Saturday, July 14, 2012

How Do YOU Define Success?

Listening to several people talk recently about the successes and failures that they had been experiencing caused me to stop and assess the concept for a moment.  In these conversations, the concept of success was relatively definable based on some objective form.  The concept of money, wins, happiness, possessions, and/or fame are all somewhat tangible concepts that people often use to measure success.  Typically it comes in a comparison with someone else such as "more money" or "more famous" than another person.  What eluded all of these people in the conversations was the fact that each one had their own "bar" set for what is success.  The possessions of one person may seem like a failure, while the next may feel exceedingly successful in amassing the same or similar assets.  That in itself may be the reason that so many of us never seem to "achieve" or reach any level of satisfaction.  When we reach one plateau and feel rewarded or content, we either focus on another area or increase the level of our success in the same area.  For example, one that wants to become a millionaire will find a new status symbol (such as owning a business, finding a spouse, or helping disadvantaged kids) or will increase the definition of success in amassing wealth (such as having 10 Million Dollars). 

It is good to have goals, and I'm not saying we shouldn't, but since our goals don't really satisfy our desire for "more" of everything, maybe it is the path or the methodology that is actually the reward we seek.  Maybe, the meeting of the goal has less significance to our life than the effort, dedication, ethics, and passion put into reaching that goal.  The amassing of money, things, power, etc. may be a way to keep score in our lives, as many do, but is the real victory in the game of life the game itself.  OK, for those that are struggling with my concept here, let me elaborate with an example.

If you know me, you know one of my loves in life is, and always has been, basketball.  I enjoy the game - the strategy, the skill, the finesse, the contact, the force, the speed and power combined, and all that goes with this amazing game that began with a peach basket on a wall.  Another thing that you may know about me is that I'm very competitive - I don't like to lose, I don't like to make mistakes, I don't like to look bad to others or even more to myself.  I like to be "successful" every step of the way, and I'll work hard to make that happen.  So in this basketball analogy - missing a shot, being out of position, or letting someone drive by me to the basket simply frustrates me.  Each of those is a "loss" or a "failure" to me.  As I get older and slower, have less stamina, and can jump only inches for a rebound or to challenge a shot, these "failures" become more frequent.  I have to adjust my play to cover for my lack of athleticism (my mind sees what I should/could do, but my body isn't able to make it happen).  Now all of these are the realities of who I currently am, but none of them are an excuse or reason for not doing my best - sometimes by accommodating in less athletic manner, such as reading a rebound better than I did 15 years ago.  Learning about myself from each play is part of the joy of the game (I see another post coming on a spin-off of the topic here).

Although my prime for playing the game has long since departed, I still very much enjoy getting out on the court.  Not many years ago, I played among a combination of young high school athletes, a few college guys, and some of us that still thought we had "it" for some reason.  Almost everyone who played had greater skill than me, and some were quite passionate, so it was a very competitive venue for me to challenge myself.  I loved it!  Sometimes the four on the court with me won, and sometimes we lost the game to 15.  As we shot freethrows for teams, there were times, I didn't get a chance to fill the team because I missed.  The hardest part of missing that freethrow or losing the previous game was not the fact that I had failed (but I obviously did - the goal was to make the shot or win the game).  The most depressing part was that I didn't have the opportunity to play.  The ultimate goal was to keep ME on the court to enjoy playing the game.  The win was a step in that direction.  Making the freethrow to become a part of the next team was a piece of that puzzle.  Doing things right on the court contributed to the likeliness of keeping me on the court. 

With that analogy, it is easier to see (at least for me) that the ultimate goal of my few hours of open gym basketball wasn't to make a freethrow, win the game, block a shot, make 3 good passes, or any other tangible goal that we would typically set for ourselves.  The goal was to be a part of as much basketball as I could.  In doing so, I also unlocked another key piece of understanding for myself.  I could better appreciate the good play of others and recognize that they too were doing what it took to keep their playing time alive.  Although competitive, it was in a different way.  If I left it all on the court and my team lost, I could live with that much easier than I could deal with losing my opportunity to play because I fell short of doing the things that could help our team.  In other words, the means were more important than the end.

When we define success, maybe it is in those terms that we all have a little bit more to learn.  It's not the money, wins, things, fame, etc. that are the successes in life (or the failures).  True success comes from playing the game and being a contributing player in the life we lead.  Our goals in the process may change by those objective measures, but our approach to meeting those goals can be consistent.  Then, win or lose, we can determine our satisfaction with ourselves based on our own effort.



Anonymous said...

The analogy relating to basketball was relevant to playing the game of life. It is also important to remember there was a time prior to learning to play basketball. No game just learning and living. There will also be time when the game will not be played on court or off but learning and life will still go on. So success changes as life changes but learning and life go on until the end unless we make the choice not to learn. I don't agree that winning or loosing is a measure of success. I do agree it is the effort we put into life and goals that are important but that does not equal success. So what is success? Learning and living, learning and living, learning and living now that is success.

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