Posts Tagged ‘Success’

Little Things CountHow do you choose to make a difference in the lives of others?  Do you think you can make such a difference?  Do you wish you could do more?  Do you think that what you do is of little significance?

Many people, myself included, want to make a positive difference in the world.  Most don’t have a large, public stage from which to perform such acts.  Most don’t have substantial financial resources to directly impact the welfare of those less fortunate.  Most don’t hold positions of power from which they can command the use of others’ time, energy and resources to accomplish what they want.  So does that mean each of us is relegated to having an insignificant impact that lasts for only a moment and affects very few others?  I don’t think so.

A couple of related thoughts come to mind when pondering this subject.  The first has to do with our definitions of success and significance.  The second relates to our awareness (or lack thereof) of the impact we have on others.

As for success vs. significance, our American culture attempts to define success in terms of how much money we make, how many possessions we have, how much power we wield, the kind and level of job we hold, what our home looks like, etc.  We mathematically categorize people as upper class, middle class, or lower class.

If you are in the trap of defining success that way, take a moment and think about some of the most important people in your past, those who had the most influence on you, those who taught you the most and helped shaped you into the person you are.  Think about the ways you have incorporated the lessons learned from those people into your life and how you have passed on those same lessons to others.  Now think back to the material circumstances of those influential people who came to mind.  Were they financially wealthy?  Were they the ones running huge corporations or in charge of millions or billions of dollars annually?  Were they well-known public officials?  Probably not (although they could be).  Instead, they were more likely parents, teachers, grandparents, friends or mentors who cared about you, noticed you, and gave generously of themselves to enrich your life.  Were they successful as culture defines success?  Maybe, maybe not.  But were they significant?  You bet they were!

We have to start making a clear distinction between culturally defined “success” and true “significance.”  Do a quick Amazon search on the word pair “success significance” and you’ll turn up several resources that distinguish between the two.  Ultimately, you are the one who must determine the definitions of success and significance by which you measure the impact of your life (i.e., if you measure it, which I don’t recommend trying).  For me, success was long ago defined by the book Success, Motivation, and the Scriptures by William H. Cook where I came away with the definition: “Success is doing what God wants you to do in the way He wants you to do it.”  Therefore, I am fulfilling my purpose and am successful if I live up to that definition.  I have to trust that significance is an outcome, whether I see or know about the results or not.

The beauty of that definition of success is that it potentially applies to any act, big or small.  Success might be facilitated by a public platform with the chance to speak to and influence many others.  But it also comes in simple one-to-one compassion shown for another, performing an act of kindness that enriches another’s life, having private conversation where you listen more than you talk, making sure that when you do talk, the words are worth the time others are taking to hear them.

I’m not discounting the value of the public, large-scale opportunities to make a difference.  We should take advantage of those whenever possible.  I want us to understand, though, that success and significance can also come through seemingly small things that have little or no audience.

When reading through the Old Testament book of 1 Chronicles recently, I was struck by the reference in 9:31 to Mattithiah, one of the Levites, listed as being in charge of making the flat cakes.   Here in this chapter discussing the genealogy of returned exiles is recorded for all time a man who carried out his service daily making flat cakes.  In his world at the time, he was probably unnoticed by most.  He sought no fame or fortune.  He fulfilled his duty day in and day out.  He made flat cakes.  And now 2500 years later we read about him.  Mattithiah would have liked the definition of success above – doing what God wants you to do in the way He wants you to do it.  He was successful, and he was significant.  Acts of seemingly little significance are necessary, and are noticed and appreciated by God and others.

As we browse the Bible, there are so many additional reminders of the importance of doing the little things with the right attitude and motive, confident that they matter in the grand scheme of things to the only One who is worthy of judging:

  • “…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” – Mark 10:43-44
  • “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me” – Philippians 4:11-13
  • “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” – Colossians 3:17.
  • “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” – Psalm 84:10.

The Bible’s definition and description of success is light years away from our culture’s.

As for our awareness (or lack thereof) of the impact we have on others, we simply don’t know the impact we have because we can’t be all places at all times.  There is a potential ripple effect of our actions and attitudes on the lives of others that we will never witness or hear about.  People that influenced me were influenced by others I may never have known, and those strangers were influenced by others I have never heard of who were born in another place and time.  In a sense, we are with our lives throwing a pebble in a pond and turning to walk away before we have the chance to observe the ripples and how far they extend.  It isn’t our job to study the ripples, though.  It is our role to toss the pebble.

