We’re looking at how we define success. In the previous post I quoted from Tom Morris, a professor in philosophy who went on to set up a think tank that applies the wisdom of the ages to business and modern life. This is what he said:


“The greatest case of mistaken identity in modern society relates to the four marks of public success: money, power, fame and status. Success should never be confused with wealth or power. Rather success should be linked to excellence and fulfilment…. I have no problem with money, power, fame or status – as long as they are treated as resources, rather than as goals in themselves. But that’s precisely the problem for most people – and why? It’s so hard for people to answer the question ‘how much is enough?’ If acquiring money or fame is your goal, how do you know when you have enough? Everyone I know who has a little wants more. But everyone I know who has a lot also wants more.”

The other side of that is it is so easy to then become successful at those things that in the end don’t really matter – which is really failure!

I eventually came to the conclusion that true success is an inside job. The problem withs so many external measures of success is that they don’t tend to give lasting satisfaction. I am old enough to see now that what was amazing and excellent only a few years ago has become average and mediocre. I have a humorous personal example of that in the post entitled ‘Lessons on Life from Steve Jobs‘.

So if lasting success is primarily an inside job it is also important to distinguish process from outcome. By that I mean things I can be responsible for (process) as opposed to things I cannot necessarily make happen (outcome). We have talked about the law of process in a previous blog post.The example of a football match may help. A team may seek to get the ball in the opponents penalty area more often or seek to increase their possession of the ball, or attempt more shots at goal (process), but actually scoring goals is not something that they can actually fully control (outcome). However, by seeking to increase the things that you can control increases the likelihood that you will eventually get what you want.

So how do you combine this understanding of true success being an inside process? I came to the realisation I needed something that I could measure in the here and now rather than in the distant future. That is how I came to develop the following personal definitions of success:

I know how successful I am by:

1. How joyful I am for all God has given me and done for me.

2. How open and accessible I am to my wife and children.

3. How much I can see everything I do in terms of eternal value.

4. How much I am able to enjoy and give in relationships and friendships.

What I like with defining success in these terms is that they allow me to focus on what I can control (my attitude and openness to relationships) rather than what I can’t (my children turning out well or having some amazing breakthrough that will change the world for the better).

In addition to that no matter what I do or achieve I am aware that I have the accountability of my closest relationships to deal with and the fact that I am on a life-long journey. Today’s success says nothing about how tomorrow will be.

I believe Rick Warren summarises it well when he defines true success as “having those who know me the best respect and love me the most and finishing well.”

So how about you?

How would you define success? It would be great to have your comments, thoughts and ideas.