Random Writers: What is your definition of success?
I am continuously amazed at my ever-evolving disposition and outlook on life. The kid I was coming out of high school twenty-one years ago is nowhere near the person I am today. Dreams, ambitions, goals, certainties; all of those things lie in a box in the backseat of the car we call life.
In short, people change. I’ve changed.
I remember growing up with Alex P. Keaton as my hero. That television character was my role model. Extrapolate the Michael J. Fox connection out to his movie “The Secret of My Success” and you have, in a nutshell, who I wanted to be when I grew up.
Big city job in a fancy high-rise with a corner office. Expensive suits, private jets, and fine leather briefcase. I was going to be a big-time executive. I was going to be a player in the business world. I was going to be filthy rich. I was going to be successful.
The mental roadmap had been laid out and then, as I and many of my friends are fond of saying, life got in the way.
I look back at the life that, as a seventeen year-old, I wanted to lead and shudder at the idea of me actually living that life now. I look back at everything that used to drive me and everything I used as a measuring stick for success, and all I can do is laugh. Whatever was I thinking?
Again, I don’t think it’s a matter of my thought process at the time being wrong. Money, power, title; those all equated to success for me. To many people, they still do. But my experiences have changed me, and the course of my life has shifted as a result of those experiences. What I considered practical sensibilities in 1990 are not what I consider practical sensibilities today. My outlook has changed. It has evolved, and with every passing day, my outlook continues to evolve.
When I think about how I now define success, I think that it’s something I will never know or realize, and it’s something I didn’t really consider until my father passed away.
We all have our own scoreboards for life. Type of car we drive, the size of the house in which we live, the number of toys we have (i.e. motorcycles, boats, jet skis, etc.). We all define happiness individually, and in many ways, our ability to lead happy lives – to live life on our own terms – is one way to define success. Yet for me, my success will only be realized once I’m no longer alive.
As I read my father’s eulogy upon his passing, I looked out into the church and saw pew after pew of people gathered to pay tribute to my dad. I thought of my friend Carol who shared with me the story of her father’s passing, and how it was standing room only at the church in which he was memorialized. Following my father’s funeral service, I had so many people stop and tell me how much they appreciated my words, and they shared with me their favorite stories about my dad. Person after person. Teary smile after teary smile. My father’s body lay in a casket, but he still managed to fill a room – in this case an entire church – with love.
It was then that it hit me. It’s not about bank accounts. It’s not about portfolios. It’s not about cars, houses, and vacations. Rather, at the end of the day, it’s about how many people want to take the time to pay their last respects and honor the life you lived. My scoreboard – how I define success – is the number of people whose lives you touch, and that are willing to take a moment to say ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’ once your time on earth is done.
To summarize using a quote from Hellen Walton, “It’s not what you gather, but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you have lived!”
I will have lived a successful life if at my funeral it’s standing room only.