Everyone wants to be successful at something. Some people want to be a success at everything. Maybe it’s a hidden drive. Maybe it’s an unfulfilled desire. Or maybe it’s just an empty pipe dream.
But before you can be a success, you need to define what that means. You can’t hit a target you can’t see.
You see a guy in an expensive sports car pull up in front of his mansion. He steps out wearing a tailor-made suit, and an upscale watch. You observe in envy as he walks through the front door. Is that what you want? Is he successful?
Or is he somebody in debt up to his eyeballs, waiting for the repo man and his house to go into foreclosure?
You see, it’s not enough just to come up with some vague definition of success, but what does success mean to you?
Money? Maybe you never have enough, but would more make you successful? Do you have a loving family and friends that genuinely care about you? I can tell you there are a lot more people that have money than have what you have. And many of them aren’t as happy as you are.
I remember one time my wife talked about winning the lottery. We were pretty much living week to week at that time. Over the next few days, I thought about it. We weren’t poor, but we certainly weren’t rich. But we were happy. Those were some of the happiest times of our lives. We had a close family and a lot of friends. For the most part, we did what we wanted and enjoyed every minute of it.
So, one day when she brought up the lottery, I told her I wanted to ask her two questions. I told her I didn’t want her to answer them, but just to think about them. First, are you happy? Second, would winning the lottery change our lives?
How could winning a considerable lottery not make you happy? Have you ever followed the stories of lottery winners? It usually doesn’t end well. My point was that if you are happy, why are you wasting effort seeking some massive change in your life? Isn’t it just possible that the change also changes the happiness? Why risk that?
I guess the point of all this is, before you can achieve success, you have to define it. Maybe, if you think about it, you are already successful.
Many of us never become successful. Partly because we never clearly define success, but also because we keep moving the goal. Think about playing football, American or soccer; it doesn’t matter. Because every time your team gets close to the goal, they move it back fifty yards. Or meters. Or cubits. It doesn’t matter. You can’t score because you can’t hit a moving target.
Another thing I see often is a definition of success that’s unattainable. This is a guaranteed recipe for failure. You may think it’s motivation, especially if you are setting goals for other people. Like defining success for your sales teams, but the goal is something they can’t possibly achieve. Motivating? Nope, just the opposite.
I remember a scene from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. Alec Baldwin played the new boss. He gave his sales team, who had been coasting along resting on their laurels, a new sales goal that was ridiculously hard to meet. But there were rewards for reaching the goal. First prize: A new Cadillac. Second price: A set of steak knives. Third prize: You’re fired.
Needless to say, they weren’t motivated.
And you can do this to yourself as well. I’m currently trying to lose weight. I want to lose ten pounds. No time frame. Just an attainable goal with no pressure. An easy win. An easy success. And when I meet that goal, first, I’ll celebrate. And then, I’ll set a new goal.
But what I won’t do is decide I want to lose fifty pounds in a month. It’s not going to happen no matter how many poorly photographed before and after pictures you see. That’s not a definition of success; it’s a definition of failure.
I’ll leave you with a story of one of the most successful families I ever met. I was probably around fourteen years old. It was in the summer. I know this because I remember I was barefoot. When I was a kid, I went barefoot everywhere if the weather permitted.
I’m probably the reason they started putting those signs in the doors of restaurants.
Anyway, a friend of mine wanted me to come home and meet his family. I had never heard of such a thing. Most kids didn’t even admit they had a family, much less want you to meet them. It wasn’t that I was ashamed of my family, but boys my age were fiercely independent. I was neither ashamed nor proud; they were who they were. It’s all I knew.
I hadn’t lived enough to understand status, either good or bad. I lived my whole life in a little ranch house that would be kindly described as a bungalow in today’s market. But it was home. Kids came over to play, and I went to their house to play. We all lived in the same neighborhood in cookie-cutter houses with cookie-cutter parents.
I suppose in the scheme of things we were probably lower middle class. Whatever the hell that means. I didn’t know any impoverished people, and the only wealthy people I was familiar with were the Clampetts. And they seemed like friendly folks.
But he was a good friend, and he was very earnest about it, so, one day, I followed him figuratively and literally to the other side of the tracks. I knew as soon as I got there that this was what poor looked like. My house was small — this one was barely the size of our living room. He took me inside and, with great pride, introduced me to his mother and father.
His mom wanted me to stay for dinner, but being home at night was the price I paid for being able to roam free all day.
He introduced me as his friend with the same measure of pride. I had never met anyone that made me feel that way before. I was somehow special just for being his friend. I could see the love in that family as they talked to me and asked where I lived and what kind of sports I enjoyed. I don’t think I’d ever had a conversation like that with any adults. I didn’t really know of or understand the concept of success at that age, but I knew I liked what I saw and wanted to have that someday. This was a successful family.
With regret at missing a terrific smelling meal, I said my goodbyes and headed home. Before I reached the street, the father came out and stopped me. He quietly walked up and said, “these are for you.” Then, from behind is back, he brought out an old scuffed pair of shoes. “You should have some shoes; these are for you. Please take them.”
I was frozen with a combination of awe and respect. And I was torn between humbly accepting his gift and trying to decline without offending him. I tried my best to explain that I went barefoot out of choice, but I could tell he didn’t believe me. He finally let me go with the promise that I could change my mind at any time, and the shoes were mine.
I don’t remember the friend’s name, but I will never forget his family.
Succesful in every way that matters.