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Definition of success

Know what will make this life worthwhile…specifically.

Achieving success and fulfillment in life is about right perspective and wisdom. Perspective of what truly matters and wisdom of who you are, what you are designed to do that no one else does quite like you and how to leverage that for the things that truly matter. Above all, success personal, fluid and contextual.

  • Personal. Defining what success looks like is something you have to do in a quiet place. Many things are best done in community, but this isn’t one of them. Only you can answer the question of what success really looks like for you. Don’t give into the clichés. It isn’t necessarily nice cars, world travel, beach homes, expensive jewelry or fame. At the same time, don’t go generic and undefined. Things like “changing the world,” “being happy” or “raising great kids” are undefined and therefore unreachable and uninspiring. You don’t get up in the morning to “change the world,” you get up in the morning to build a company that is revolutionizing the way underprivileged people get access to healthcare – and you change the world with your passion for that attainable, measurable ideal.
  • Fluid. How you define success today isn’t likely the same way you’ll describe it in 20 years. There are a lot of reasons for this, but knowing that up front is critical. Don’t lock yourself into a definition that limits you because you can’t accept new data. Over time you’re going to move in a direction, learn new things, meet new people and form new thought-processes. When that happens it would be good to re-evaluate. How does that affect my definitions in life? From that, how should I adjust my current energy flow? Are there projects I should drop? Relationships? Should I just take the project I’m working on and change its direction? Remember, life is like a powerful river. If you don’t learn to master using its flow to go where you want it will take you where it wants to. (And likely beat the crap out of you on the way there.)
  • Contextual. Success can only be understood within the context of the life in which it was achieved. Two illustrations should help here. We can all agree that Michael Jackson was extremely successful in his career. But when you factor in the sadness of the whole of his life you have to ask the question – how successful was he as a whole? Second example, there is a girl that grew up, got through school and then got married and raised a few kids who were good men and women as they grew up. Then she died. Frankly, I just depressed myself. Until you know the context. She was born blind, physically and sexually abused growing up, lived in poverty in a third world country and had a crippling disease hit her when she was 25 that meant she was in constant pain her whole life. And the lack of education, poverty and abuse was a pattern in her family for at as far back as anyone could remember. Because of her life the pattern changed and a foundation of love, hard work and healthy relationships was laid for many generations after her to rise up from. Now ask yourself if you think she was an amazing person or not.

Before you set out to create a system (or adopt/adapt one), you need to have these things firmly in mind. Know who you are (strengths, talents and personality), what your value is (how you bring who you are to the world in a meaningful way) and what you value (what is it that you believe is bigger than you and that you have to incorporate in your life to be successful). Only then is your system worth squat.

If you can learn to have the wisdom of knowing & controlling what you can control in your life (thoughts, actions & attitudes), then you can constantly move forward on your personal journey that is successful & fulfilling.

What resonates with you about this? What annoys you? But mostly, I want to know what you’re going to do about it…your move.

To do listOne of life’s great questions is, “How do I win?” You may be trying to win a man or woman’s affections, get a good grade, a promotion, build a profitable company or develop deep friendships but at the core of those pursuits is this question. I’ve found that the times in my life that I’ve consistently won is when I’ve had a system of attack on the problem. Sometimes I’m completely unaware that I’m using a system until after the fact. I see other people who swear they have no system at all but I can see the patterns in their life that stem from the systems they use.
Whether you are aware of the systems in your life or not, I hope seeing one that I’ve developed may help you refine the ones you have. Alternatively, you can help me break and redo mine! I call this one “GEAR UP.” It is the system at a high level that I will teach my kids to help them be the best them they can be.

