Defining Success

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success-keySuccess is one of those words that can be defined in many different ways. I am often asked when starting a project, “How will you measure success for this project?” The person asking the question is usually looking for some sort of quantifiable number to measure against.

Americans tend to think of success as a measure of wealth and possessions. Don’t get me wrong, money and things are nice and I enjoy them. But “He who dies with the most toys, wins!” is a motto I can’t fully support.

Then there is the measure of influence and power that can be used. If you can command people to do something, or you can persuade people to vote for you, or you can win them over, you might be considered successful.

These measurements are all good ways to judge certain things. But I think they miss the mark of true success. It is often much more subtle and much more difficult to quantify.

Years ago, I came across an old poem, written in 1904 by a housewife named Bessie Anderson Stanley, entitled “Success”. This poem has been my personal measure of success since I first found it over 25 years ago:


He has achieved success
    who has lived well,
    laughed often, and loved much;
who has enjoyed the trust of pure women,
    the respect of intelligent men
    and the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it
    whether by an improved poppy,
    a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty
    or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others
    and given them the best he had;
whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.

Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting and Boy Scouts, said something similar in much fewer words:

Try and leave this world a little better than you found it.

Success: It's not always what you seeAs the year winds down, we start preparing for Christmas and reflecting on those who are near and dear to us. The reason I get up every day and “slay dragons” (to quote Dave Ramsey) is to provide for those around me that I love. Not to accumulate more stuff. Not to get more power and prestige. But for those I love.

It’s not glamorous. It’s often painful and difficult. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If I have a positive effect on those around me, if I am able to help my kids develop into responsible adults, if someone can achieve a dream because I helped give them a boost up at some point, I have found success.

In doing so, I hope that I leave this year a little better than I found it.

And I hope you do as well.

1 thought on “Defining Success

  1. Dave Boring Post author

    I was eating at my local Pieology the other evening (good pizza!) and saw this quote on the wall:

    “Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.”
    –Dale Carnegie

    Success and happiness are intertwined. I think that’s a big component missing for many who define success by dying with the most toys. There are a lot of people who are far from wealthy, but are happy and consider themselves successful, just like in the poem.


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