Success! Everyone wants it. Olympic Games dramatically remind us that success on the podium with a gold medal is a vaunted position. The discipline of hard work, sacrifice, and a coachable attitude comes with a remarkable reward and distinction for the rest of the athlete’s life.
Success also comes with responsibility if we choose to acknowledge and embrace the opportunities it opens commercially and influentially. Whether it is in sports, business, or the home, success sets one apart as having garnered an achievement. There is the event itself, but true success can be thought of as what one does after the accomplishment.
Success in life, however, is rarely recognized when compared to the fields of endeavor in sports and business. The only gold medal most moms get will be in their choice of flour for baking.
Several years ago I was working out at the local high school stadium by running the stadium steps. As I crossed the track to go into the stands, a young, extraordinarily fit African-American woman sat stretching. We smiled and acknowledged one another. Moments later I saw one of the fastest human beings I’ve ever seen in person move down the track in a 100 meter sprint. She was scary fast. At the finish line stood her coach with his stop watch in hand. As I jogged my up-and-down stadium steps circuit through the bleachers I watched this scenario replay out several more times.
Curious, I stopped to talk with her coach. “What’s she training for?” I asked. He smiled, “She got back from the Summer Olympic Trials and didn’t make the team. She has a slightly hurt knee and she’s mad at herself for not qualifying.” He excused himself for just under 11 seconds to time her as she swished by the finish line yet again in a Nike moment.
Success for her meant making the Olympic team, but it wasn’t to be. This young lady is no failure, however, unless she decided to limit her success to being an Olympian or winning a gold medal — fleeting accomplishments instead of permanent character qualities. She’s learning the power of setting goals, managing disappointment, working hard, being coachable, self-discovery, and much more that will serve her for life.
Years ago I was a speaker at a convention of general agents in the life insurance business as a non-industry expert. Also presenting was a general agent who spoke in his bold and glowing “How I did it” terms to the awestruck adoring throng of gathered general agents. He talked about reaching a billion dollars in commissions in one year. This man had the swagger and air of gold medal success.
Afterwards, I waited my turn to chat with him. One question I asked him metaphorically knocked him to the ground, “Now that you’ve reached a billion, what’s next?” He had invested decades in this “impossible dream” and had reached his tallest imaginable podium. Panic washed across his face. He didn’t have a clue what to do next with his life! A couple of decades later I’m happy to report that he has created a business to teach other insurance agents what he learned so others can follow in his footsteps.
Back to our young sprinter: she may not yet have achieved her Olympic dream but the character, discipline, and willingness to be coached are life skills few people ever master. She’s learned to set goals, to discover her inner motivation, and to work hard. Success comes in many forms often with the rare blessing of the gold medal, but more often than not without the #1 in the world standing for one brief, shining moment. For the other competitors, success is often wrapped in the intangible qualities of having been in the game as a fierce competitor playing to a world class standard to the best of one’s ability.
The popular movie Rudy is a bright example of how becoming a success can be measured on one’s own terms. Gold medals come and go, but golden moments last a lifetime and need to be cherished for whom we have become on the inside and how we pass along our life lessons. If we dwell too long on the agony of external defeat, then we risk becoming bitter and defeated as our identity was gold-plated. The true solid gold victory is that of becoming a better person on the inside and passing it along.
Success Modeled By Don Budge
As a former USPTA tennis teaching professional and ranked player, I had the rare privilege of getting to know and sometimes play against or with former world class tennis professionals. Aside from their remarkable physical attributes there is typically a marked difference in their thinking, attitude, and point of view. The game is simpler and clearer to them. They possess a quietness of mind and capacity to zone into the experience thanks to preparation and practice. Success, therefore, is expected. The champion, however, has learned to face on-the-court failure repeatedly in such a manner that the disappointment of loss is not failure, per se, but revelation of and a pathway of growth to the next level.
As a young tennis player I had a wonderful personal relationship with Don Budge, the first person to win the Grand Slam in one calendar year (1938). Mr. Budge told the story of winning a national championship one year and returning home in deep dismay. He realized his western forehand grip on his wooden racquet was his Achilles’ heel. In those days, it would be exploited by more advanced competitors and prevent him from reaching the next level. He called that his year of having permission to hit the (back) fences. With a rebuilt grip, his forehand stroke was solid and eventually he became the greatest tennis player of his era. Some forty years later, I had the pleasure to know and work with this true champion when I was 17 and 18. Some forty plus years after that, I still think of the character of the man even more than his accomplishments which included winning the Sullivan Award for Sportsmanship. Mr. Budge was the real deal through and through.
Find success by defining what is YOUR success. Apply yourself to it with your heart, mind, soul, and spirit. Certainly strive to create the external win. As important, acknowledge the internal win of becoming more the person God designed you to be and become. That’s the platinum medal that isn’t awarded but is earned as a lifetime achievement daily. That’s what it means to be on-purpose!
But don’t stop there! Learn to pay it forward and bring others along with you so they, too, can discover their genius and contribution.