Success is as elusive as a Unicorn. You cannot find success or search for it, you cannot strive for success. Success is not the ultimate goal. Yes there are people who are successful, but how did they get there? Did they have a formula to follow?
When I was younger, I promised myself that I would be a millionaire by the time I was 30 years old. When my 30th birthday rolled around, I was working in middle management, I was renting a trailer and had one car that was quite, uhm, vintage. The money I had in the bank was about $999,625 short of my goal. My goal was not reached and I went into depression.
Why wasn’t I a success? I was a hard worker. Why had success eluded me?
“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run – in the long-run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”Dr. Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
I served with a guy in the Navy, he seemed to have it all together. He drove a new Mercedes, he lived in a nice house, his civilian clothes were nice and reflected a refined style. This guy seemed to have it all. He was in the reserves and his day job he worked as a lawyer. Then one day he lost his job at the law firm, his wife left him and took his house and car and he ended up declaring bankruptcy a few years after we met.
Why didn’t I feel like a success? You see, I was focused on success and how everyone else measured success. I didn’t realize that I was already successful – as long as I used my own measure of success and not someone else’s. By the time I was 30, I had five children and I had been married at that time 11 years. Since then my family has grown to six grandchildren, one son in law and one daughter in law.
Twenty some years after my 30th birthday, I finally realize what a successful person I am. You see, as I said before, there are different measures for success. Yes I was a hard worker and I was doing everything that I thought would make me a success. I had not taken stock of my life, because I was still striving for success; I equated success with money, a nice house and a new car. Those things are fleeting.
Not everyone measures success the same way. One person might see success as wealth. They go after wealth like a greyhound goes after the electric bunny at a racetrack. It is their focus and they have honed their skills in creating wealth. Another person might look at being free to live their life. They sell everything they own and hit the road in their Westfalia and they experience the sun rise on the Eastern Seaboard and the Sunset on the West Coast. Two different lifestyles, but successes both of them.
Drawing from the quote above, Dr. Frankl said, “For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” Let’s take a look at this.
One’s Personal Dedication
Success requires dedication – no matter if you are talking about a career, a lifestyle change or marriage. you must dedicate yourself to that.
There have been many depictions of a person that dedicates all their time to a particular cause. This cause could be the advancement of their career, the starting of a foundation or painting a beautiful masterpiece. It does not matter, because the successful ones are the ones that focus on the task at hand, and create something – almost literally – out of nothing. Now I hear some of you saying, “Don’t forget about the work/life balance.” I am aware of the work/life balance, and that will be another blog post.
You see, even though I hate to admit it, I was not singularly dedicated to any career. When I was 30, yes I was a manager, I was over 70 people, but I was not totally dedicated to that job. Truthfully my job was just a way to make sure my family was fed. I didn’t wake up in the morning and run to work, because I was excited to work. However, I was always ready to come home, since that is where my focus was.
I was dedicated to my family. When I was in the Navy, I had a 1st Class Petty Officer tell me, “Your seabag came before your wife, sailor.” I replied, “With all due respect, I was married before I enlisted.” What he wanted me to do, was to dedicate myself to the Navy and make my wife second in my priorities. However, that was not how I was wired. My wife was alone, and I would talk to her on the phone multiple times a day. Even though we are not in the same place or under the same circumstances as we were 34 years ago, I still talk to my wife several times a day.
Surrender to a person other than oneself
“I am not going to surrender myself to anyone – than ain’t gonna happen.” That might be your take on things, but really – we do this on a daily basis, whether we consciously do it or not: Let me explain. When we get up in the morning and get started for the day, we have things to do that day. Some go to work – surrendering. Some go to school – surrendering. Some stay home and take care of children – surrendering. Unless you are totally alone, you don’t leave your bed and you don’t’ believe in a higher power, your day is a constant action of surrendering to one person or another.
However, what Dr. Frankl is talking about here, is the type of surrender that takes place when you realize that you are not omnipotent and you must come under the authority of someone. Even the most powerful person in the world has to answer to someone. Dr. Frankl wants us to do it continuously and consciously.
I had no problem doing that for my wife and kids, since I had to answer to them. The jobs that I held throughout the years signifies that my only focus was their well being; I didn’t care what I did, they needed to be taken care of, and I have done many jobs just to make sure that the family had a place to live and food on the table. Does that make me a better man than most, no. Does that make me a success, yes. However, this is not the measure of success for every person
I have never been good at surrendering myself to my bosses. In my last job, I was very vocal about my dissatisfaction with the changes the company was making. I, on several occasions, would let my supervisor and the manager of the branch, where I was working, know what problems had occurred and how it could be fixed (I have always felt it necessary to have a solution to a problem, otherwise it was just whining). This constant barrage of complaints about the system did not garner me any favors. So when I eventually left my position, they were glad and they did not want me to continue for the two weeks manidory notice.
My whole reason for this post is this, you need to figure out what is success in your mind. What do you want to be known for. You need to be dedicated – what I mean is you need to miss what you are doing when you are not doing it. Do you want to be a successful writer? Do you miss it when you are not at your keyboard? Are you interested in finance? Do you find yourself totally consumed by numbers and financial documents? It only matters what you really want to do and how much you want to dedicate to that endevor. You have to decide what you want to be successful at, and after dedication and not thinking about how you are a success – you will finally find that you have arrived.
Victor Frankl, Man’s search for meaning, 3rd Edition, A touchstone Book 1984, p12