The picture of success isn’t the same for any two people because we’re all created differently as unique individuals. But the process is the same for everyone. It’s based on principles that do not change. After more than twenty-five years of knowing successful people and studying the subject, I have developed the following definition of success:
Success is . . .
knowing your purpose in life, growing to reach your maximum potential, and sowing seeds that benefit others.
You can see by this definition why success is a journey rather than a destination. No matter how long you live or what you decide to do in life, you will never exhaust your capacity to grow toward your potential or run out of opportunities to help others. When you see success as a journey, you’ll never have the problem of trying to “arrive” at an elusive final destination. And you’ll never find yourself in a position where you have accomplished some final goal, only to discover that you’re still unfulfilled and searching for something else to do.
Another benefit of focusing on the journey of success instead of on arriving at a destination or achieving a goal is that you have the potential to become a success today. The very moment that you make the shift to finding your purpose, growing to your potential, and helping others, successful is something you are right now, not something you vaguely hope one day to be.
To get a better handle on these aspects of success, let’s take a look at each one of them.
#1 Knowing Your Purpose
Nothing can take the place of knowing your purpose. Millionaire industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, the founder of Kaiser Aluminum as well as the Kaiser-Permanente health-care system, said, “The evidence is overwhelming that you cannot begin to achieve your best unless you set some aim in life.” Or put another way, if you don’t try actively to discover your purpose, you’re likely to spend your life doing the wrong things.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you identify your purpose:
- For what am I searching? All of us have a strong desire buried in our hearts, something that speaks to our deepest thoughts and feelings, something that sets our souls on fire. Some people have a strong sense of what that is when they’re just children. Others take half a lifetime to discover it. But no matter what, it’s there. You only need to find it.
Why was I created? Each of us is different. No one else in the world has exactly the same gifts, talents, background, or future. That’s one of the reasons it would be a serious mistake for you to try to be someone other than yourself. Think about your unique mix of abilities, the resources available to you, your personal history, and the opportunities around you. If you objectively identify these factors and discover the desire of your heart, you will have done a lot toward discovering your purpose in life.
- Do I believe in my potential? You cannot consistently act in a manner inconsistent with the way you see yourself. If you don’t believe that you have potential, you will never try to reach it. And if you aren’t willing to work toward reaching your potential, you will never be successful.
#2 Growing to Your Potential
Novelist H. G. Wells held that wealth, notoriety, place, and power are no measures of success whatsoever. The only true measure of success is the ratio between what we might have been and what we have become. In other words, success comes as the result of growing to our potential.
It’s been said that our potential is God’s gift to us, and what we do with it is our gift to him. But at the same time, our potential is probably our greatest untapped resource. Henry Ford observed, “There is no man living who isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can do.”
We have nearly limitless potential, yet too few ever try to reach it. Why? The answer lies in this: We can do anything, but we can’t do everything. Many people let everyone around them decide their agendas in life. As a result, they never really dedicate themselves to their purpose in life. They become a jack-of-all-trades, master of none—rather than a jack-of-few-trades, focused on one.
Here are four principles to put you on the road to growing toward your potential:
- Concentrate on one main goal.
- Concentrate on continual improvement.
- Forget the past.
- Focus on the future.
#3 Sowing Seeds That Benefit Others
When you know your purpose in life and are growing to reach your maximum potential, you’re well on your way to being a success. But there is one more essential part of the success journey: helping others. Without that aspect, the journey can be a lonely and shallow experience.
It’s been said that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. Physician, theologian, and philosopher Albert Schweitzer stated it even more strongly: “The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” For him, the success journey led to Africa where he served people for many years.
For you, sowing seeds that benefit others probably won’t mean traveling to another country to serve the poor—unless that is the purpose you were born to fulfill. (And if it is, you won’t be satisfied until that’s what you’re doing.) However, if you’re like most people, helping others is something you can do right here at home, whether it’s spending more time with your family, developing an employee who shows potential, helping people in the community, or putting your desires on hold for the sake of your team at work. The key is to find your purpose and help others while you’re pursuing it. Entertainer Danny Thomas insisted that “all of us are born for a reason, but all of us don’t discover why. Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It’s what you do for others.”