  1. Goals – Decide what you want and set actionable, measurable goals to get there. Go from big picture practical steps. You may do this as yearly, monthly, weekly and daily goals and action steps or you may just say you know where you want to go and what the very next thing you need is. Either way, know the destination and the path to get there. Don’t set your goals at more than 6-12 months out. Anything beyond that is too uncertain and subject to change with all the variables. Let anything beyond 12 months be a dream that your 6-12 month goals will take you a step closer to. But keep your goals independently worthwhile so that if your long-range dreams change your goals were still worth accomplishing.
  2. Education – If you want to do something you haven’t done before, you most likely don’t know how to do it. (Profound insight, huh?) Find out what resources you need to learn, get them begin educating yourself prior to and during the actionable part of your plan. Don’t allow not knowing everything to paralyze your actions. Remember, the key to all success is action. Many people plan and many people have knowledge, few actually get up and do something with it.
  3. Action & Accountability – Nothing happens until someone takes action. And usually no action is taken consistently unless there is some sort of accountability. Either to yourself with rewards and consequences or with someone you trust to hold you accountable to your plans and goals. Spouses are not usually the ones to do this with, but can be. Remember that most people act to avoid pain, not to achieve pleasure. So make sure you know the dream but also the consequences of not acting.
  4. Reflection & Review – The unexamined life isn’t worth living. Just like a ship with navigation controls, you need to constantly check your course and make adjustments as needed to stay on the right track. Sometimes it may be realizing you set your goals too high (or too far off) at first, sometimes that you set them too low. Maybe you planned as well as you knew how, but unforeseen circumstances require you to take an alternate course or just make adjustments to how you were running your course to the big picture goal you set. Sometimes you just need to reflect on the process so far and see if you’ve been enjoying it and how to make it better. Also if you need encouragement in your pursuits, reflecting on how far you’ve come can be a great refresher on the path to your goals.
  5. Under Pressure – You have to put timeframes on your goals and have rewards and/or consequences that are meaningful to you set based on those timeframes and goals. If you are not under pressure to do the daily & weekly things it takes to accomplish your stated goals, you won’t accomplish them. You’ll do what we all do, the other things you have that do have urgency because of the rewards and/or consequences they have attached to them.

So what do you think? Is this a workable system? What is missing? What is flat out wrong? Break it, add to it, make it yours. Let me know what you think.

Stay tuned next for part 3 where I’ll talk about what you have to do before any system is worth squat.

Systems ThinkingI’ve been thinking a lot lately about systems and patterns. Some of you may think that isn’t relevant to you because you like to take things as they come and be more fluid in your approach to life and projects. But I think these are relevant things for everyone. I mean, even the most artistic and creative people in the world have “ways” of doing things that help them accomplish what they do. If you look back over your life events and situations you’d probably see patterns emerge from below the surface. It’s worth the time to dig a little into your life and see what patterns you could see. Maybe even involve some people close to you to help see things you’re blind to.

We all have patterns in our life and unconsciously or with full awareness, we build systems around our lives for how we “do life.” The question is – how good are our models? The models we use in our lives will ultimately determine if we can effectively utilize all of our talents and abilities. i.e., our models determine if we are the best “me” we can be. Two examples that stand out to me as proof of this are science and advertising.


  1. Evolution. This may be a touchy subject for many, but at its core this is just a model for trying to give us a way to understand how our world became what it is today and maybe understand why things are happening as they are today and where they may go in the future. The relevant questions with this model are, among many others: Is this model fundamentally correct? Is it complete? Does the data support the theory? Is there any data that we have which seem to break the model? If so, do we alter the model in some way to then incorporate that data, study the data to make sure we understand it correctly or completely toss the model? My point is this: science uses models like we all do in our everyday lives – to give us a framework of how to understand and discuss complex topics. Sometimes those models generate controversy and sometimes prove to ultimately be wrong, but it is important to have them so we can continue the dialogue and improve our understanding.
  2. Advertising. I don’t remember where I first read it, but there was a study done on advertisement creation that tested the idea of “open creativity” versus “structured creativity.” Basically two groups of people were asked to create a compelling ad. One group was told to create an ad and were given no limitations. They could create whatever, however they wanted. The other group was asked to do the same, but with the limitation that they had to use one of the “templates” for ads given. These were templates that we still see used today. Things like headers which read “21 best ways to get 6 pack abs…plus one.” The two groups were both randomly selected from the population and not from advertising backgrounds so it was relatively safe to say they were on roughly equal footing of capability. The test was that both ads were actually put out into the market with a number to call and see which one generated the most response. Which one did? The one that followed a known pattern.

