A recent conversation with a friend caused me to ponder the meaning of success. By modern measures, he is a successful guy, big house, high paying job, vacation anywhere he wants, family, etc…, yet he told me of how he feels like a total failure and it makes him feel that way even more when people say how successful he is. By modern standards, he is successful, so why does he feel like he is not?
I had to divorce myself from the usual line of thinking to get to the answer on this one, but some how, our definition of success has altered over the years. Truly looking at the world of business and media influences, if we are not perfect and perfect is an ever changing definition, we are a failure. I remember in school being told “if it isn’t an A grade, it might as well be an F.” Meaning, nothing less than perfect was to be tolerated. In a way this kind of sums up what success has become today for many. It is why you see billionaires caught stealing, or other so called successful people doing some rather stupid things, because they know they are not perfect and it really bothers them and then they do something stupid.
That very day I was watching a show on CNBC about the new wealthy. The interesting thing was, the net worth of these people were $50 million or more, and yet they didn’t feel successful, they wanted more, they could buy pretty much anything they wanted yet it wasn’t enough. They had to get more because the bar was constantly being raised and they had to keep up. As one guy put it, when he was growing up, having a million dollars made you rich, today, you can’t give up your day job with a million dollars of net worth.
Modern day definition of success has a healthy dose of failure in it. I think this is from a misconception of what success and failure are and their relationship to one another. Take Rush Limbaugh, he was a failure just as long as he has been a success. It is when he stopped caring what the opinions of others and did things his way, did he get the rewards of millions. Now the New York Times saw him as a failure and even that his drive not to be a failure was the point of his success. However, I think for Rush and having been there myself, failure helps you define success, but it is not the root of it.
Rush had true failure, after that, you are not afraid of failing. Many people today have run away from failure their entire lives and have no concept of it. It hurts, it’s humiliating, it’s humbling and after a while, it has no power over you. Why be afraid of failure again once you have had it, you know the worst and you get up and go on and you stop bothering with the should have or could have comments of others and just get in there and do what you know is best as you see it.
Look around, the really successful people in live had failure and got up and moved on. They don’t run from it. The people who rise up and crash, they ran from failure and will fail because they run from it and you can’t run your whole life.
In the end, I think we have a somewhat unhealthy definition of success by many people. One that does not equate success with running away from failure is needed in more quarters. I know I have worked with companies that fear failure or anything out of their norm and it cripples them to a point that it threatens the very survival of the business. They are successful at running away from failure that eventually they also run away from the success they need to stay in business.