I always thought that success was a destination. Sure there were many levels on the way up to “wildly successful” but it used to be a pretty binary concept I applied to adults. “She is a success.“ Or “he has a successful dentistry practice.” I used to think of success like a degree. Either you have graduated from High School or you have not. Either you have your Master’s Degree or you don’t.
I have been introduced on stage in front of hundreds of people as being successful. Next Big Sound has been referred to in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Forbes as being a success. It always makes me supremely uncomfortable. I have learned that my initial instincts around success are patently untrue and that success is not a destination that one can arrive to. It is a daily, ongoing practice of reaching towards a destination that always seems just out of reach.
Rather than thinking about success like a degree, I now think about it much more like fitness. Unlike a degree, where once issued, it cannot be taken away from you, success is not a permanent state of being but a constant, fragile struggle requiring ongoing effort.
You can go to the gym 5 days a week for a year and achieve the label of being “in shape.” But what do you think happens if you don’t maintain the discipline that got you there? If you don’t go to the gym for 5 weeks in a row due to travel, injury, or laziness and let your diet lapse? It’s amazing how quickly the months and years of rigorous workouts atrophy.
The body builder is probably the most paranoid and worried person about losing that edge and fitness. The rest of us look at them in the gym seven days a week and envy their physique. The humble body builder may or may not see themselves in perfect shape at all: they may be comparing themselves to other trainers at the gym, previous versions of themselves, imagined-future versions of themselves, or air-brushed movie stars. They are also incredibly concerned about letting it all slip away.
Here is where I’d like to remind everyone about the concept of gratitude. Because “success” is a moving target, it is possible to chase it to eternity without a practice of gratitude for where you’ve gotten on the journey to date. Ego-maniacs aside, I think that most people when called successful onstage, one on one, or in public get incredibly uncomfortable. The people I like the best are the ones that are grateful for their position in life but uncomfortably unsatisfied with how far they have to go and how easily it could all slip away.