I’ve had wonderful opportunities in my life through my work, through travel, through meeting people of different backgrounds, and through great relationships with family and friends.  I’m open to whatever platform from which I can make a difference, big or small.  At work I am content not to be a manager, although I’ve managed teams in the past and had success with it.  I’d be content being the Wal-Mart greeter who says hello and offers you a shopping cart.  At church, I’ve taught classes more often than not over the past 40+ years, and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to preach to congregations.  But the truth is that I’m just as content to serve by providing Christian literature and resources weekly or by making coffee early enough so it’s ready when others arrive.

Don’t let a twisted culture define success or significance for you.  Realize that significance can happen one person and one small act at a time.  Going that extra step to help someone at work or home, seeing to the laborious and unheralded tasks others don’t want to do, noticing the people and circumstances that others pass by in their daily rush and taking time to invest in them in some small way – these are the kinds of acts by which others will measure your success and significance.  They will carry those ripples into the lives of others.

Little things count.

American IdolMy wife and I have enjoyed watching American Idol for years.  I missed the first season, but have been a big fan since then.  Now that we’re into the phase where America votes weekly on who remains, I thought it might be nice to reflect on some of the many lessons that can come from watching this show.  Feel free to add your own in the comments.

1. People aren’t always as talented as they think they are.  The early episodes of every season are proof of this.  Some are just painful to hear.  William Hung, anyone?

2. Talent can be found in unexpected places.  I’m not talking geography here since people travel all over the country to these auditions.  I’m referring to the fact that a booming voice might come out of a soft-spoken, unkempt, homeless person nobody would ever suspect as a good singer.  File this one under “can’t judge a book by its cover.”

3. You need social skills in addition to talent.  The contestant who has a great voice but who can’t get along with others, also fails to connect with the voting public, and eventually loses.  It’s not just about you and your talent; it’s about living in the context of a community and relationships, and that’s a whole different ballgame.

4. Only the strong survive.  I feel for the singers who get matched up in group week with people they can’t relate to or with people who don’t want to do their fair share.  That week requires everyone to work hard – all night if needed, and those who slack off tend not to progress to the next round.

5. Never assume you’re safe.  How many singers through the years have been surprisingly eliminated early in the voting, most likely because people didn’t bother to vote for them since they considered them safe?  Assume nothing.

6. Your vote counts.  Or, more accurately this season, your 50 votes count.  If you don’t vote, don’t gripe about the results.  Do your duty and vote if you care about an outcome.

7. Not everyone who judges you is worthy of doing so.  While the four judges this year had sole authority to determine the top twenty, they may or may not have made the right calls.  They may not be representative of what America wants.  They may have hidden agendas and criteria we never hear about that impacts their decisions.  Do I personally really care about anything Nicki Minaj ever thinks or says?  No.  But she’s paid the big bucks to sit there looking dumb and sounding dumber, so whether she is worthy or not isn’t the point now.  Contestants will still be impacted by her comments for good or bad.

8. Give it your all.  When singers play it safe and just blend in with other so-so performances, that doesn’t cut it.  You need to give it your heart and soul and know that you left it all on the stage.  The final results may be in others’ hands, but you can at least know you did your best.  There is great satisfaction in that.

9. Always keep learning and improving.  Whatever your current skill level, there is room for improvement, so do what it takes to learn and grow and reach your goals.

10. Make friends along the way.  Nobody wants to be around others whom they fear would willingly stab them in the back to get ahead.  Don’t be such a person.  Be the one who takes the time to notice and befriend others as you go.  Praise the members of the band.

11. Climbing a ladder isn’t a lifestyle.  There is more to life than just trying to get somewhere else in the future.  It’s about experiencing the present, too.  You climb ladders for a short while so you can do something else at the end of that ladder.  Know when to step off the ladder and do other things.

12. It’s OK not to get the most votes.  If there are 10,000 people trying out and only one can win, does that mean 9,999 are losers?  No!  It just means that the system is set up to give a greater reward to one person.  Many contestants go on to very successful careers without winning the competition.  You get to define success in your life.  Don’t let others do that for you.

