The size of your home, model of your vehicles, brand of your shoes or how many expensive toys you own. Almost 2,000 years ago a man said, "Even when a person has an abundance his life does not result from the things he possesses." (Luke 12:15).

Popularity and respect in the community. Closer, but still no cigar. We've all seen how fickle public opinion can be. Most folks have their own private agenda and will use you just as long as you fit in with what they want...and then drop you like a hot hose fitting!

Let's look at an alternate definition of success from the same dictionary: "a favorable termination of a venture." What greater venture could you possibly embark on than "a life well lived"? Success is both a tricky subject and a moving target. But here I go with some thoughts on a one-size-fits-all definition of success as a three-stage process:

Stage I: Building Toward Success- This early phase focuses on building the wealth and forming the relationships that will eventually bring you the financial and emotional freedom you crave. Then you will be able to live the rest of your life in exactly the manner you wish to.

Now that is a great definition of success. (NOTE: At the same time you are in this "growth" stage you must balance the inevitably brutal, yet for most entrepreneurs exciting, game of building a business against something far more important. Remember, your family's growth and welfare requires a lot of quality time and attention.)

Stage II: Enjoying Your Success- Once you have the financial freedom to live your life as you wish (which may mean continuing exactly as you are) what do you want to do? This is a lot tougher question than it appears at first glance and one I am actively engaged in on a daily basis.

I find the reason that many people continue in a life they don't really care for is because of a simple but deadly emotion: fear. Sometimes the disliked routine is a lot more comfortable than an unknown and different future. The biggest reason people feel chained to and enslaved by their current life is looking at them in the mirror every morning.

Most folks are experts at avoiding what I call the Tough Questions (with recognition to Rudyard Kipling): What should I do with my life? Why am I here? When am I going to accomplish my goals? How am I going to do all this? Where do I want to go? And maybe the toughest question of all: Who the heck am I?

Stage III: Final Success? - Sorry to mention this disagreeable subject but "success with a question mark" comes at your death. That is right. Our final success is measured by how many people will genuinely mourn our passing. Remember, we grade success by having your life course imitated and carried on by others. You get into the higher numbers by how much you have given of yourself to help others over your lifetime and how much of "you" is carried on in the lives and actions of others.

Perhaps that is the best definition of success.