I was asked to see a young man who had tried to commit suicide and failed. He lamented the fact that he couldn’t even succeed at killing himself. A young lady jumped off the roof of her house in an attempt to “end it all.” She succeeded in paralyzing her body from the waist down but failed in her bid to “end it all.” The man was the CEO of a prestigious American company: but lamented over the fact that his corporate success was overshadowed by a wife who wanted a divorce, a daughter who “hated his guts” and a son who had attempted suicide.
I could keep telling you depressing stories of people whose outward success was a cover for deep inner failure. They all lead to the title of this article—What Is Success?
In answering our question, I want to suggest five lies that distort our definition.
Lie # One: Success is money
The success of a person cannot not be measured by the value of what they possess. Personally, I have never seen a moving van directly behind a hearse. We brought nothing into the world and we take nothing with us when we die. No matter how much we possess there is always something more that we think we need. The accumulation of wealth usually increases the accumulation of worry. The lowest paid person in North America has more wealth than over 80% of the world’s population. How much is enough? It’s always a little more.
Lie # Two: Success is fame.
Joe Smith was bragging to his friend about the rich and famous people he knew and to prove his point flew his friend in his private jet to meet President Trump and then Queen Elizabeth. The final ace in his hand was a personal audience with the Pope. So, off to the Vatican they flew. Joe told his friend that he would have to wait in the public square but he motioned to the balcony and said he and Pope would be appearing there. He said he would be standing on the right side of the Pope. The moment came – the crowds gathered and the Pope appeared with Joe Smith standing to his right. The skeptical friend turned to the person beside him and said, “Is that the Pope?” The man replied, “I don’t know but the guy to the right is Joe Smith.” Fame is but a fading star in a universe of anonymity.
Lie # Three: Success is power
It is reported that Alexander the Great was crying when he lamented, “There are no more worlds for me to conquer.” Power may allow you to dominate and crush but it leaves you in the pit of insecurity fearful that a power greater than yours will rise and subdue you. I doubt if very many remember the Caesar that ruled when Christ was crushed under the power of Roman oppression and Religious tyranny. But! Millions on the earth today, honor and revere Jesus Christ who turned the definition of success upside down.
Lie # Four: Success is self-fulfillment
Abraham Maslow gave us his hierarchy of human need. He described them as physiological needs — that is the biological demands for human survival; Safety needs — the need for security, order, law and liberty; Love and belonging needs — giving and receiving affection, intimacy, trust and acceptance; Esteem needs — the result of our achievements, independence and respect from others; Self-actualization need— Exploiting individual potential and pursuing personal growth. Maslow acknowledged that there are very few who reach level five.
Lie # Five: Success is “the look”
We live in a carbon copy society where “the look” has swallowed up individuality. The clothing industry makes billions from people pursing “the look.” Cosmetic surgeons laugh all the way to the bank as people try to transform their body to match “the look.” What you put on the outside does nothing to inherently change the value of what you are on the inside.
So, Duane, what is success? I’m running out of space and I thought you would never ask. I can distill 79 years of observation into two things: Success is in our successors; and Success is leaving my place in better condition than when I found it.
Success is not in how many I conquer, exploit or walk over to achieve my goals. That person is successful who invests their life in equipping others to help them achieve their goals. It is not how hard and fast I run but have I equipped others to take the baton and run further than me. My pyramid of success is built on the foundation of those who have invested in me, and it gains height by transferring to others what has been given to me.
Success is my determination to leave my place in better condition than when I found it. I show my respect and honor for people by how I steward what belongs to them. The successful person says no to the attitude, it’s not mine so why should I care. I may have a beautiful manicured yard, but my success is measured in how I beautify the world of my life. Do I sharpen the chainsaw I borrowed, fill the friends vehicle with gas, wash out the borrowed wheel barrow, and the list goes on. Success is my ability to exemplify care and consideration for others. It is the value I place on you and yours not me and mine.
Success that is measured by position, possessions or power is transitory and temporal. Success that is transferred to others and translated into care, just keeps on giving. I’ll meet you at the top.