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. 

Back to Basics

As the story goes, the legendary former coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, would start every training camp the same way. He would hold up a football and announce with great gusto, “This is a football.” 

Keep in mind he was speaking to a room full of professional football players. I think I’m safe in assuming that they all had at least a passing familiarity (pun intended) with what a football looked like. 

But Coach Lombardi was making a point. His point was we are going to begin with the basics because it’s the basics that will make us champions. 

You may not be a professional football player but that point is as applicable to you as it was to those Green Bay Packers. 

Skipping the basics, or believing your skills are so advanced that the basics no longer apply to you is one sure way to fall short of your potential. 

As the year ahead comes into focus it’s a great time to review your own “basics.” What have you skipped, or simply forgotten, that used to bring you great results? Maybe you used to send thank you notes…remember those, the kind you wrote out by hand, put in an envelope and dropped in a blue box on the corner? That practice remains to this day a solid basic skill when building and nurturing relationships. Perhaps more than ever considering how rare thank you notes have become. 

Maybe you skip making yourself a prioritized task list each morning. Using a prioritized task list is key to strong time management. For most people it’s not that they don’t have enough time, it’s that they lack a clear sense of priorities. 

People who prioritize what they want and need to accomplish will in fact accomplish much more than the people who don’t. Even if you’ve never applied that basic skill to your life before, now would be a great time to start. 

There are so many “basics” to success that I could go on forever. But instead I’ll encourage you to invest some time to think back to some of your greatest successes. What were some of the basics that helped you achieve that success? Are you still using them? If not can you say with specificity why you’re not? Or have they somehow faded away with not much thought as to why?

Consider the basics you need to be consistently successful and then go back to them. This is a great example of when “going back” is the fastest path forward to future success. 

So, what are you going back to?

The Promise of Tomorrow

Every year holds it’s own set of lessons. Those who study history know that the years teach us many things that a single day will never know.

I don’t think we’ll need much history however to understand some of the lessons from the year 2020. For too many families around the world one of those lessons is that tomorrow is promised to no one. No one can know if their own tomorrow will actually arrive. 

But we also know that if our tomorrow does arrive we have much more control over it than we often choose to take. Many people let their days unfold as if they have no say whatsoever in the events of that day. They let the day happen. 

The happiest and most successful people never let a day happen “to them.” They make the day happen “for them.” 

They may not be able to choose each of the “events” that come their way each day but they are able to choose exactly how they will respond to them. They choose very very frequently to respond with a positive attitude.

That positive attitude allows them to take something good from every experience. It allows them to learn from even their least favorite event of any given day. It allows them to constantly be looking forward to the promise of an even better tomorrow. 

You have the same choice. The only question is whether or not you’ll actually make it. 

I know people who make the choice of a positive attitude 100% of the time. They are happier than me. I am happier than people who make the choice of a positive attitude less frequently than me. 

I know people who choose to look for opportunities in every problem 100% of the time. They are more successful than me. I am more successful than people who look for opportunities in problems less than I do. 

It is very clear that happiness and success come from our choices and no choice we make is more important than the choice of a positive attitude. Choosing to look for opportunities inside problems is a close second. 

Yet I’m tempted to tell you it’s not possible 100% of the time cause it seems impossible to me. But I know people who prove me wrong. It’s not only a possibility for them, it is a reality. So I’m going to keep trying to make it my reality too. 

The promise of tomorrow doesn’t wait. You need to go get it. Your choice of a positive attitude is the fastest ride to those promises you’ll ever find. You willing to hop on board with me?

Planning for a Better 2021 – The “Follow-Up”

Congratulations! You have a plan. If you’ve followed the steps we laid out in the previous 7 posts you not only have a plan, you have a plan based on your values and goals. There are not too many people who can say that. So good for you.

While your plan is ready to be implemented, or “launched” it is not yet done. In fact, the best plans are never done. That’s why the 8th and not really “final” step in the process is called The “Follow-Up.” 

Even as you work your way through your plan you should be reviewing it periodically to make sure it still “works” for you. If we’ve learned anything from 2020 it’s that life has a not so funny way of turning our plans to mush. 

Mushy plans are not good plans. So constantly be tweaking your plan. 

While tweaking your plan you must keep this undying principle in mind…you plans can, will, and should change as circumstances require. The Core Values upon which you’ve built your plan should remain rock solid. 

Your well thought out and developed plan is a living plan. Do not allow it to die a circumstantial death. As your environment changes, as you change, as circumstances change, your plans must change as well.

The “Follow-Up” step is where you schedule 30, 60, 90, 180 day reviews of your plan. During the 180 day review schedule additional follow-ups as needed. Put these follow-ups on your calendar. Ask your coach, mentor, or accountability partner to review the progress you’ve made towards your plan. They can offer suggestions for adjustments or advise you to stay the course. 

You now have a plan that clearly states who you are and where you are. You have a plan that says specifically who you will be in the future. You have a plan that illuminates the path that you need to follow to arrive at your goals in life. 

Continuously feed your plan with fresh thinking. Provide it with the effort and discipline needed to keep your plan in constant forward motion. 

Your reward will be a life full of the things you earned while working your plan. Pay particular attention to that previous sentence. Your reward will be the things you EARNED while WORKING your plan. 

You have an awesome plan but it will not work for you if you do not work for it. Work your plan and enjoy the life it helps you earn.

So Much to Learn

I have been fortunate over the years to work along side some smart people. Some of them were so smart that they even knew they had a lot to learn. Unfortunately, while some of them were smart they weren’t exactly smart enough to know that they didn’t actually know it all.

I’ve learned a lot over the years myself, including this little nugget of truth…the day I’ve learned all I need to know will be my final day on earth. I have so much more to learn that I may live forever!

