I remember years ago being asked to be one of several people to contribute to an article intended to answer the question, “What is the Secret to Success?”
Putting aside my personal opinion that there is no one big, overreaching, magic bullet-type secret — but rather a set of proven principles — there was something else to consider.
You see, while I was honored to be asked, I also realized that — by the very nature of the question — there is an inherent problem. And that is, before one can legitimately answer the question and hopefully provide some helpful information, the very term, “Success” must first be defined.
If a regular reader of this blog you might be rolling your eyes right now, knowing I would say that. 🙂 If you’re new to our blog family, you might think I’m simply being “nitpicky.” I don’t think so. I believe that if it’s not defined then the very answer is going to be confusing. And, the confusion will become more and more exaggerated with each different answer.
Why? Because both the writers and the readers could be coming from very different perspectives.
You see, ten different people can each have their own definition of success. As a result, one person’s answer; based on their own personal belief system, will be misunderstood and taken out of context by the others, operating out of their personal belief systems.
This is why you’ll sometimes hear someone say, “Success isn’t everything” when what they really mean is, “Money isn’t everything.” (They have defined success as being money, and only money.)
One Well-Known Example
There’s a very famous saying along these lines attributed to Albert Einstein, which I have no doubt that he either never said, or it was taken out of context. The quote is, “Strive not to be a person of success but rather a person of value.” Unless Einstein saw “success” as only being money (and it’s doubtful he did) he would not have said this. If one is a person of success, they are indeed a person of value.
By the way, “Success” also happens to be one of those terms that is contextual in nature. In other words, it’s substance changes depending upon the situation.
For example, in a baseball game, one team wins and one team loses. The team that wins was “successful” in terms of the win. While the team that lost may have “successfully” improved it’s performance from last time, they were not successful in terms of the game’s result.
If you have a goal of losing 10 pounds within three months and accomplish that goal, you were — by the nature of the thing — “successful.” If you lost nine pounds you were not successful in reaching the entire goal. You were 90 percent successful.
Several Definitions of Success
The above examples defined “Success” as: “The accomplishment of a desired goal.” It also included various degrees and interpretations of success.
Now some other definitions, in different contexts from the above.
One of the first definitions of this term I’d ever heard was from the great Earl Nightingale on his audio program, Lead the Field. He defined Success as “The progressive realization of a worthwhile dream or goal.”
In his book, Wooden, co-written with Steve Jamison, John Wooden, the famous UCLA record-setting basketball coach defined Success as “Peace of mind that is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” In a blog post on this great man, we see that despite his enormous propensity to win basketball games…his focus was not on winning; his winning was the result of what he focused on.
My Dad cites Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) from the Talmud, where it asks, “Who is Rich?” and then answers, “That person who rejoices in their lot?” Seems to me that anyone who rejoices in their lot is certainly successful. In this case, “rich” is different from “wealthy” though there is no reason why being one should preclude being the other.
Just A Few More
Christopher Morley wrote, “There is only one success — to be able to spend your life in your own way.”
In The Science of Getting Rich written in 1910, Wallace D. Wattles wrote, “The person who owns all he wants for the living of all the life he is capable of living is rich.”
And, in their book, The Law of Attraction Esther and Jerry Hicks opine that “The achievement of anything that you desire must be considered success . . . but, if you will let your standard of success be your achievement of joy, everything else will fall easily into place.”
I think each and every one of those definitions are terrific and add their own dimension to the concept of Success. I don’t believe any of them conflict, but rather complement.
My definition — and the one I’d like to use here — seems to most resemble Coach Wooden’s. I define success as “A feeling of peace of mind and genuine happiness based on having lived up to one’s potential.”
This could include an entire life of success or success with regards to a specific accomplishment. It could also apply to specific areas of life, such as — but not limited to — success of a financial, physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, or social/relational nature.
Based on my definition, it seems we could legitimately say that, “to the degree one lives up to their potential in the specific area they are targeting for success, that is the degree to which they are successful.”
Now that we have our definition (or, I should say, “a” definition since my definition need not be yours), let’s answer the original question, “What is the Secret to Success?” Or, if not one actual secret, what are some proven principles that can get us there?
If you’d like my take on this, click here. You can read or listen to The Success Formula online at no charge. Just go to the home page and click the appropriate link on the left-hand side.
Meanwhile, what is your definition of Success?
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Great post. I love the definition of success by Bessie A. Stanley. It goes like this…
He has achieved success
who has lived well,
laughed often, and loved much;
who has enjoyed the trust of
the respect of intelligent men and
the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it
whether by an improved poppy,
a perfect poem or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty
or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others and
given them the best he had;
whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.
PS. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom Bob.
Thank you, Lukasz. Difficult to imagine being more successful than the person described by Ms. Stanley. That’s terrific! Thank you for sharing!
