As 2014 comes to a close and we prepare to turn the page on the calendar, it's inevitable that you'll think about success. Was it a successful year? Do you feel as though you accomplished what you wanted? Where did you fall short? And perhaps most importantly, how can you make 2015 even more successful?
Some of those answers, of course, depend on how you define success. Like many, I grew up equating money and power with success, and for a time, that framed my definition. But as I've matured, that has changed. You see, success is a very personal thing. What drives one entrepreneur may be radically different for another. And understanding how others measure success can help you better understand your own definition.
For me, it's "Success is spending the majority of my time focused on work or tasks that are fulfilling, leveraging my Zone of Genius, maximizing my potential and helping other people in a meaningful way while providing the freedom, lifestyle and experiences that I desire"
As we bid farewell to another year, I've been pondering these questions too. So I approached a number of "successful" people. Most of them are CEOs or run organizations that they started. (I even included my parents!) By most people's standards, they are successful. What, then, are their definitions of success? I hope these responses inspire you to think about your own version of success. The one constant I found? We all long for daily joy and fulfillment in our work and beyond.
"To find and fully live your purpose in life, and to leave an enduring legacy of having made a difference in the world."
-- Ron Cordes, founder of the Cordes Foundation
"Success is not having to describe what's been accomplished....others do it for you"
-- Deborah Hopkins, Chief Innovation Officer of Citibank
"I define success as living my true purpose and having a positive impact on the lives of people by uplifting them and inspiring them to think and act in ways that they may not have considered before."
-- Raj Sisodia, co-founder of Conscious Capitalism and professor at Babson College
"The purpose of our lives is to contribute our unique, God-given gifts to have an extraordinary positive impact on the lives of others and the world."
-- David Kidder, CEO of Bionic
"Success, for me, has always been in providing a great quality of life for my family, for those who work for me, and to my community."
-- Jeremy Young CEO of Tanga
"My definition of success is knowing that what you are doing is helping you and others lead a better, happier, healthier life."
-- Kara Goldin, CEO of Hint Water
"To me, success means creating a business that empowers customers, employees, and community in equal measure. We want to add positive value to people's lives, from a personal and professional standpoint."
-- Dan Kurzius, co-founder and COO of Mailchimp
"Success is looking back at your life, when you are in your final moments, and possessing a great amount of pride around your creations, accomplishments, and legacy, while possessing little to no regret about what you did not do and missed opportunities (i.e. your family still loves you). If I can die feeling this way, I believe this is success."
-- Seth Besmertnik, CEO of Conductor
"I feel that my life is successful if I can live each day with a positive outlook, have a feeling of contentment with my circumstances, have balance in all the important areas of my life, and have the time and resources to pursue what I am passionate about."
-- Marcia Becker, PhD, senior director of Adult Rehabilitative and Rural Services (my mom)
"I define success as having a job that you enjoy and enables you financially, a spouse and family that loves and cares for you, children that make you proud by who they are and what they do, having the freedom to worship a loving God, and being able to contribute to the betterment of your fellow man. I am so blessed!"
-- E.N Garnett Jr., Certified Crop Advisor, Southern States (my dad)
Success: The Myth
by Feross Aboukhadijeh, 11th grade
Do you know someone rich and famous? Is he confident, popular, and joyful all of the time—the epitome of mainstream success? Or, on the other hand, is he stressed, having second thoughts about his life choices, and unsure about the meaning of his life? I am willing to be that it is the second one. Mainstream marketing and media have effectively brainwashed our society into accepting a false, even potentially dangerous definition of success. Marketers want us to believe that having lots of money, living in a big house, and owning all of the latest cars, fashions, and technology is the key to happiness, and hence, success. This overstated, falsely advertised myth is hardly ever the case in real life. True success requires respect, appreciation, integrity, and patience—all of which are traits that by human nature are genuinely difficult to attain—especially in the face of modern marketers who relentlessly deceive us, control our thoughts, and usurp our independence in order to increase their bottom line.
