Who’s Successful And Why?

While we deem some people successful and others not, there doesn’t seem to be a universal measure to define who’s successful and who isn’t. To illustrate this point, I’m going to share with you three examples, then ask you which of the three is successful.

Example 1

In my 20s and 30s I enjoyed playing tennis with friends. None of us had any desire to be good at the game, we just wanted to enjoy each others’ company in some friendly competition.

Example 2

My youngest brother was more into tennis. He joined a club that had a competition ladder; as you improved your skills you moved up the ladder. He hired a coach, had himself videotaped and spent hours improving skills. During his time there, he moved up the ladder.

Example 3

Serena Williams wanted to be a world champion tennis player and achieved that result many times during the course of her career.

Who’s successful?

In my opinion, all three of us were successful…just at different levels of success. I wanted and achieved good times and fond memories with my friends. My brother improved his skills and moved up the competition ladder. Serena became arguably the most successful tennis player of all times.

My point is that success is not binary. We tend to think of it in that light, but in reality there are various levels of success as these examples illustrate. That leads to the following questions: What determines the level of success we’ll achieve? How can that information help us predict the likelihood of our success?

Success determinant

What determines the level of success we’ll achieve? Let’s examine the three examples to see what’s common to all three. The common element I see is desire.

I desired a good time with friends and got it. My brother desired a more competitive experience and got it…relative to his desire (he had no desire to be a tennis professional). Serena Williams desired to become a world champion tennis player and reached the pinnacle of her profession.

That brings us to the next question: How can you use this determinant (desire) to predict the likelihood of your success. What’s worked well for me, and my clients, is a process in which we identify the first three to five things we need to do to achieve what we desire. Then, on a scale of one to five with five being high, we rate our willingness to perform each of these steps.

If the ratings are all four or fives, the likelihood of success is great. If some of them are threes it’s iffy, at best a 50/50 probability. If the ratings are one and twos, we find something else that interests us; we’re not going to persevere through the inevitable challenges we’ll face.

This process will help you avoid wasting time, energy and money in pursuit of something that you don’t desire as much as you initially think you do. It’ll also help you avoid taking a hit to your confidence, something that happens frequently when you fail…or give up on something you thought you wanted.

For you

Before you pursue something that intrigues you (that you think you desire) identify the first three to five steps you need to take to gain what you desire. Then rate them on a scale of one to five, with five being high, based on your willingness to take these actions. If the ratings are all fours and fives, go for it. If not, find another interest and use the same process. You’ll find that this objective analysis (devoid of emotion) will make your life easier and more enjoyable.

When determining whether or not you’ve been successful, remind yourself that there are various levels of success and the level of success is dependent upon your desire. Recall what your original desire was in light of what you’ve achieved. You’ll typically find that you were more successful than you originally thought.

One of the nefarious aspects of desires (dreams or goals) is that they grow with each success until they reach a point at which the payback is no longer greater than the effort required. Often it’s at this point that we evaluate our success and feel that we came up short when the reality is that we were much more successful than we initially imagined we would be.

Don’t fall into this trap; do the desire evaluation up front and again as you identify each of the succeeding three to five steps you need to take to move closer to your goal. Also, assuming your ratings on the first three to five steps are all fours and fives, make note of your goal for future reference. That way, when you compare your success to your original goal, you realize that you were indeed more successful than you had initially hoped.

For our kids

When the kids in your life express a desire, ask them to identify the first three to five things they need to do to satisfy that desire. Then have them employ the rating system outlined above to help them determine whether their desire is strong enough to pursue what they desire.

Feel free to use the tennis example above to help them understand that success occurs at various levels…that it isn’t only those who reach the pinnacle who enjoy success. This will help them appreciate the minor successes they achieve as well as the grander goals achieved.

In reality, we all enjoy success everyday in many forms. Life is more enjoyable when we are aware of that reality. It also makes the challenges we face less daunting.

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2 Responses

  1. William Prenatt

    Dale, As always great insights. Along these lines of defining success, I was obsessed with answering this question for myself several years ago. After much trial and error, I settled on this definition: Success is the achievement of the things that are important to me. This seems to have served me well.
    Always appreciate the opportunity to share with your readers!

    • dfurtwengler

      Well said, Bill. The likelihood of success grows exponentially when it’s in the pursuit of what’s important to us. In a similar vein, I tell others that they only need to overcome the fears that prevent them from getting what they want. If a fear doesn’t prevent us from achieving what we desire, is it really worth the effort to overcome it?

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