What is Success?

by T Taylor

My wife Teresa had a dream about having a live music venue. After years of saving and planning, we built one from scratch. It was the most difficult business we’ve ever been in. For almost five years, we did everything we knew to make it profitable, but the best we could muster was a breakeven proposition. Still, with all the difficulties and losses, not a week would go by without a customer declaring, “You must be so successful.” I would say, “Depends on what you mean by successful.”

Nissi's CelebrationSuccess. It’s what we shoot for in business and in life. It’s often discussed but rarely celebrated. Even though most business people associate success with bottom line financial growth and profitability, it means so much more. We’ve all seen people celebrate after winning something, or even attaining a goal. But success is illusive. Do you see people celebrating after reaching success? Not really. It would be like celebrating a concept.

People get awards, but not for being successful. Memorials and obituaries list activities and achievements, but don’t say if the person was a success.

I had a client for 15 years. We worked together diligently to reach lofty goals, and typically we would reach them over the years. The last goal was a big one, yet when we finally hit it, they were quick to start talking about the next thing. I took them out for a surprise dinner the next day and told them I wanted to stop and bask in our success.

My old boss set a revenue goal of $100 million for our company. I don’t think we ever quite got there (it was close), but he was considered quite a success in the eyes of many people. Yet he rarely seemed happy. Hmmm.

How do you measure success? If success means you hit a certain financial goal, maybe that’s success to you. If you want to help find homes for orphans and you do it, that’s most likely success, too. Just being happy in your job could be a success.

Some of the greatest, most successful people in history (Jesus, Jefferson, Einstein, Gandhi, etc.) were practically penniless, or even in debt when they left this world. So if success is measured by money alone, it’s at best a fleeting victory.

Success appears to be intrinsically measured by the experiences of a purposeful journey.

How does your journey impact you and others? Is it helpful, authentic or meaningful? What lessons are learned? Teresa’s dream was to have a music venue. She achieved that. Her success wasn’t measured by dollars, but by countless customers whose lives were enriched by their experiences.

That’s good enough for us.