Systems, patterns and models are things that can be time consuming and may even be laborious for many. I happen to like them. But what do you think? Do you have systems for how you do things? Are their models you use for how you make it through life? And more importantly, do you know what they are and how they affect you? Do you test them and refine them with time? And I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask, how are you passing them on to others so collectively we all become better?

That’s all I’ve got for now, but in the next post I’ll give one of my systems in hopes that you can help me break it and make it better.

Kid Pitching a Fit


Ever heard it? It starts as a slow but familiar request.

“Please, please?! I want this so bad.” It quickly escalates in urgency.

“I’ll do anything! I really need this!”

You know what I’m talking about. That grating, high-pitched whine that makes the tension in your shoulders build almost immediately. The pulse quickens, lips press together, eyes close in a desperate attempt to imagine a happy place. Then when you open your eyes you stand there a bit taken back by the fact that the person you’re staring at is…you.

I heard a talk the other day about coveting. I know. It’s a pretty old fashioned word that likely brings up thoughts of an angry guy on a soap box screaming about something to do with brimstone and sulfur. This talk was different. And it got me to thinking: just what is coveting? Maybe it’s what happens inside of me when I want something and it goes from a desire to a “need.” Not a legitimate need, mind you. But one of those “needs” that leads to choices I would advise a friend against making. Then the speaker made this point: we’ve taken covetousness and turned it into a value. When we see someone NOT driven we call them unambitious and look down on them.

Of course, my first reaction to this was that it was probably true for someone else. But the more I think about it I’m starting to wonder. When I see people that are satisfied in life, what do I think? Do I admire them for having the maturity to know their needs are met and to be happy with that? Or do I think that in some way they really just don’t think they can do any better and given up? Is their contentedness something I want to celebrate and use as a reminder to not allow myself to be caught up in the lie of the American dream that says I need to have it all? And when I think about all I have, do I tend toward thinking I’ve gotten closer to reaching satisfaction? (I’ve rarely had that feeling, by the way.)

Funny thing is, when I stop and think about what I want my life to have looked like when I’m 80 it never has a lot to do with money or stuff. Granted, there are aspects of that dream that are material. I’d love to have a house my kids and their families could visit and have great times in. I’d like to be able to travel and even pay for others to come if they couldn’t afford it. Be able to eat at nice restaurants around the world. But those are really small side items.

Maybe you’re wondering where I’m going with this. I guess I’m thinking about what kind of attitude I’m passing on to my boys. I mean, my responsibility as a dad is to help them know what it means to be a man, how to be one and to give them the tools to live a significant life. But if part of what rubs off on them is well, covetousness, that seems like a step backward from those goals.

My challenge is blindness. Am I blind to what I don’t see? Kind of like what the speaker said, “We’ve taken covetousness and turned it into a virtue.” Have I lived so long in a culture that looks at this issue as a non-issue that I’m not able to see its subtle influence on me? And this is such a polarized issue that it’s really hard to get good feedback. One side of the fence says all is well. If you’ve made it you’ve earned it. Spend as you please. Give a little away to appease the guilt and just keep on going. The other side is equally as intense. Sell it all! Move into a field somewhere and forgo all earthly delights! Material things are the devil! (Imagine the Waterboy’s Mama here)

Waterboy's Mama

Material things are the devil!

When my kids get older and they are able to look back on their days under my leadership I want them to be able to say that they didn’t just learn how to be polite and do good things. More than knowing how to make money. Beyond the basics of having the right behaviors. I want them to be able to say they “caught” my attitudes and that they are thankful I had the right ones. That my heart was not only good but well trained.

And so I find myself asking, “Where do I start to evaluate my heart?” And what other issues are buried down in my life that are so normal that they are practically invisible at this point? I wish I had a neat bow to tie around this post. Instead, I just send it out as more of a reflection. This is bound to be a tension I’ll wrestle with the rest of my life. At least I know I won’t be solving it today.