Success is often defined by the eyes of the beholder; however, how an individual defines success is a telling indicator of a person’s inner motivation, character, maturity or lack thereof. As a teenager and even into my early twenties, I believed success was contingent upon materialistic items, sales numbers and W2 statements. I automatically thought that if someone was professionally successful, then they must be a naturally good person at heart. Obviously, this was an incredibly immature opinion and I quickly realized my assessment was incredibly flawed.
I remember a moment early on in my career when I thought I had it all. I was a 22 year old kid, I was interviewing for a sales position with a competitor, and the job opportunity equaled a significant boost in pay and provided a clear path to earning a significant amount of money. For four years prior I had outperformed sales professionals twice my age and was promoted three times by two different well-respected national telecommunication carriers. I thought my success was unheard-of, mostly due to my age and how quickly I moved up the corporate ladder. I thought I was the Kobe Bryant of sales, coming straight out of high school and making an immediate impact. During the interview, my future sales director asked me to tell him about my strengths. I suggested that my success was largely based on my willingness to put in the extra hours, prospect hard, my unwavering motivation to prove myself, and the need to support my family. I also provided him with information regarding my background, which included a young family and being financially self-sustained since months after my senior year of high school. I think he was impressed at that moment; but then he asked, “Matthew, what are your weaknesses?” I paused…paused some more…then paused again. My eye contact subsided as my vision started veering off to the left. After a few short seconds I regained my focus and said, “Bill, I don’t think I have any weaknesses.” He kind of looked at me with a smirk and said, “Interesting.”
WHAT AN IGNORANT STATEMENT! There I was, a 22 year old kid, most of my peers still in college, and I was emphatically insisting to an accomplished executive that I had no weaknesses. Boy was I wrong and extremely immature. But at that moment, my success goals had been met. I thought I was successful and I was not only confident, I was also unpleasantly arrogant at times. Luckily, the executive still hired me and provided me with a significant opportunity. I repaid him through my dedication and ability to build new client relationships, which drove a significant amount of new revenue to the company.
Reflecting back, if I was the hiring manager, I wouldn’t have hired me. I would have questioned the candidate’s maturity and desire to grow. At any point in life, young, old or somewhere in between, if an individual thinks they possess all the needed skills to be successful with little to no room for improvement, then their success will not only plateau, but will eventually decline. Those who continue to grow and intentionally seek self-improvement will always be successful.
Self-fulfillment equals success
In direct contrast to how I defined success in my earlier 20’s, I now feel most fulfilled by helping a friend with a complex problem, teaching my kids something of value, or taking my wife to a nonprofit event to help a charity in need. I also feel significantly grateful when I learn something new or I strengthen an existing relationship, either professionally or personally. And lastly, I feel significantly successful when I stay disciplined and stick to my own personal growth plan because I know if I continue to grow, my success will be sustained and longevity will be my friend.
What a 95 year old with a growth strategy can teach us
I read an interesting story in John C. Maxwell’s “The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth.” The Story was about Pablo Casals who is often regarded as the best cellist of all time and was widely popular in the first part of the 20th century. At 95 years of age, Casals was asked by a reporter, “Mr. Casals, you’re 95 and the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?” Mr. Casal’s answer was: “Because I think I’m making progress.” My point is this: the best cellist of all time at 95 years of age was still trying to grow, improve and enhance his skills. His philosophy and continual effort to grow is why he is still revered as the best ever! The moral of the story is to continue to grow regardless of position, age or perceived limitation.
One of my favorite leaders of all time Winston Churchill who once stated, “Success is not final and failure is not fatal.” Consider the number of individuals who have short periods of success only to fizzle out and seem to fall into an abyss. Many athletes, musicians, entrepreneurs, business professionals, actors and politicians fall victim to the shooting star analogy: what goes up must come down. They focus on the climb and forget about sustainability. When Churchill said, “failure is not fatal,” he wanted us to understand the value in our mistakes. Redemption is a beautiful thing and can be obtained if we learn from our mistakes, grow as individuals, and employ the discipline needed to put us back on track for success.
I love John C. Maxwell. He just gets it... He evaluates his success through personal growth and helps others maximize their long-term success by helping them employ their own personal growth approach. Maxwell evaluates his success by how many people he helps reach their goals; that’s why he’s a great leader.
In sales, if we measure success by how many clients we help reach their goals and put our agendas aside, we will subsequently reach our full potential and drive maximum results. As leaders, if we measure success by growing the skills of our employees, then the winds of sustained success will flow through our organizations.