The Search for Success

Success always feels great. Whether you are baking a cake, losing that stubborn weight, getting a promotion, winning a trophy, or graduating, it is awesome to finally say to yourself, “I did it.” It is like getting a big dose of adrenaline. Success pumps up the confidence and motivation to keep reaching for the next higher goal.

How can we measure success? Most often it is measured by money, possessions, homes, cars, etc.  Some measure it by title or educational letters after their name, some by trophies and medals. Most recently, success is measured inside the world of social media: followers on Instagram, Likes on Facebook, subscribers on YouTube, etc. Granted, all those are examples of public and visible success. 

A number of years ago I remember watching a documentary about J. Paul Getty.  He had accumulated unlimited financial resources as a businessman. At the end it showed him as this tiny frail old man sitting alone on couch inside his massive house. He shared that he had gone through five divorces, none of his children or grandchildren wanted any contact with him and he had no friends that he trusted.  Was he a success?

Without the fame, money, possessions, titles and trophies, how do we measure the success of a person? How do we measure the success of a husband, wife, father, mother, citizen, neighbor, employee? How can we measure a person’s character?

The following words are critical to help a person succeed in the public arena. But as your read through them, I encourage you to apply them to the success of your whole inner person, to your character. Without them success will become allusive in both your professional and personal life.

Here are the words.

INITIATIVE: The world doesn’t owe you anything. Your level of success in life depends on no one else but you. Your teachers will give you skills and tools, but you have to do the work. You will have professional success and great relationships; friends, marriage, children, coworkers, if you take the initiative to make them great. Successful people visualize what they want, make and work a plan until they reach their goal. Money, sports, business, a craft, fitness, hobbies are all yours for the taking.  They never say, “this won’t work” but always, “how can I make this work.” They don’t make excuses, they solve problems. Do you want to make more money, have a better marriage, become highly skilled at something. Take the initiative, make it happen.

Years ago I sat in a sales meeting where the guest speaker held up a $100 bill. “This is yours if you want it,” he stated and put the bill on the table in front of him as he continued.  Every minute or so he would hold it up without comment and put it back down.  Finally, one of the salesmen in the back walked to the front and took the $100 bill with a smile and a “thank you” to the speaker.  The speaker shook his hand and told the crowd, “and that’s how it works.” Success is yours for the taking. Don’t wait, go get it.

ANTICIPATE: Successful people think about what might happen and what they will need in the next hour, day, week, month and years ahead. It could be as simple as stocking up on food supplies for the coming week or analyzing market trends for your business for the next decade. It is a process of eliminating negative surprises, of preparing for multiple possibilities, of capitalizing on new opportunities. Successful people rarely say, “mm, I wonder what I am going to do next.” When I was teaching I learned to do myself a huge favor.  At the end of the day I would look at my lesson plans for the next day, analyze student progress, make adjustments, run needed copies and check the school schedule. I eliminated managerial decisions for the next day so I could focus on the students and instruction. I traded in the stress of “catching up” for the enjoyment of “moving forward.” I always knew where I was in my lesson, where it was going in the next thirty minutes and how I would adjust if the students needed more time or intervention.

PATIENCE: Daniel Levitin, a professional musician and neurologist, writes in his book, This is Your Brain on Music, that “to become a virtuoso you don’t need talent, you just need ten-thousand hours of practice.” I am a musician myself so out of curiosity I got out my calculator and surmised, if I practice four hours a day how long would it take me to reach ten-thousand hours? The answer; almost seven years. When I was teaching piano and guitar I would ask a new student how good they wanted to be on their instrument.  The answer was always the same, “I want to be really good.” I soon learned what they were really saying is, “I want to know how to play well but I don’t want to spend the time learning.” The lesson is obvious enough, success is achieved in baby steps, often over a life time. Successful people don’t quit.

PERSISTENCE: The engine that will drive you through all the problems, failures, disappointments, distractions, and the mundane is called your, “want factor.” The strength of your “want” depends on how specific you have defined your goals. If you want to be rich, what does rich mean? Nothing. It’s like blindfolding yourself and shooting an arrow hoping to hit something. When you say by 55 years old I want to have a net worth $X million you will develop the ability of setting short term goals to achieve that long term goal. “At the end of this year I want to be…which means this month I need to…which means today I need to…” Visualize your goals, analyze and adjust your activity as needed but, ready? NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER QUIT.

NETWORKING: Steve Jobs once said, “none of us is as smart as all of us.” Even the Lone Ranger had help. Finding the right people and asking for their wisdom and help will save you a lot of trial-and-error time, money, and resources. There are always people who have traveled farther down your road to success than where you are. They can point out the pot holes and detours to help you streamline your progress. Google and YouTube have endless hours of “how-to” resources. Amazon and other book sellers provide thousands of volumes to help you achieve your goals. Don’t take your experience and skill for granted. Always be a student of your craft.

Eyes and Ears: Successful people develop micro and macho vision. They can see and analyze the nuances of today’s challenges and opportunities while keeping a keen eye of tomorrow’s horizons.  The pressures of each day can tempt us to become so myopic that often we take our eyes off the big picture, that distant goal.  Successful people listen more than they talk. Try this, write down in one paragraph what your specific and measurable long-range goals are.  Every morning read it out loud to yourself, memorize it word for word, then, ask yourself what you are going to do that day to reach that goal. What problem can you solve, who can your reach out to for help, what can you read or watch to improve your skill, what skill can you practice to become more skillful than you were yesterday? At the end of the day, reverse the questions.  What did I do, etc.? Baby steps will soon turn into miles. Major obstacles will become speed bumps.

SACRIFICE: How did Sarah Hughes win the Olympic Gold Medal in 2002 in figure skating at the age of 16? Come on, she’s just a kid. Look it up, it’s an amazing story. She started skating at 3 so think about what she had to give up over those 13 years to win gold? When other kids were having play dates guess where she was. When you read the life stories of many great musicians, composers and sports figures their stories look the same. Their sacrifice was enormous for many years.  Was it worth it? Only you can make that decision. The bigger the goal the greater the sacrifice.

COMPASSION: I often asked my classes this question: “what is the most important word in the English language.” They offered many good answers and were always surprised when I offered my answer. “Others,” I told them. When we find ways of consistently and generously helping those less fortunate, then and only then will our success bring the real sense of happiness, fulfillment and joy we all desire.  When we put the needs of others as a high priority the following problems soon diminish: poverty, hunger, homelessness, divorce, crime, maybe even war. You see, the opposite of “others” is the word is “me,” me first, me most, and me better. Greed and selfishness is driven by ego not compassion. To finish that conversation with my students I would tell them I wanted them to grow up to be very wealthy so they could give it all away. Only then would they be truly successful.

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