Defining Success

tree-in-palmAs a marketing professional I would have previously defined success as my ability to bring work in the door. Several years ago, I came to the conclusion that success did not come down to winning projects, but rather, it came down to relationships (through which you can also greatly increase your ability to win work). However, as I grow, I continue to learn and dig deeper into this idea of success.

Success for me
A light came on a couple of years ago when I was reading the networking chapter in Ford Harding’s book Rain Making. In that chapter he reminds us that networking is really just about helping other people. From this simple concept I have developed an approach to networking and life that I believe yields success. I summarized these thoughts in the post, Why Help Other People, when I wrote that “I believe that the best way to succeed in life, and business, is to help other people.  A life built around helping others will yield not just the joys of relationships, but also the sweet success of achieving your own goals.”

Your turn
My real question here is for you; how do you define success? I am working to refine my own thoughts on this topic and would appreciate your insights. At the top of this post is a link to the “comments” section. Please use it to let me know how you define success, so that I and hundreds of others can learn from you.

7 thoughts on “Defining Success

  1. Tim: The biggest successes occur when you share freely and give what you enjoy (and are good at) doing. Here, the altruistic act of giving combines with your enjoyment of the process — so, even as you build long-term relationships and a healthy reputation for community service, you express yourself and gain satisfaction from your immediate achievements (and since you are giving what you do best, you are actually contributing more than you would otherwise.)

  2. ronklabunde

    Tim: I have learned that success is the investment of adding value to another person’s life or cause. It is the principle of living “beyond” myself instead of “for” myself. Not only does this principle add value to other peoples lives, but it enriches my life. Through this, I find greater purpose in my relationships and business.

    In this last 6 weeks, I have added over 150 to my relational network by living this principle. To read the story – click here –

    I greatly appreciate your blog. Your insight has greatly improved my networking abilities over the last year. Keep up the great coaching!

  3. Success at the workplace depends on a few things. First is being effective. Having a postive impact on your enterprise. In our line of work there is also a moral obligation. Giving the people in your organization the ability to work and support their family. the more people you can do that for, the better.

    I don’t know if you can do these things without caring about people. I think your message is how to create success.

    Success is telling your co-workers that, because of your efforts, they won’t be eating catfood for thanksgiving dinner this year. Throw tiny tim on your shoulders and then throw an extra piece of coal in the furnace.

    On the other hand, success in life is measured by how many people attend your funeral and/or execution.

  4. Tim,

    Great question. How many lives and careers have suffered because the answer was wrongly defined?

    Like you, I once defined success by the usual business metrics: sales volume, win rate, backlog, etc. Then it occured to me how fleeting this concept of success is. It’s a bit like mowing the lawn. When you’re done, it looks great and you feel satisfied. But then you have to do it all over again next week!

    There’s much talk about building sustainable businesses these days. We won’t get there with a consumable brand of success. Sales are short-lived; we burn backlog everyday. But strong relationships continue to produce revenue for years, not to mention their other significant benefits. So sustainable businesses–and satisfying careers–are built on relationships.

    In that context, I have made serving others the focal point of my consulting practice. That sounds trite, but I try to make it genuine. I don’t choose service as formula for business success. I choose it for it’s own inherent value and trust that my business will ultimately benefit.

    But even if I never achieve real success as measured by the usual standards, I hope that I can take satisfaction in having served others well. Ultimately, that is the only enduring measure of success.


  5. Great insights here, Thank you!
    Mel, I agree that serving others has great inherent value, and I think that you are right on in the idea that “sustainable businesses–and satisfying careers–are built on relationships.” Ron, I likewise have found that as you invest in others it enriches your own life. (Thanks for sharing the link) But, in each of these cases how do you balance your own success with that of focusing on others? Is it possible to be successful by fully ignoring yourself, or is there a balance?
    Mark, great thoughts on mixing what you are good at and what you enjoy doing. Matt, thanks for the funeral humor/perspective. Perhaps it is just before or after our death that we finally realize how you can define success. (Reminds me to re-watch Professor Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture as I work on defining success). While I agree there is value in “telling your co-workers that, because of your efforts, they won’t be eating catfood for thanksgiving dinner,” I wonder about how I will feel about the projects I brought in the door years from now. Is it the interpersonal relationships that we establish when brining the work in the door that create the real value and success? Thoughts?
    Thank you everyone for your thoughts here!

  6. Tim,

    In response to your question: How do you balance your own success with that of focusing on others?

    (1) I find that it’s rare that the two are mutually exclusive. If I write an article or make a presentation to inform and offer advice, I get the benefit of the added exposure. If I make a referral, there’s typically a reciprocal action. When I call a prospective client, I try to do so only to offer my help, but it often leads to getting paid work. Even when the act is seemingly purely altruistic, I get the pleasure of helping someone.

    (2)I’ve also learned that the best way to achieve a “balance” is to focus on others. Self-interest is so rooted in my subconcious that I don’t need to worry about giving it equal attention. It is quite capable of looking out for itself!


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