Success is "_____."
How would you fill in the blank?
“That’s easy,” you might say. “Success is... for an athlete, winning the Super Bowl, the World Series, or a gold medal; for an entertainer, winning an Oscar, a Grammy, or an Emmy; for a business person, being a top executive with one of the Fortune 500 companies; for a university student, being elected to Phi Beta Kappa or student government.”
But is it always so easy to define?
Several years ago, Ranier, a German friend of mine, spent three months with me in the U.S. Once, while he was watching his first baseball game on TV, the batter hit the ball out of the park for a home run. The fans went wild! Ranier turned to me with a puzzled look and asked, “Why are they cheering? They’ve lost the ball.” To the hometown fans the batter was a great success. To someone from another culture, the home run was a mystery.
The meaning of success also varies with individuals. One dictionary defines success as “the satisfactory accomplishment of a sought-for goal.” To be successful, you must achieve the goal and be satisfied with the outcome. With this definition one wonders if “success” that does not include personal satisfaction — a sense of well-being — is really true success at all.
Keys to Success
Several factors contribute to success. Consider these four essentials of success:
1. Positive Self-Concept
Imagine that you wake up one morning and your roommate is waiting to tell you something. He or she says, “I’ve been wanting to tell you what an outstanding roommate you are. You’re so kind, so thoughtful; you always keep the room so neat. Just being around you motivates me to be the most positive person I can be.”
After you recover from your cardiac arrest, you head off toward your first class of the day. Whom should you run into but your date of the previous evening, who says, “Am I ever glad I ran into you! I’d been hoping I’d get a chance to tell you again what a terrific time I had yesterday. My friends are so jealous of me. They think that I’m the luckiest person in the world to go out with someone like you, and I agree! You’re so friendly, so intelligent. You have a great sense of humor and good looks to boot! Why, when I’m with you, I feel like I’m in a dream!”
Then you float into your first class. Your professor is about to return the midterm exams you took last week, but before he distributes them he says, “I have an announcement I’d like to make. I want everyone to know what an outstanding job this student has done on this test.”
He points to you in the front row and says, “You are a breath of fresh air to me as a professor. You always do your assignments on time. You often do even more than is expected of you. Why, if every student were like you, teaching would be a joy. I was even considering leaving teaching before you came along!”
Wouldn’t that help you have a great attitude about yourself? And wouldn’t it motivate you to be a better roommate, a better date, a better student? You’d say to yourself, “Why, I’m one sharp person. After all, my roommate, my date, and my prof all think so … and they’re no dummies!” You wouldn’t argue with them for a minute!1
Of course, some people think so highly of themselves that their egos become problems. Nevertheless, many psychologists agree with Dr. Joyce Brothers when she says, ” ... a strong, positive self- image is the best possible preparation for success in life.”2
2. Clearly Defined Goals
Aim at nothing and you’ll surely hit it. Aim at a specific goal and, even if you don’t hit it, chances are you’ll be a lot farther along than if you’d never aimed at all.
The U.S. Space Program has produced many successes and, sadly, a few tragic failures. The successes of NASA help illustrate the importance of goal setting. Perhaps you’ve heard of the three electricians who were working on the Apollo spacecraft. A reporter asked each what he was doing. The first said, “I’m inserting transistors into circuits.” The second answered, “I’m soldering these wires together.” The third explained, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”
Which one was more motivated and satisfied? Probably the one who saw how his activities fit into the overall goal.
Without a clear life’s goal, daily duties can become drudgery. Knowing your life’s goal can increase your motivation and satisfaction as you see how daily activities help accomplish that goal.
In the early 1960’s, President John F. Kennedy set a goal of putting an American on the moon by the end of the decade. In 1969, Neil Armstrong took his “one small step.” A specific goal helped NASA achieve a major milestone in history. Someone who desires success will set specific goals.
3. Hard Work
Any successful athlete knows that there would be no glory on the athletic field without hard work on the practice field. A true test of character is not just how well you perform in front of a crowd, but how hard you work when no one notices - in the office, in the library, in practice. President Calvin Coolidge believed “nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not … Genius will not … Education will not … Persistence, determination, and hard work make the difference.”3
"A true test of character is not just how well you perform in front of a crowd, but how hard you work when no one notices."
