Success … A new way of defining it?

What is success and how do we know when we’ve achieved it? Is Tiger Woods a success? What about Michael Jackson or the Titanic? What about an Olympic athlete who takes a banned steroid then wins a gold medal without being caught? And what about a CEO who’s company achieves record profits, in part because he laid off 10,000 employees?

Webster’s Dictionary defines success as: achieving a favorable or desired outcome.

Oxford Dictionaries defines success as: the accomplishment of an aim or purpose (as in, the president had some success in restoring confidence). It further goes on to define success as: the attainment of fame, wealth, or social status; and: a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains fame, wealth, etc.

Based on Oxford’s definitions, we would likely describe Tiger Woods, Michael Jackson and steroid taking gold medalists as successful, but not Titanic. The objective of the Titanic endeavour was to create a magnificent, unsinkable ship. Despite its magnificence, clearly, the designers and builders fell tragically short of their goal.

But what about Woods, Jackson and Olympic ‘cheaters.’

One could argue that a successful person is someone we would want to emulate. I’m sure you would love to emulate Tiger Woods’ success on the golf course, but would you really want to emulate his anger and infidelity? Would you really want to emulate Michael Jackson and his surgeries and drug taking, especially if it meant giving up your childhood? Or would you really want to emulate Olympic athletes and their health risking, steroid use?

And what about people who are successful in their business and professional careers, but whose home lives, health and finances are a disaster. Would we really want to emulate them?

Sometimes … no, all the time … I think our definition of success is far too narrow and erroneous, and our penchant for idolizing ‘successful’ people is tremendously misguided or at the very least, is based on insufficient information about that person …  O.J. Simpson comes to mind here. Most of the time, we think of success based on the amount of money we’ve earned, the level of power we’ve reached or the amount of fame we’ve achieved, regardless of how many people we’ve hurt along the way, how much (like our childhoods) we’ve had to give up or how many people we’ve put out of work ‘in order to achieve our annual bonus.’ And we rarely give consideration to the quality of our family life, health or state of mind.

Defining success can be very subjective, but how can we possibly consider ourselves successful if we’re not happy, if we’ve made unrealistic sacrifices, if we’ve hurt other people in order to get to where we are or if we’ve only achieved success in one area of our lives?

Perhaps there is another way of looking at success. Perhaps success could be measured by the level of our contribution to the welfare of the planet. After all, is a company really successful, just because it happens to do well on Wall Street, while at the same time, polluting our air and water. And is a person really successful simply because they have achieved great fame and fortune, while hurting all those around them.

Perhaps a healthier, more beneficial way of looking at success would be in how we raise our children. If I could choose one thing that I would like all people to be successful at, it would be raising children to feel good about themselves, because all other success is born from this. If you feel good about yourself, you are kind, you are compassionate, you are accepting, you are grateful, helpful, patient, generous, honest, thoughtful, caring and most of all, you are loving. And these are the things I would want to emulate.

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour rule. Gladwell says that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach your level of mastery in any particular endeavour. It has also been shown that 95% of a person’s psychological development occurs by the time a child reaches the age of seven.

How many of us spend 10,000 hours developing good parenting skills … before our children hit seven years of age? How many of us have as an objective, raising our children to feel good about themselves? Perhaps if Andre Agassi’s father had told him 2,500 times a day that he loved him, rather than having him hit 2,500 tennis balls, he might not have fallen into drugs and despair, despite earning millions of dollars as the #1 ranked tennis player in the world.

I vote that we change our idea of success and we implement this change in our homes and in our schools!

Have an awesomely successful day!


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