[Re]Defining Success

Dear Jack,

I’m a huge reader and believer in self improvement, if you haven’t picked that up already.  And one of the words commonly used, by just about everyone, is “success.”  We read about how to get success, how to become successful, how to attract success  – and we seem to have skimmed over asking what success even means.

Furthermore, we  are quick to label others “successful” in their respective careers, lives, and ambitions, but we seem to be using a metric that no one has clearly defined.  What does success mean?  And if we can put a definition on it, then what metrics can we use to determine if someone is successful?  I think we can all agree that the success of a Fortune 500 CEO, the success of a pastor, the success of a stay-at-home mom, and the success of a not-for-profit 501(c)3 business development rep can’t all be treated the same.

Maybe the best place to start is by stating what success is commonly defined as.  This includes the obvious: wealth and material goods.  It’s easy and commonplace to look at the car someone drives to snap a quick judgment of the level of success they’ve experienced so far in life.  Beater with missing hubcaps: dude on the first step of the ladder struggling to put food on the table.  Newish Honda accord: she’s climbed the hill and working on the mountain.  Brand new silver Caddy: the man is made.  *Gasp* Oh boy, did he just look at me?!  Similar story when visiting someone’s home, or talking about how much money they make.  Caddies, McMansions, and 35% marginal tax on income equals success – so says our culture.

Another common way of measuring success is the level of fame.  Having a lot of people know you, either on a local or global scope, seems to make the public deem others successful.  Hollywood stars, elected officials, authors, and athletes alike are collectively defined as successful because their faces are recognized by the majority of a population.  An easily identifiable face equals success – so says our culture.

And one more common metric used to determine success: job title.  People are impressed when the see CEO, owner, president, and other prestigious titles on a business card.  The title, however difficult or easily achieved it was, is deemed as something worthy of praise.  What your business card says about you determines if you’re successful – so says our culture.

I’m not saying wealth, fame, or job titles don’t make people successful – I’m just asking one question:

What does?

Honestly, I think to get at the heart of the matter we have to redefine the measurement of success as something that is individually unique.  Success is going to vary from person to person – and the only uniform way of measuring the success is going to be looking at the accomplishment of their unique goals and callings.  It’s tough, impossible I’d argue, to compare inches, pounds, and gallons.  There’s no common denominator.  The goals of each person are going to be as varied as the various metrics of measurement we use in the English measurement system.

Lydia’s level of success  as a stay at home mom can’t be measured the same way as Warren Buffet’s level of success as the leader of Berkshire Hathaway.  Just the same as President Obama’s success can’t be measured the same was as my success as a financial planner.  The metrics just aren’t the same.

If Apple co-founder Steve Woziak is viewed as successful because he helped launch a mega-company and create some radical new products, but lost a wife through divorce in the process – and he mourns the divorce more than he celebrates the company, who are we to say he’s successful?  That may be an insult to him.  (I have no idea his opinion on this, it’s just for example sake).

And so I find it interesting when a speaker is introduced as being a “successful” individual.  It’s not that I’m just calling into question whether s/he is successful – I’m just curious to know if the introducer took the time to figure why s/he is successful.  Did they meet their unique goals with their unique talents?  What price was paid in order to accomplish those goals?  Is the net result considered a success?

I ask these questions, Jack, because I want you to wrestle with them – and when its time for you to consider what it is you want to do with your own life, I want you to look within to define those metrics of your success, and not look outward.  Figure out what your own unique goals are, and then you, and only those who you choose to share your goals with, will be able to determine your success.  Till next time, Jack.



4 thoughts on “[Re]Defining Success”

  1. This question of what success is gets even more complicated when you ask it in the context of the Kingdom of God. That’s certain to turn the world’s definition on its head!

  2. Very, very true, Paul. I originally had that grafted in … but thought the blog was long enough as is.

    Jesus certainly does some redefining of His own in Matthew 5.

  3. Tragically, who has the time to calculate my “own unique goals”? Success will never be found because the goal was never set; instead, we rush pell-mell (or headlong, I can’t decide which word I like better) from one activity, function, or emergency to the next, breathlessly chasing undefined success while the applecart is falling apart. When we finally reach those moments of collapse, it is almost refreshing to catch our breath. But will the moment pass, or will the unexamined life become examined? Just make sure your using the best mirror possible, Jack! 😉

    1. I’d argue that we all NEED to make time to create those unique goals. I’m a firm believer in those that say “I don’t have time” are really saying “I’m choosing not to make time” for certain events.

      “Chasing undefined success while the applecart is falling apart” is a great word picture, Tim. I love it.

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