“What is success?”* asked former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. *“I think it is a mixture of having a flair for the thing that you are doing … hard work and a certain sense of purpose…. I think I had a flair for … (my work), but natural feelings are never enough. You have got to marry those natural feelings with really hard work.”4
The heavyweight-boxing champion of another era, James J. Corbett, often said, “You become the champion by fighting one more round. When things are tough, you fight one more round.”5
Success requires hard work. Of course you can overdo it and become a workaholic. One workaholic businessman had a sign in his office that read, “Thank God It’s Monday!” We all need to balance work and recreation, but hard work is essential to success.
4. A Willingness to Take Risks
Theodore Roosevelt expressed the value of this asset in one of his most famous statements: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the great twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat... ”6
Ingemar Stenmark, the great Olympic skier, says, “In order to win, you have to risk losing.” Consider this question: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” That question can expand your vision and enlarge your dreams. Maybe your desire is to be a great political leader, an entertainer, a top business person or academician, a star athlete. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
Now ask, “Am I willing to risk a few possible failures in order to achieve that goal?” Success often involves risks.
An Obstacle to Success and Satisfaction
A positive self‑concept, clear goals, hard work, and a willingness to take risks all contribute to success. But there is a major obstacle to experiencing success and satisfaction in life. It's the attitude that achieving a desired goal automatically produces satisfaction.
Pollster and social commentator Daniel Yankelovich quotes a $100,000/year full partner in a public relations firm: "I have achieved success by the definition of others but am not fulfilled. I appear successful ... I have published, lectured, exceeded my income goals, achieved ownership and a lot of people depend on me. So, I've adequately achieved the external goals but they are empty.”7
Dustin Hoffman is an extremely successful movie actor. His film career seems almost dazzling and includes an Oscar for his performance in Kramer vs. Kramer. Yet consider what he says about happiness and satisfaction: "I don't know what happiness is .... life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? I'd strike out happiness .... Walk down the street and look at the faces. When you demand happiness, aren't you asking for something unrealistic?"8
Success in one area does not guarantee satisfaction in life. You can reach all your goals and still not be at peace with yourself. How can you both achieve your goals and be satisfied? And even if you feel a degree of satisfaction, could there be something more?
Successful and Satisfied?
More and more psychologists and psychiatrists are seeing the need to develop the total person – physically, psychologically, and spiritually – to produce real satisfaction. Often in our struggle for success, we focus on physical and psychological development at the expense of the spiritual.
Not long ago a group of counselors spent quite a bit of time in New York City interviewing some of the nation's most successful executives. They interacted with editors of newspapers and magazines, executives with advertising agencies, banks, the TV networks, seeking to understand these leaders' ideas about success.
One question these counselors asked involved the spiritual area: "What place do faith and spiritual values have in your life?" In response, 75% conveyed that spiritual values were "important" or "very important" to both personal and professional development. Remarked one, "If they could be strengthened, a lot of these other things would fall into place."
Yet, surprisingly few of these leaders had clearly defined convictions in the spiritual area. As one radio broadcaster noted with a smile, "I am inspirable, but I can't find anyone to inspire me!"9
What about you? Does your definition of success include personal satisfaction? Have you found success? Will your success be enough to sustain you through any rough times that may lie ahead? Have you found personal satisfaction?
What a tragedy it would be to spend an entire lifetime climbing the ladder of success only to reach the top and find the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.
Would you like to talk more about how to find genuine satisfaction? The people who run this site would love to interact with you about this through email. I encourage you to contact them as described below. Or you can connect with a mentor here. I feel certain you'll find them inspiring.
- Illustration adapted from Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Co., 1979), p. 46.
- Ibid., p. 49.
- Ibid., p. 319.
- Prince Michael of Greece, "I Am Fantastically Lucky," Parade Magazine, July 13, 1986, p. 4.
- Ziglar, op. cit.
- Hugh Sidey, "To Dare Mighty Things," TIME, June 9, 1980, p. 15.
- Daniel Yankelovich, New Rules, p. 69.
- Gerald Clarke, "A Father Finds His Son," TIME, December 3, 1979, p. 79.
- Patty Burgin, "A View From the Top," Collegiate Challenge, 1980, p. ii.
© Copyright, Rusty Wright. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This article was written by: Rusty WrightPhoto Credit: Brooke Cagle