The Most Important Thing to Know

I often tweet about success. I also often get replies that I have no business defining success for someone else. That is 100% true.

Defining success is deeply personal. 

I met a couple a few years ago who felt very successful. They were in their sixties and didn’t have a dime saved up for retirement. They had worked on and off through the years and for most of their adult lives had received some kind of government assistance. They had no disabilities and except for a few aches and pains that come with being in your sixties they were both healthy as could be. 

I was very curious about these two and that perhaps made me overly bold about asking them a few questions. One I asked was about their plans for living in retirement with no income besides a likely small social security check. They weren’t the least bit offended. In fact they smiled and said, “we’re talking to our retirement plan right now.”

There assumption was that “somebody” will always take care of them because in America, “they have to.” And they were fine with that. They didn’t need a lot to be happy and they were okay with living off the efforts of others. Having what they needed and being comfortable with how they received it was their definition of success. 

I was a little shocked with their answer but the longer I thought about it the more I began to think, “good for them!” They have found their personal formula for success. Who am I to judge? Their definition of success is about as far away from mine as you could get but that’s okay, it’s THEIR definition of success. It works for them. 

Whatever your definition of success is, it only needs to work for you. If you’re going to be happy in life it is important that you know that. Do not let other people define what success looks like for you. Ever!

You also must be willing to accept the fact that other people might disagree with your definition. As for the couple who are willing to live off the effort of others I would prefer to burn my money in a pit before they get their hands on it. But this post isn’t about that. It’s about the most important thing to know and the most important thing to know is that your definition of success belongs to you and you alone. 

I kinda hate writing this post. In fact this is one of those posts where I sat down to write one thing but something completely different came out. I really do wish the whole world would accept a unified, socially acceptable definition of success so we can properly judge people as successes or failures. I also wish the Easter Bunny was real. 

But since neither of those are real I’ll share with you what may be the second most important thing to know. You’ll never make yourself happier by trying to judge someone else according to your standards of personal success. 

So don’t judge. Realize that one of the things that make people special is how different we all are. So when somebody doesn’t meet your standards of success don’t try to sway them to your way of thinking. Just say, “well ain’t you special,” and they can’t take that however they want. 

Success Can Only be Defined by You

Many years ago I was helping with a Dale Carnegie Course in Effective Speaking and Human Relations. Those classes are often made up of a very diverse group of people at varying stages of their lives and careers. They come from all walks of life and all income levels.

 

Even though I have not been in a Dale Carnegie class in many years I can vividly recall many of the participants. But one participant stands out above all others. He stands out because he caused me to redefine the meaning of success in my life. 

 

He was a senior level executive at one of the world’s largest manufacturing companies. He was a rarity. Some people were “sent” to a Dale Carnegie class by their organizations as a last ditch effort to “fix” them. But I’d never seen someone as his level required by their company to attend. 

 

This guy was one of the older people in the class and in every way I measured success at the time he was a huge success. Multiple houses, fast and fancy cars, a big title and a lofty position. He made tons of money. The guy pretty much looked and acted like the epitome of success.

 

As someone “required” to attend he didn’t have much to say in the first couple of weeks. He obviously didn’t want to be there but as is common in a Dale Carnegie course he was drawn out of his defensive posture in short order. 

 

As he began to open up during his presentations the tone and topics of his 2 minute talks (every Dale Carnegie Graduate is VERY familiar with 2 minute talks) changed dramatically. His focus moved from being all about himself to being about his family, especially one of his daughters. 

 

In his rush to succeed he had left his family behind and among his resentful family his adult daughter was most resentful of all. They rarely spoke. 

 

In week eight of that twelve week course he made a commitment to repair his relationship with his family and especially his daughter. At the final session the “graduates” are allowed to bring a guest along. This guy was so very proud to be accompanied by his daughter. 

 

As he delivered his final two-minute talk about what he got out of the course he said he learned a lot about himself and people in general. He said his relationships at work were much better and far more productive. 

 

But through his tears what he said he “got” from the class was his daughter back in his life. He said that for the first time in his life he felt like a success. He had a completely different outlook on what it meant to be a success. He said that for him success was no longer about what he had in his life but about who he had in his life. 

 

Dale Carnegie Instructors are supposed to help people change their lives, not the other way around. But lots of things changed for me that night, my definition of success was changed almost entirely. 

 

That was the last night I worked for any company. Since that night I’ve worked at a company but I’ve only worked for my family. By the way, I believe that makes me a much more effective asset for my employer, my customers and my colleagues. I get to go to work everyday and do something for the people who matter most in my life. There’s no better motivation than that.

 

That change in mindset has changed almost everything else too. I certainly could have had “more” but I couldn’t have had “better.” Some people would say I could have achieved more or made more or been more but those people are trying to apply their definition of success to me. 

 

My participant in that Dale Carnegie Course was 30 years into his career before he considered himself a success. Thanks to him I learned I could never succeed by chasing someone else’s definition of success. 

 

Neither can you!

 

Don’t allow anyone to tell you what success is “supposed” to look like in your life. If you can look at yourself in the mirror and smile back, if you are comfortable with your decisions and your actions, if you have even a handful of people in your life that matter to you and you matter to them, well then you are one of the most successful people ever to live. 


At least according to me.