Several years ago I was on the interview team for an open marketing position. One candidate in particular seemed very qualified. He had great experience and at first it seemed like he would fit the culture well. The interview was pretty much done and we were just kinda talking and I mentioned I was in the process of earning a Marketing Executive Certification. We talked about all the classes involved and he stated that he would never do something like that.

When I asked him why he said, “I’ve learned all I need to know about marketing.” “There isn’t anything else left to learn.” I had worked with people who seemed to think they knew it all before but I had never before heard anyone actually say it out loud.

Now the interview was really done and so was this guy’s chances of joining our team. He was maybe in his early forties and he was convinced he knew it all. Not only knew it all, he knew all that would ever be known about marketing.

It was obvious he wouldn’t be a good fit for a company with learning in it’s DNA. I actually felt kind of bad for the guy because I knew his future was going to be full of missed opportunities and limited success.

The amount of learning a person does seems to be directly linked to the amount of success they have. Let that sink in a bit…do you understand what that actually means? It’s fantastic!

It means that since a person’s ability to learn is limitless so is their level of success. It means that so long as we keep learning our opportunities for success keep multiplying. It means that your potential success is completely within your control and totally unlimited.

That is incredible.

If you’re looking for success you now know exactly where you’ll find it. You will find it in a mentor. You will find it in a book or a classroom. You may find it in a TED talk or a blog. If you’re really committed to succeeding you will find it everywhere you look.

Keep in mind that the goal of learning isn’t packing more information into your head, it’s taking action based on that information packed into your head. Successful people never stop learning. They also never stop adapting based on what they have learned.

So…what do you have to learn today?

The Envy Monster

Envy is an emotion. It’s a very dangerous emotion at that! If you allow that particular emotion into your life you run the risk of being overtaken by it. Envy will consume you. It will diminish every other part of your life. Envy is a destroyer of all that is good.

Stated another way…envy sucks!

I may not have everything I want in life but I can say with great confidence that I have everything I wanted badly enough to work for.

You see here’s the thing, successful people simply outwork less successful people. They work smarter, harder, and longer than less successful people. Yes, luck also plays a part but the most successful people put themselves in a position to be “lucky” through hard work and determination.

If you’re going to be envious of other people don’t be envious of their “stuff.” If you insist on risking your own happiness by being envious then be envious that they have the discipline to do what you are unwilling to do.

I know that sounds pretty harsh but until you accept that as fact you will continue to limit your own potential for tremendous success. You will also struggle with envy until you define what success looks and feels like in YOUR life.

The life we live comes to us as a result of our choices. Some people choose to sacrifice relationships, family, life balance, and pretty much everything in the pursuit of success. Now I can’t know this for a fact but I’d bet most of that type of person measures success in terms of titles and sizes of bank accounts. If that is how they define success then good for them.

But why in the world would I be envious of them?

One of my life choices was to sacrifice a fancy title and bigger bank account for other things. Faith, family, friends, fun, and health among them. I am 100% certain I’ve made the right choices for me. If given the chance to do my life over I’d make the same choice 100 out of 100 times.

Understanding that what you have, or don’t have, is the logical outcome of your choices in life should help keep The Envy Monster away.

You see, I have no reason to be envious of anyone’s success. I’m as successful as anyone I know, I just define success differently than some others do. I could have easily had the other kind of success, so can you. You can have anything in life you’re willing to work for.

So that means envy is also one of the silliest emotions to carry around with you.

So here’s a huge question for you…How do you define success? I would submit to you that you cannot be successful until you can answer that question. When you can answer that question you may discover that you’ve already achieved all the success in life you’ll ever want.

What History Teaches

Whenever I hear of someone heading off to college who is planning to major in History my thoughts always go to “oh boy, taking on a ton of student loan debt for a low paying teaching job.”

I mean, what else do you do with a History Degree.

But then I start to think more and I am so grateful for anyone willing to teach History. It is history that teaches us everything we need to know to be successful.

In High School my least favorite class was Military History. (I attended a Military High School) I had a hard time figuring out why we were studying old battle plans and tactics from lost battles. I eventually came to understand that if we were ever required to lead a group of brave service members into battle the job wasn’t just to win the war. It was to bring the people we were charged with leading home alive.

As General George Patton frequently said, “it’s not the job of the American Solider to die for their country; the job of the American Solider is to make the other SOB die for theirs.”

Small pieces of historical knowledge can make a huge difference. It can prevent history from repeating itself. If Adolf Hitler had studied Napoleon’s battle plans from years earlier he likely would have not opened up a second front in Russia. If he had waited only a handful of months to attack it is very possible the outcome of World War 2 could have been different.

Companies are like countries when it comes to history. Those that are unwilling to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Emphasis on the doomed.

History can teach us what to do as well as what not to do. The problem is, if we don’t learn from history we tend to take the same shortcuts. Use the same level of thinking, say the same things, and do the identical stuff as the people who failed before us.

It’s fine to study successful companies. Following the practices of those who have succeeded before you makes perfect sense. But I also like to learn from companies that were highly successful right up until the time they weren’t.

I want to know what changed. I want to know what it was that caused them to go from great to good to downright bad.

It most often has to do with people. Mostly the people who run the company. History teaches us that the most common mistake they make is assuming that their future is an automatic extension of their past. Those organizations believe that because they are currently successful they will always be successful. They begin to take their success for granted. They begin to believe that their success is solely due to their efforts. They forget about all the people who have helped them along the way.

Successful companies and organizations do not fail the people leading them. The people leading them fail their companies and organizations.

History is full of examples of how organizations create sustainable success. It is also full of examples of what organizations did to kill their success.

Successful people learn from their mistakes, the most successful people, and organizations, learn from the mistakes of others. Those “lessons” are found in history. Are you willing to learn?