By Rhonda Collins, I Start Wondering Columnist
Most of us like the idea of being successful, but few of us stop to think about what success really is and the best way to get there. Often we equate success with coming in first place or being the best at something.
John Wooden, a men’s college basketball coach with one of the best records in the NCAA, said winning is not the same thing as success. Wooden, who lived to the age 99, defined success as “Peace of mind attained only through self satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.”
Successful motivational speaker and author Tony Robbins says, “Success is doing what you want to do, when you want, where you want, with whom you want, as much as you want.” One of his key points in his books is that success comes from taking “massive, determined action.”
I agree with both of these gentlemen’s take on success, but I have an easier definition. I say success is simply achieving your goals, whatever they may be. If you dream of being financially secure and you manage to accumulate great wealth, then you are successful.
But if you don’t care a hoot about having loads of money, then you must ask yourself why you are working those long hours to bring in a bigger paycheck. Perhaps your life goal has nothing to do with money. Maybe success for you is raising your daughter to be a good citizen or writing a book or owning your own business or being able to take your family on a vacation once a year. Success is different for different people. Success is accomplishing your goals and your dreams.
And, how do you achieve these ambitions? By navigating your journey, one small step at a time.
In my experience, navigating for success means taking control of the steering wheel of your life, mapping out the route and traveling on a deliberate journey. All of us have times where we feel our life is out of control, when we have so many important demands on our time that it’s hard to believe we can navigate anything.
However, as Stephen R. Covey points out in his highly successful books on leadership and time management, we are always in control of our own responses. No matter the level of the mayhem around us, we still have choices. We can choose to be angry or resentful or to take the crisis in stride.
Navigation involves four actions.
- Set priorities. If your dream is truly important to you, you’ll make it a priority; you’ll make time to work on it. If you haven’t been, then you need to question how important that goal really is for you. You must always keep your dream on your radar and chose to work on it, even if only a few minutes each week.
- Make wise choices – Your decisions are those that are good for you and your loved ones. Sometimes the choices are difficult, but you must make deliberate decisions that will move you toward your dreams. At times, you will have to delay the dream for a while as you work on another important aspect of your life. But you have to constantly decide to commit your time and financial resources to the goal.
- Let other people help you. I just finished reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, an allegory about pursing your dreams. One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Others want to help. You don’t have to navigate alone.
- Allow things to unfold in their own time. You don’t have to be the first to cross the finish line. You don’t have to finish with your peers but you must persevere to cross it at some point. Don’t give up.
A good example of these four aspects of navigating toward success comes from my short-lived tenure as a runner. As a freshman in high school, I already knew I didn’t have good hand-to-eye coordination, but we were all supposed to pick a sport for our PE class. I wasn’t good at basketball, volleyball or softball so I decided to try track. (It didn’t hurt that I thought I would look cute in the little red shorts the track girls wore.)
I was about 5 foot tall at the time. Coach Coleman realized quickly that I didn’t have the long stride for hurtles, long jump or even sprinting. He said he thought I had “stamina” and would do well at the mile run.
I practiced every day after school and on the weekends. I ran alone because I lived out in the country. No one lived near me that was my age who could run with me so it was difficult for me to gauge my improvement. But I kept running.
At our first track meet held at Stephen F. Austin State University, my friend Violet (also short) and I represented Huntington High School in the mile event – four laps around the impressive college track. About 10 of us were in the lineup as the race started. From the moment the whistle was blown, I was behind all the runners, except for Violet.
As I made the second lap around the track, I looked across the field and saw that some of the fastest runners were so far ahead that I could never make it to even fourth or fifth place. Well, at least I was ahead of Violet.
Then, as I began lap three, I realized that Violet wasn’t behind me anymore. She had quit. I made my plan to quit as well. I would wait until I was on the backside of the course — away from the stands by the finish line, where all the other students, coaches and parents were — and then I would stealthily exit the track. As I was slowing down, about to step off the track, a group of college students who were helping out at the race, started cheering me on. “You can do it!” “Keep going!” they shouted.
Well, I was too embarrassed to leave the race when they were so encouraging. Then, soon after I passed the impromptu cheerleaders, I saw that only a few runners were left in the race and they were quickly coming up behind me. By then, I was on the side with all the cheering fans, who also seemed to be encouraging me on. (In retrospect, they were probably not cheering for me, but rather the fast runners who were just behind me at this point.)
As I made my fourth lap around the backside, I realized that everyone had crossed the finish line except for me. Again, I was about to exit, when those darn college students started cheering me on again: “Don’t give up! You can finish the race!” At this point, I decided, “What the hell. I know I won’t win, but at least I will finish.”
And I did. I was the last one across the finish line and this time the stands really were cheering for me. I think I came in sixth place. Surprisingly, Coach Coleman was very happy. As I stood by Violet, he praised me for not giving up while he talked to Violet about the importance of always finishing, even if you know you won’t win.
Not only was this an important life lesson, it has been the proverbial “story of my life.” For many milestones, I have been the last among my peers – getting married, getting a master’s degree, getting certain professional certifications, starting a business and now writing a blog column. I may be last, but I do eventually cross the finish line.
This personal story illustrates my four points for navigation: I made running a priority; I made the wise decision to continue running around the track despite others dropping off; I wouldn’t have finished if those college kids hadn’t cheered me on; and, most importantly, my time to finish was far behind all the rest. But I finished the race. I succeeded.
You may get lucky and end up with a life that is everything you wanted. But for most of us, it takes a great deal of navigation. When you decide to grab the steering wheel of your life journey, you will take the first step toward your personal goals. It takes determination to finish the race, no matter the obstacles and delays, and even when you know you’ll come in last place. The important thing is to navigate.
Wooden, John. “The Difference Between Winning and Succeeding,” a TED talk, March 2009. Recording available at www.Ted.com.
Robbins, Anthony. (1992). Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of your Mental, Physical and Financial Life. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Covey, Stephen R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York: Free Press.
Coelho, Paulo. (1993). The Alchemist (English version). Rio de Jinero: Editora Rocco, Ltd.
You can reach Rhonda Collins at CollinsCareerCounseling@yahoo.com.