I’d cast a vote for your father’s definition of success, Bob: to paraphrase, He is rich who rejoices in his lot. To wake up every morning full of joy, excitement, love; to tackle mighty deeds with a worthy purpose; to do your utmost to leave this world better than you found it, the people you touched better than they would have been had you not been here. Last week my older son, Michael (41), left me a voicemail I’m going to keep forever; he wanted me to know how proud of me he was–that in my “retirement” career I was doing what I felt so passionate about. Now that’s success!
Thank you, Robert. Yes, that quote from Simeon ben Zoma that my Dad has always said (and continues to say) is truly a great definition of success. And, regarding the voicemail your son left you…I’d say you are a VERY successful man!!
I would define it along the lines of being happy with what and who I am, while still seeking and growing to do, have and especially become more.
Randy, WOW – terrific definition. Thank you for sharing that!
Christopher Morley’s definition resonates with me — “There is only one success — to be able to spend your life in your own way.” I would only add one thing — “There is only one success — to HAPPILY be able to spend your life in your own way.”
There are many who live life in their own way but are miserable in doing so. Alchoholics and drug addicts are prime examples. They are living it their way but are generally not happy about it.
Loved this post Bob!
@Bill Ellis — You could subscribe to the great NFL Coach Bill Parcells definition of success — “You are what you your record says you are.”
Pretty strict definition. You win… or you lose.
I totally agree Bob and Bill. It’s a shame actually that we (especially in the area of sports and business) place so much emphasis on clear victories. Everything I have done to this point, clear victory or not, has led me to this place. Surely, Mr. Parcells would even agree, that it is only the result of much trial and error before we see “clear victory results.”
Great point, Russ. Hadn’t thought of that. Quite an important distinction!
Bob, as usual, I enjoyed your blog and your thought process. What an interesting topic. Defining success is perhaps as subjective a task as there can be. What is one person’s success is another’s failure. My ‘stratospheric success’ will most certainly be different than others.
Therefore, I believe there is the need for each individual to identify, define and own their own success. That being said, we all have to include outside considerations in order to conform to certain necessary expectations. If a widget maker determines that making 50 widgets per day is a success but their employer is expecting 75 widgets per day, there will be an issue.
Bob, in your sporting event example, a manager, players and fans might interpret the ‘we performed better than we had been so we’re improving’ as a success while another manager, player or fan(s) might determine that ‘The only success is winning.’ I believe they can both be right….based on their individual definition of success….and that, in my opinion, is the ‘secret’ to success. 🙂
Hi Bill, yes, I agree that it is very subjective. That is why I believe the definition is so important. SO easy to be discussing “Success” and meaning something totally different than the other person who is “also” discussing “Success.” 🙂 You provided some excellent examples of these difficulties. Thank you for sharing!
Russ, I agree with Mr. Parcells….there’s a good chance that he and I look at a different score board!
In his profession, literally winning games IS success. Might or might not be his same view to life in total.
Russ and Bill. Again, I believe it has a lot to do with a context. There’s a time and place for most everything. I alluded to the win/loss of a game early in the article, as it applies to that context. Totally legitimate as one definition. I also find it interesting that John Wooden, a huge winner, didn’t measure overall success by the wins/losses, yet his amazing winning record was a result of how he did measure success. So, I guess I’m saying…you’re both right! LOL (Not that either of you were saying differently)
As it has clearly been stated, there are success definitions that are unique to each individual. However, I would add for myself that “success” takes a broader perspective that just for me. My success is defined by my ability to make the important people in my life happy and help them to achieve their own definition of success. This would include children, family, co-workers, friends, etc. I believe that my “peace” comes from how “successful” I am in those areas as well.
Thanks for the opportunity to share, Bob.
Molly, Success indeed is really a concept defined by the individual. Thank you for sharing!
Success to me is knowing you did the absolutely best job you could do with the mental tools you had at the time.
As your awareness expands you realize you can do more, have more, be more. So you push yourself a little further but in the same respect, enjoy the heck out of the pushing, for you realize serving makes us most happy.
The beautiful process unfolds: you become more aware, notice more, push a little further, and enjoy the process as you continue to serve others and feel fulfilled.
Thanks for sharing the inspiring post Bob!
Thank you, Ryan. Still another great definition!
I would certainly agree most with Coach Wooden’s definition.
Living one’s highest potential while realizing their desired level of happiness, inner peace and abundance at that given moment. We can realize success everyday just by being conscious of our inner selves rather than only “achieving” success with the purchase of our dream home, dream car, etc.
Great article…thank you!
Excellent points, Vidette. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!
I admire people who’s values equal their actions. Achieving things is easy in comparison to the challenge of being consistently true to who you are. I think when facing the end of one’s life we are less likely to say, “I wish I would have reached my potential,” and more likely to say, “I wish I would have spent more of my time and energy contributing to the things that matter the most.” I like the following formula….”Define, communicate, and live your values.”
Thank you, John. I appreciate you sharing with us!