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Some Kidding Aside – What success is

Success - Welcome to the Journey with Seven Powers Cover

I believe success can best be defined as the process of fulfilling one’s potential. It’s really the only definition for success that makes any sense. Since all of us come into the world with different external and internal gifts, the only fair way to evaluate one’s success is to measure one’s growth.

By “external” gifts, I mean things that have to do with one’s circumstances like money, location, social status, etc. By “internal” gifts, I mean such things that have to do with one’s person, such as intelligence, athletic ability, attractiveness, etc.

Let’s say a fellow you know named Hal has a net worth of $5 million. Hal is already retired in his early thirties, seems to have plenty of friends, travels around the world, and is known and welcomed everywhere he goes.  Would you think of him as successful?

Well, if we define success as the process of fulfilling one’s potential, then we really need to take a better look at Hal’s history and then speculate as to his likely trajectory before we can properly answer that question, don’t we?

So, then let’s suppose Hal was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Just after he turned twenty-one years old, his father passed away and Hal inherited $25 million. Hal sees this windfall as his opportunity to have fun, to finally live a life unfettered from responsibility and rigid expectation, so he throws lavish parties and indulges in a hedonistic lifestyle. He hangs out with movie stars and rock stars and is always seen and photographed with the rich, famous, and notorious. Hal enjoys his reputation as a bad boy and his famous derelict friends enjoy Hal financing all the fun.

Hal has also financed several of his friends’ elaborate business schemes, but none of them ever seem to pan out. As Hal’s money gradually disappears, so do his famous friends, so Hal redefines and relocates his circle of influence to a more local group of admirers. He now hangs out in your area where everyone thinks he’s a big shot.

That kind of lifestyle is never kind to one’s looks or health, so Hal is constantly dealing with a number of health issues that he really doesn’t like to discuss. He’d rather fill your ears with tales of days gone by. Hal is great to have around because he tells a great story, but no one thinks of him as a leader or a true friend. He’s weathered a few divorces and fathered a child or three here or there, but the exes despise him and his kids don’t know him and don’t care to.

Do you still think Hal is successful? Not if you define success as the process of fulfilling one’s potential. Unless Hal begins implementing some serious changes that produce growth in his life, Hal’s story isn’t likely to wind up very happily. The money will continue to deteriorate, and my bet is that Hal winds up broke and alone.

But what if we painted Hal’s history with a different brush? Suppose the Hal you know still has about the same net worth, but instead of being born wealthy, Hal came from a single-parent home. Raised by an abusive, alcoholic mother, Hal managed to not only survive childhood, but put himself through school and start his own business.

Hal recognized the ever-present negative influence of his childhood, so he actively sought personal growth opportunities such as counseling, education, and training. He married and had children of his own, and has worked hard to not repeat the errors of his upbringing.

Hal constantly gives to his community through volunteerism and contributions and is known by many as a generous and kind soul. He is a friend and lover to his wife, and a loving and involved father to his children.

So now you have two pictures of two very different Hals. Which Hal would you define as successful? Almost everyone I know would obviously choose the second scenario. It’s growth versus decay. Movement versus inertia. Life versus death.

What I am asking you to do is re-examine and then redefine your picture of success. Instead of asking yourself, “Am I successful?,” ask yourself,

  • “Am I attempting to fulfill my potential?”
  • “Am I growing financially, spiritually, and relationally?
  • “How have I challenged myself in the past year?”
  • “Have I progressed in my knowledge and abilities recently?”
  • “Am I on the road toward accomplishing what I am capable of with my life?”
  • “Have I been faithful to use and improve the gifts that I have been given?”

Excerpted from The Seven Powers of Success; Unlock Your Strengths, Unleash Your Dreams.  © 2013 Charles Marshall

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