The right picture of success

Last week, I shared some of the wrong definitions of success that so many of us believe in. I shared my belief that they’re either wrong, or at best, incomplete. I believe success is ultimately a journey.

So how do you get started on the success journey? What does it take to be a success?

The picture of success isn’t the same for any two people, because we’re all created differently – as unique individuals. But the process is the same for everyone. It’s based on principles that do not change. After many years of knowing successful people and studying the subject, I have developed the following definition of success:

Success is . . .

knowing your purpose in life,

growing to reach your maximum potential, and

sowing seeds that benefit others.

You can see by this definition why success is a journey rather than a destination. No matter how long you live or what you decide to do in life, you will never exhaust your capacity to grow toward your potential, nor will you run out of opportunities to help others. When you see success as a journey, then you never have the problem of trying to “arrive” at an elusive final destination. And you’ll never find yourself in a position where you’ve accomplished some final goal – only to discover that you’re still unfulfilled and searching for something else to do.

Another benefit of focusing on the journey of success instead of on arriving at a destination or achieving a goal is that you have the potential to become a success today. The very moment that you make the shift to finding your purpose, growing to your potential, and helping others, successful is something you are right now, not something you vaguely hope one day to be.

How do you see success? Do you see it as a journey or process? Or have you been captivated by some of the wrong definitions, like money, happiness, possession, power, or achievement? Let’s talk more about what I believe to be the right definition and how to pursue each of the three aspects noted above.

Knowing Your Purpose

I believe that God created every person for a purpose. As psychologist Viktor Frankl said, “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life. Everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus everyone’s task is as unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.” Each of us has a purpose for which we were created. Our responsibility – and our greatest joy – is to identify it.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you identify your purpose:

For what am I searching? All of us have a strong desire set in our hearts, something that speaks to our deepest thoughts and feelings, something that sets our souls on fire. Some people have a strong sense of what that is when they’re only children. Others take half their lifetime to discover it. But no matter what, it’s there. We only need to find it.

Why was I created? One of the exciting things about life is that each of us is different. No one else in the world has exactly the same gifts, talents, background, or future. That’s one of the reasons it would be a serious mistake to try to be someone other than ourselves.

Think about the unique mix of abilities you have, the resources available to you, your own personal history, and the opportunities around you. If you objectively identify these factors and discover the desire of your heart, you will have done a lot toward discovering your purpose in life.

Do I believe in my potential? No one can consistently act in a manner inconsistent with the way he sees himself. If you don’t believe that you have great potential, you will never try to reach it. And if you aren’t willing to work toward reaching your potential, you will never be successful.

We should all take the advice of President Theodore Roosevelt. He said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” If we do that with our eyes fixed on our life purpose, what else can be expected of us?

When do I start? Some people live their lives from day to day, allowing others to dictate what they do and how they do it. They never try to discover their true purpose for living. Others know their purpose, yet never act on it. They’re waiting for inspiration or permission or an invitation to get started. But if they wait much longer, they’ll never get going. So the answer to the question, “When do I start?” is “NOW.”

Growing to Your Potential

Novelist H.G. Wells said that wealth, notoriety, place, and power are no measures of success whatsoever. The only true measure of success is the ratio between what we might have been and what we have become. In other words, success comes as the result of growing to our potential.

It’s been said that our potential is God’s gift to us, and what we do with it is our gift to him. But at the same time, our potential is probably our greatest untapped resource. Henry Ford said, “There is no man living who isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can do.”

We have nearly limitless potential, yet few ever try to reach it. Why? The answer lies in this: We can do anything, but we can’t do everything. Many people let everyone around them decide what their agenda is in life. As a result, they never really dedicate themselves to their purpose in life. They become a jack of all trades, master of none – rather than a jack of few trades, focused on one.

If that describes you more than you’d like, you’re probably ready to take steps to make a change. Here are four principles to put you on the road to growing toward your potential:

1.  Concentrate on one main goal. Nobody ever reached her potential by scattering herself in twenty directions. Reaching your potential requires focus. That’s why it’s so important for you to discover your purpose. Once you’ve decided where to focus your attention, then you must decide what you are willing to give up to do it. And that’s really crucial. There can be no success without sacrifice. The two go hand in hand. If you desire to accomplish little, sacrifice little. But if you want to accomplish much, be willing to sacrifice much.

2.  Concentrate on continual improvement. Commitment to continual improvement is the key to reaching our potential – and to being successful. Each day you can become a little bit better than you were yesterday. It puts you one step closer to your potential. And you’ll also find that what you get as the result of your growth is not nearly as important as what you become along the way.

3.  Forget the past. My friend Jack Hayford said, “The past is a dead issue, and we can’t gain any momentum moving toward tomorrow if we are dragging the past behind us.” Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of people do; they drag the past with them wherever they go.  And as a result, they never make any progress.

I like the attitude of Cyrus Curtis who once owned the Saturday Evening Post. He had a sign hanging in his office that said, “Yesterday ended last night.” It was his way of reminding himself and his employees that the past is done, and we should be looking forward, not back.

4.  Focus on the future. That’s where your potential lies, ahead of you – no matter whether you’re eight, eighteen, forty-eight, or eighty. You still have room to improve yourself. You can become better tomorrow than you are today. As the Spanish proverb says, “He who does not look ahead remains behind.”

Sowing Seeds That Benefit Others

When you know your purpose in life and are growing to reach your maximum potential, you’re well on your way to being a success. But there’s one more important part to the success journey: helping others. Without that aspect, the journey can be a lonely and shallow experience.

It’s been said that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. Austrian born physician Albert Schweitzer stated it even more strongly: “The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” For him, the success journey led to Africa where he served people for many years.

For you, sowing seeds that benefit others probably won’t mean traveling to another country to serve the poor – unless that is the purpose you were born to fulfill. (And if it is, you won’t be satisfied until that’s what you’re doing.) However, if you’re like most people, helping others is something you can do right here at home, whether it’s spending more time with your family, developing an employee who shows potential, helping people in the community, or simply putting your own desires on hold for the sake of your team at work. The key is to find your purpose and help others while you’re pursuing it. As entertainer Danny Thomas said, “All of us are born for a reason, but all of us don’t discover why. Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It’s what you do for others.”

The success journey will not look the same for everyone, because the picture of success is different for every person. What doesn’t change are the principles used to take the journey. They can be applied at home, in school, at the office, on the ball field, and in church. It doesn’t matter where you are now. You can learn and apply these ideas. You can be successful today.

 From Your Road Map for Success

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