Marketers want us to believe that living a selfish life, involving nothing but the pursuit of money and fame will bring success and happiness. Sadly, this is not true. Money is comparable to the often-mentioned new toy—fun while it is brand new and fresh, but terribly boring and unexciting after a few hours of play. Though money can buy conveniences and comforts, one needs much more than superficial luxuries to live a successful, well-balanced life. Money does make life easier—but it does not necessarily make it better. For example, money can not make one knowledgeable or wise – that only comes with hard work and committed study. And money can not help one forge a long-term relationship with husband or wife – that only comes through love, commitment, and sacrifice. All the money in the world cannot teach respect or courtesy – that only comes with a good up-bringing and a strong concern for the feelings of others. Can money give one the gift of patience or leadership or appreciation or courage or friendship or even generosity? I don’t think so. All of these traits—knowledge, wisdom, love, respect, patience—are essential aspects of a successful person’s life. Money can not assist in the attainment of any of these vital traits! Money merely detracts from the pursuit of success by providing distraction, temptation, and corruption. Therefore the marketer’s illegitimate claim that money is tantamount to success can be easily disproved. There is no elevator to success – you have to take the stairs.
Similarly, popularity and fame are hardly ever synonymous with success. Mind-numbing advertisements that are incessantly flaunted to Americans have become ingrained into memory and habit, altering the accepted definition of success into something shame-worthy. “Success” has been sadly commercialized to represent fame and popularity. Ironically, the most well-liked and popular people often have less confidence, talent, and freedom than those who choose to follow the compass of their hearts instead of the mainstream culture. In the words of Tony Long, a journalist for Wired News, “What is a hipster, after all, other than a successful slave to the dictates of the pop culture police?” A “hipster” is merely a mindless conformist locked in a hopeless struggle to keep up with the current fads. This commercialized vision of success has already extinguished the originality in most Americans and turned us into a nation of allegorical sheep. Contrary to the popular myth, money does not buy happiness or make a successful person.
When a person allows his mind to be restrained by mainstream television, magazines, and the internet, becoming successful is an impossible task. Fortunately, there is a way to stop this disgraceful masquerade before all Americans end up deprived of their wool—or worse—sent to the slaughterhouse. In order to return to the traditional definition of success, Americans must cast off the lifestyle that they have been force-fed and build a better one! Rather than using money and popularity as the method to achieve the ever-so elusive success, Americans should seek simpler, more effective solutions that might not be obvious at first glance. Ralph Waldo Emerson gave priceless insight when he wrote:
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
Emerson’s quote provides a paradigm of success—a model to be admired and strived for. Emerson teaches that learning to appreciate the subtleties in life can make it that much more enjoyable and interesting. In addition, volunteering time and energy to good causes, like helping the community, not only benefits others, but brings happiness and satisfaction. Furthermore, learning how to act respectably and admirably in difficult situations can make life smoother by helping to avoid unnecessary conflicts and spark lifelong friendships. Moreover, learning patience and developing leadership skills can help one to gain a better understanding of life, make well-informed decisions, and form healthy opinions – all of which are essential to becoming a successful person. In the words of Bill FitzPatrick, founder of the American Success Institute, a successful person is “strong when toughness is required and, at the same time, patient when understanding is needed.”It is this kind of sound judgment and reasoning that sets the exceptionally successful people apart from the mediocre.
At this point, a reader may be thinking “Wow! It takes all that to be truly successful? Maybe I’m not meant to be successful.” or “This ‘success’ thing is just too much work. Is it worth it?” Well, to answer these questions in brief: yes. It is not easy to become successful and hardly anyone is truly successful – but it is a noble goal to strive for. Just like everything else in life, becoming successful takes practice; no one becomes a success overnight. With courage and hope our society can forget the marketer’s inadequate definition of success and work to attain true success by modeling respect, appreciation, integrity, and patience – the keys to happiness and success.
FitzPatrick, Bill. "Action Principles." Success.org. American Success Institute. 12 Dec 2006 <http://www.success.org/>.
Long, Tony. "You Say You Want a Revolution?" [Podcast entry] The Luddite. 06 July 2006. Wired.com. 12 Dec 2006 <http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,71096-0.html>.
Waldo, Ralph Waldo. "Philosophy of Teaching." UW. 12 Dec 2006 <http://depts.washington.edu/ctltstaf/example_portfolios/williams/pages/88252.html>.
Aboukhadijeh, Feross. "Sample Definition Essay - "Success"" StudyNotes.org. Study Notes, LLC., 17 Nov. 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2018. <https://www.apstudynotes.org/english/sample-essays/definition-success/>.