John Maxwell on Leadership

What I Believe About Success


When will you be successful? If you’re like most people, what comes to mind is someday—somewhere off in the future, when you’ll suddenly wake up and think, “I made it! I’m a success!” That’s how most unsuccessful people see success: as something to strive for and hope to reach “someday.”

Each of us has a picture in mind of what we want our career to look like, our family to look like, and yes, from an early age we often conjure up images of the houses, cars, and things we would like to obtain. In many persons’ minds, success is something way off in the distance that they will run themselves ragged to get to – if they ever get to it at all.

At one time, I viewed success as a place where I would arrive. I defined it as the progressive realization of a predetermined, worthwhile goal. But over time, I realized that the definition falls short of the mark. It leads to “destination disease” – the belief that if we just arrive somewhere (e.g. attain a position, accomplish a goal, have a relationship with the right person), we will be successful.

But many years ago, I came to a different conclusion about success. All the traditional definitions either made success a destination to reach, or required some magic formula to obtain. I began to see success as a journey, an ongoing process of growth. And after over nearly fifty years of knowing successful people and studying the subject, this is the definition of success that I now embrace:

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.

Let’s talk more about 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.

Finding our purpose requires us to seek to discover two things: our passion, and our giftedness. What is the deep desire set in your heart, the thing that sets your soul on fire? What makes you cry? What do you get most excited about? And what are you good at? No one else in the world has exactly the same gifts, talents, background, or future that you do.

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.

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.

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.

Reaching your potential requires focus. That’s why it’s so important for you to discover your purpose. Commitment to continual improvement is also key. Each day you can become a little bit better than you were yesterday.

Forget the past and 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.

Helping others is something you can do right here, right now, 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 link your purpose with your desire to help others.

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.


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