The True Measure of Success

Success: (noun) – favorable or desired outcome; also: the attainment of wealth, favor, or prominence.  Webster’s Dictionary

This is the official definition of the word, but it leaves a lot to be desired.  Everyone wants to be successful, and everyone seems to judge people on what their own version of success is.  To most in our society, success is based on social standing, wealth, and the accumulation of material goods.  You’re a hedge fund manager, own a Bentley and live in a 6 bedroom house even though it’s just you and your wife? Damn, you are definitely successful.  You over there… you work as a manager in a McDonald’s and live in a lower-middle class neighborhood?  Should’ve studied harder in high school, pal.  This is how most people view success… only on what their own eyes can see in their fellow human’s situation.  But anyone with a good handle on humanity knows that material wealth and social standing play a very small part in what measures a person’s success, and that each person has a unique threshold of achievements that signifies success.  The true equation to measure this metric is below:

Success = Strength of Purpose X Maximization of Abilities

What do I mean by “strength of purpose”?  In Viktor Frankl’s famous book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, he discusses his theory of “Logotherapy”.  Frankl’s analysis of the human spirit is based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find a meaning in life.  According to Frankl, we can find this meaning in three distinct ways: 1) by creating a work or doing a deed; 2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and 3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.  Point 3 is directly related to Frankl’s experience in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, when he suffered immensely but used his strong will and desire to take care of his wife (who was already dead, unbeknownst to him), to get him through the horrid experience.  But what he focuses on mostly through his analysis is the importance of working towards a specific purpose.  This is what drives our will to live and influences our happiness.

Viktor Frankl

Strength of purpose is one of those things that doesn’t show up in the box score of success, just like hustle plays don’t end up in the box score of a basketball game.  But everyone involved in that ballgame knows how important those hustle plays are, and strength of purpose is equally as important in the equation mentioned above.  Because of this, I would argue that the manager of McDonald’s who feels connected to his cause, is passionate about molding the young minds of his team members to work cohesively, develop tangible skills in the workplace, and inspires them to achieve greater things in life; is more successful than the hedge fund manager who comes home feeling unfulfilled and stuck, because deep in his heart he wants to be a scientist.

The second part of the equation is “Maximization of abilities”.  For anyone that grew up in the 1990’s, who could forget Robert De Niro’s character Lorenzo in “The Bronx Tale”, repeatedly pleading to his son Calogero, “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent”.

Lorenzo and “C”

In terms of success, it comes down to squeezing as much of your talent as possible out of the proverbial lemon and applying it on a daily basis to make a difference in the things that you’re passionate about.  Let’s get back to the example of the McDonald’s manager and the hedge fund manager.  That McDonald’s employee may have come from a difficult childhood and overcome a number of learning disabilities and personal strife in order to work his way up to manager after many years of learning the ins and outs of the fast food business.  If this person has made it as far as he can go in a professional position and has a passion for getting to work every day, then that is one highly successful person.  The hedge fund manager is obviously successful financially, and adds a great deal of value on a daily basis.  The decisions they make help to increase the value of their investors’ portfolios and affect the economy in positive ways.  For the rich investors, it spurs further spending, which stimulates the economy as a whole.  And for the more modest investors, it helps those people to fund their retirement, buy that new house, and pay for their child’s college tuition.  While many in the finance field get ostracized in public for their high salaries, most of those people throwing stones would trade places with the hedge fund manager without even saying goodbye to their former boss.

But our hedge fund manager goes to work and doesn’t feel challenged.  He is so smart that his current role no longer satisfies him intellectually (I wish I was in his shoes!).  His real skills lie in the field of medicine, and he has a knack for understanding how different chemicals react to each other and how they affect the human body.  However, even with his skill set and potential to provide solutions for some of the worst cancers and diseases in the world, he chooses to stay in his current field because he doesn’t have the courage to make less money and take a leap of faith towards his passion.

If you put these two people in front of a panel of 100 judges, the vast majority, if not all, would conclude that the hedge fund manager is far more successful.  But based on the equation above, I would argue the McDonald’s manager is the more successful of the two as he has a stronger sense of purpose and has come closer to maximizing his natural abilities.

So how do each of us become as successful as possible?  The answer is pretty straightforward.  Look deep inside to find what you are truly passionate about, and work your ass off to maximize the skill set you have been given.  Of course, finding what we are truly passionate about isn’t as easy as taking a look down to our soul and getting someone down there to yell an answer back at us.  It takes hard work.  I’m 28 and still don’t know what the hell my calling is.  But the key is to not give up… to keep searching and exploring.  Because when you do find that passion, you will be ready to attack it with all the zeal that the long search has built up inside of you.

Let’s toast to 2011 and to the adventure of exploring, both internally and externally, and to the unique success it will bring to each of us.

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5 Responses to The True Measure of Success

  1. Aileen Cordaro says:

    Great post! Here’s to finding one’s passion and all the fun, excitement and surprises that the search entitles.

  2. courtney bennett says:

    Always inspiring …glad you are making blog posts. Im lucky that i get to turn to you for inspiration, ie our hour long phone conversations that always leave me feeling a million times better than i did only a short time before, but love that you are willing to share that inspiration/your input with anyone thats willing to listen. Your words do help to remind what is important in life.

  3. Jose says:

    a friend fwd me this link, and i must say, im truly inspired. Thank you for the inspiration & a better view on life. Wish more people thought like you. Wish you the best in all your journeys.

  4. Drew says:

    You are still obsessed with that book; you are too funny. Also, I’d say that perhaps there is a conflict between the two variables you propose. For instance, in the case of the hedge fund manager, what if he has no skills in medicine, even if it is his passion? He would be forfeiting his skill in pursuit of his passion. For some people, maybe the passion isn’t enough and they prefer to dedicate their lives to that at which they are good, thereby “maximizing their abilities.” With other people, maybe strength of purpose is the more important variable. I’d obviously choose passion over most anything in life.

    Now here is how I would expand upon your mathematical formula:

    xy = measure of success
    where x = value of strength of purpose
    and y = value of maximization of abilities

    Your X could be 50 and your Y 2, or vice versa, or your X can be 10 and your Y 10 and you’d get the same measure of success.

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