Is Success Measured by What We Accomplish in Life?

Is Success Measured by What We Accomplish in LifeSuccess is measured by what we accomplish in life. Isn’t that right? No, it is not.

The problem with measuring success by what we accomplish is that we have no standard against which to measure. The fallacy of determining success is often subtle.

We have been trained to view success as reaching a goal. That goal could be imposed or it could be self-defined. Some would say that earning a degree is a measure of success. It’s hard to argue with that, but it is only a success in that you achieved a predetermined goal. But that “success” is limited to achieving that singular goal. Once achieved, there must be new goals set and new attempts to reach those new goals. Reaching each goal is a success. But when does a person become a success?

Is it when you earn your first million dollars? Or is it when you retire? If success is earning a million dollars, the majority of people on the planet are not successful. If it is retirement, another whole group are not successful, and many of those are people who successfully planned to retire, but who suffered some kind of physical or financial disaster. Does that mean that they were never successful? Suppose you make a million dollars. Suppose you spend it all. If you called earning it success, what do you call spending it?

May I submit that success should not measured by what we have done? Rather, it should be measured by what we have done compared to what we could have done. Success is a measure of accomplishment versus possibility. The real question is not, “What have you done?” It is, “What have you done with what you have available?”

The founder of a prominent, private university used to say that, “Not everyone comes to school with a 50-gallon brain to fill. Some only have a thimble.” He would continue on to make the point that the school would make every effort to fill whatever brain capacity you brought. The problem, as he had seen it over the years, was that altogether too many who brought large capacities graduated without a thimble-full of essential learning. The question he was asking was, “At the end of four years, what will you have learned compared to what you could have learned?”

Barbara Corcoran, of Shark Tank fame, noted that she will never invest in any enterprise run by children of wealthy parents. Her observation was that they tend not to appreciate what they have, because they have so much. Therefore, they are more likely to make reckless decisions because they think in terms of, “What have we got to lose?” At the other end of the spectrum there are people who invest and risk everything they have. Some win. Some lose. But they all tend to try harder.

Those with nothing to lose don’t need to try as hard. If their venture fails, they can always try something else. I generally agree with her observation. It is not always true, but it is often true. She understands that people who are standing with their backs to the wall have no choice but to give it everything they’ve got. If they don’t, they may have to start over with nothing. These people have determined that they are “all in.” For them, there is no “Try.” There is only “Do.”

They are the successful people. They are not the people who measure success by what they have done. They are the people who measure success by doing all they can do to be all they can be.

Where are you on the road to success? Are you giving it all you’ve got? That’s what it is going to take.

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