How Do We Measure Success?
"I've failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed." - Michael Jordan
At certain points, we need to review where we are in life, and how we got here. Why did we choose this specific path? Was it chosen for us by an unforeseen twist of fate? Are we merely victims of circumstance, or are we capable of accepting responsibility for both the good and the bad in life? Are we happy with the progress we’ve made and the direction in which we’re heading? Where have we faltered, and where have we excelled? For most of us, life usually has a way of throwing a monkey wrench or two in our plans, but our attitude and outlook are entirely up to us, regardless of our past transgressions or current circumstances.
Albert Einstein said, “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” Seeing as how he was one of the most successful individuals of the 20th century, I think Einstein’s words are especially poignant. His remarks don't diminish the importance of attaining success, but rather, they serve to champion the notion of maintaining a sense of integrity and honor in everything you do.
Having lived a valuable and admirable life himself, Einstein understood that many men achieve success, but their success was empty when it wasn’t accompanied by nobility, humility, and self-worth. Goals should be continually set, pursued, and achieved, but not at the cost of our humanity.
So how do we measure success in 2012? This may seem like a fairly easy question to answer, but only on a superficial level. Most of us measure success by an appraisal of our material possessions: the amount of money we make, the type of car we drive, or the size of our home. We equate social standing with dollars and cents. If we have less, we want more. If we have more, we want it all, but we're still happy to wave our good fortune in other's faces.
Modern society dictates that we gauge our status by our bank accounts, but this is a heavily flawed philosophy. Regardless of the titles we possess or the money we make, we shouldn’t let our economic standing affect how others see us or how we view ourselves. Ask Bernie Madoff if financial gain has made him a happier man.
Instead, I think that, to truly be successful, we need to think less in terms of dollars and cents and more in terms of how we treat others, approach situations, and contribute to the world around us. To do so, we should hold ourselves to a manageable set of three standards: 1) accepting responsibility; 2) being accountable; and 3) showing respect. When these three values are incorporated into our daily lives, we will always be successful, no matter what outside influences or circumstances arise because we will be living life on our own terms, not those dictated by society.
Responsibility is the cognizant recognition of the consequences involved with our autonomy. It involves stepping up to the plate and taking ownership of your successes, as well as your failures.
Everyone is going to make mistakes, occasionally; it’s how we react to these setbacks that define the content of our character. You measure your success; no one else can do it for you. You’re responsible for your success; no one else wants that burden. You decide what your life and your future hold because, to be honest, no one else really cares.
An extension of accepting responsibility is holding yourself accountable for everything that happens in your life. Winners accept fault, losers place blame indiscriminately. Ask any loser you’ve ever met – it’s easy to make excuses. They’re a defense mechanism people use to rationalize laziness and ineptitude.
Successful individuals don’t feel the need to make excuses. Everyone makes mistakes, but successful people view past blunders and negative situations as an opportunity to learn and grow. They don’t blame other people for their circumstances, and they don’t ridicule their friends, family, and colleagues when mistakes are made. Instead, accountable individuals look to fix the errors of the past by focusing on positive solutions for the future.
What do we mean when we talk about respect? Respect is shown through conduct; it’s not a spectator sport. Successful people show reverence by looking out for the interest of others, practicing empathy by gaining perspective, treating everyone with courtesy, and abstaining from gossip. For a true winner, everyone is deserving of respect. It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with the Pope or your children; there are certain standards of behavior that should always be followed. In other words, respect yourself and respect your fellows in all manners of life.
It's really easy for me to sit behind a desk and preach about virtue, especially since my character has usually failed to match the attributes listed above. I lived extremely recklessly throughout college, I've failed to recognize my culpability in several ruined relationships, and I've disrespected countless individuals with whom I hadn't even taken the time to get to know on a personal level.
In short, I am a hypocrite, a failure. I've failed many more times in life than I have succeeded, even with the benefit of a privileged upbringing and a supportive family. I am the epitome of white male America. But the best part about being a failure is the daily opportunity to overcome my shortcomings to achieve success and positively influence the lives of others.