Why Our Definition of Success Is Wrong
Success is the journey not the destination.
“I will read 10 pages in any book every day.”
That was one of my New Year’s resolutions. My only other resolution was not to make any other resolutions.
I love reading. It’s one of my favorite pastimes. So, 10 pages a day would be easy.
We often look at the world in a binary way: on-off, right-wrong, easy-hard, success-failure.
From a binary viewpoint, I failed. My goal was to read 10 pages per day, and I didn’t do it. The first day I missed meant failure because my goal was every day. “Did you read everyday?” No, so the binary check fails.
It’s a simplistic example, of course, but we measure success and failure in our lives far too often in exactly that way:
- Failure at weight loss because we give into a food temptation. This often results in giving up because we failed; doesn’t even matter how many times.
- Failure at learning a new skill because we make a mistake applying what we thought we knew. Again, this can often result in giving up.
- Failure as a partner or friend because of a big argument.
- Failure as a parent because a child doesn’t turn out how we hope.
- Failure as an employee because of an expensive mistake.
There are relatively few instances in life where taking the binary approach is the right one. As the recent issues with the Artemis launch have demonstrated, there are checks and balances in place to prevent disaster.
For every other situation, however, a binary view of the world is not only wrong but harmful.
I didn’t read 10 pages every day, but I did do it many days. A conservative estimate is about half the number of days so far this year. That means, I’ve read around 1,220 pages.
The 2001 reprinting of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Return of the King” (one of my favorite books) is 340 pages (excluding the appendices). I’ve read 3.6 times that many pages this year.
The inherent problem in the way we often view success is that success is only the destination, and if we don’t make the destination then we’ve failed.
When I was 16, I hiked a difficult peak with my dad. We got to the point where we could see the top. An unexpected storm rolled in with breathtaking speed. Rather than pursue the peak, we turned around.
We failed, right?
We didn’t reach our goal — the peak — so in the binary sense, we failed. But, throughout the course of the day, we hiked more than 15 miles. For both of us, it was great exercise. It was an opportunity to be in nature, away from so many of life’s distractions.
Most importantly, though, I got to spend an entire day of quality time with my dad.
That day was almost 30 years ago, but I still remember it and think about it often when I see that peak from a distance.
That day, the journey was far more important than the destination.
I haven’t met my reading goal for the year, but I’ve certainly not failed. Failure, in fact, would only be if I never read a single page all year.
What have I learned in my 1,220 pages this year?
- More about the faith tradition I embrace and additional insights into our canonized scripture
- More about the history of several ancient cultures
- Principles important to software design
- New things about the Python programming language and Django framework
- HTML and CSS
- Concepts on how to think about and embrace the future
- How much I love good escape literature
- How much I love words and how they are framed
- How to teach others and how to lead
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said:
If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.
Success is simply that: moving forward. We don’t have to, and really shouldn’t, measure success in miles or years. It can, and should be, measured in inches and seconds. The destination is the frilly edge-icing on the cake, but the real reward is in the journey.
Thanks for reading!