Success. It’s an interesting topic. Ask 100 individuals to define success, and I would bet on at least 95 different answers as a result. If you’ve been reading here for an extended period of time, you may know that I love the concept of success vs. excellence. But that may be cheating, so let’s take a deeper dive into the concept of success.
I want to incorporate a quote from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s portrayal of Lincoln and his political genius, Team of Rivals, which I have been reading recently. In speaking about a period of depression and despair in young Lincoln’s life, Goodwin says he was carried forward by the belief that “ideas of a person’s worth are tied to the way others, both contemporaries and future generations, perceive him.” (pp. 100, paperback edition) Lincoln did not yet feel he had accomplished anything or impacted anyone in such a way to be much remembered.
So on one end of the spectrum, we have an entirely internal definition of success – defined by fulfilling our highest personal potential… or excellence. And on the other end of the spectrum we have an entirely external definition of success – defined by the perceptions of others.
I don’t know that there is any right answer here, and I don’t intend to establish the ‘right’ definition. The most important aspect to this, in my mind, is developing the self-awareness around our personal tendencies. So, today, I’d like to share where I fall on the spectrum and I hope you’ll share your own perspective in the comments.
How I Measure My Own Success
As I said above, I love the concept of success vs. excellence. I wake up everyday and I want to give my absolute best to each and everything I do. I know the feeling of having given my best effort and reached for my highest potential… And it makes me feel successful when I do. Most days I fall short — but the effort and attitude of striving for excellence is a matter of success for me.
Now, I would like to say that I am entirely intrinsically motivated. Intrinsic motivators and measures of success keep my actions pure and maintains my sense of integrity. However, I know there exists a large part of me that wholeheartedly subscribes to Lincoln’s view, as described by Goodwin above.
When I finish my work at the end of my career and I look back at all of the opportunities I have had, I know I will in part measure my sense of accomplishment and success based on the perceptions of others. I will want to have had a vast impact on all of those individuals with whom I have had interaction. I will want to know I have helped others and they believe in me. I will want to be remembered for the impact I have made on the world around me.
So in all reality, I have both internal and external measures of success. And while I am able to rest assured in my actions and efforts, I derive value from the perceptions of those around me… Which means Abe and I could have had some interesting conversations about success in relation to changing the world!
How about you? Do you define success more by internal measures, or external measures? Why? I’d love to hear your perspective in the comments.
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