13. Fame and fortune comes at a cost.  Some have the personal character, wisdom and right people nearby to handle fame and fortune.  Some give in to its temptations and flame out early.  If you think you’ll be the one making all the calls about what happens with your life at the level of stardom these singers seek, you’re wrong.  There are trade-offs your dreams didn’t envision.

14. Enjoy the ride.  We know that some things can’t last forever.  That’s OK.  Be thankful that it happened as long as it did.

15. Give back.  You didn’t get where you are completely by yourself.  Parents, friends, teachers, even bitter enemies all worked to help shape you into the person you are, as did your own dogged determination.  Others are invested in you with their lives.  Give back to them.

I’m sure I’ve missed some obvious lessons that my fellow American Idol fans can think of.  What are they?  Tell me in a comment.

p.s. – If you haven’t figured it out by now, the lessons above don’t apply just to a singing competition.

Celebrate SuccessOur business area at work had a celebration today.  This month marked the initial release of a major, long-term development project that involves about 300 people over several years across multiple business and IT departments.  It happens to be led primarily my my current director and my former director from the IT team I left a year ago.

It is no small task to get a large number of people to attend an event for several reasons, not the least of which is coordination of schedules and the fact that they aren’t doing their normal work for those two hours.  But the leadership knew that many people had worked very hard and long to make the December deadline, and they wanted to express appreciation, give a summary of what was accomplished, and let everyone know what was coming next.  I even got to see my former director dressed up in a Godzilla costume.  That doesn’t happen every day.

Then, to top it off, they surprised us with lots of good food and time to chill out together for part of the afternoon after the gathering.  Nice touch, and much appreciated.

Businesses have a right to demand much from employees.  Ours demands a lot from us and, frankly, we deliver.  But employees can’t just give and give and give without ever getting a little more than a paycheck in return.  A simple “thank you” can go a long way at times to energize someone.  Perks don’t always have to be tangible – in fact, they shouldn’t always be tangible.

So, even though our small team had little to do with this particular success, I tip my hat to the leadership for choosing to take the time to include everyone in the respective areas in a time of thanks and appreciation.  That goes a long way.

Leap year lesson #354 is Celebrate success.

A friend and coworker had a major good moment today at work.  I knew he was up to the task and I had total confidence in what he would do.  It was a joy to hear him talk about it afterward and to see how good he felt about it.

I enjoy being at that point in my career when I’m not consumed by ambition or wanting things for myself, or where I am threatened in any way by the success of others.  I take great pleasure in seeing my colleagues do well and advance in their careers.  I want to support them in those efforts and cheer them on.  There are too many self-serving folks around ready to throw others under a bus.  We need more people to encourage others, support them and celebrate with them when good things happen.

So congrats, my friend (you know who you are, CS).  It is a pleasure to have you as a friend and colleague.  You deserve it.  Well done!

Leap year lesson #199 is It’s nice to celebrate the success of others.

I regularly take part in conference calls involving online community managers from around the country and overseas.  We discuss our experiences, challenges and practices in leading social media efforts for our respective organizations.

The topic for today’s call was companies’ marketing efforts via social media.  Most seemed to assume that marketing is a vital reason for companies to be involved in social media.  The perennial issue of how to measure ROI came up as did the problem of having too few people to do everything the company expects.  Comparisons and contrasts were made between the experiences of the more seasoned participants versus those whose companies and personnel were fairly new to such efforts.

Throughout the call, I kept thinking that an element of the discussion was missing, so near the end of the call I brought it up.  Whether we are speaking of our online communities we lead or other business efforts, the only way we have a chance to accurately measure how successful we are at something is if we know from the beginning what the purpose is – what our goals are.  Why are we doing this?  Is it so that the company can push its products on the public via one more channel?  Is it because we have some expertise in a subject area and want to help educate others?  Are we opening up a channel for customer service?

Measuring success depends on knowing what the goals are ahead of time.  Only then can you benchmark where you were before your efforts and use that baseline to compare with the results.  My sense, however, is that too few companies and individuals have real, meaningful goals, strategies, and a means for measuring success.  That too easily results in haphazard activity that may look like things are being done, but that probably fails to meet business or personal objectives if put to the test.

That isn’t good enough to be a next practice.  We need clarity about what is important, what goals we set, how we will accomplish them and how we will measure that success.  Without those, presumed successes may be no more than dumb luck.

Leap year lesson #135 is Success doesn’t happen without goals.