Back on February 22nd 2010 I had one of those rare triumphant moments, when I just knew I’d nailed it. The room was packed with hundreds of people, some I had met before, most I had not.
In my twenty or so minutes I addressed the audience of the successful moments and a few funny stories from my father’s 61 years. A successful career and a successful family. Many funny stories, adventures and memories from a life well spent. Less than a year prior we first heard of his diagnosis. Following a loop of positive and not so positive news, my father lost his fight with brain cancer.
The eulogy of my father, Trevor, succeeded as I had hoped. There was no second chance to salute his successful life. Many years before, I’d heard the line ‘life’s about preparing for your death.’ Only there, at my father’s funeral, did I understand what this really meant. So many people there to say thank you and goodbye. A fitting tribute to a successful man. On my father’s headstone are the words ‘a successful man leaving us with happy memories.’
Last week I was in Sydney. While walking the unfamiliar streets late on the eve of my scheduled presentation at an industry conference, I randomly reflected on the success or otherwise of my own life, and what success actually means. Perhaps it was the nerves from my pending presentation, reacquainting with long time colleagues, or just the random mind wandering on a late night walk.
It was only as my father and I started to get older, even when we were still much younger, did I start to see his vulnerabilities. My father was six-foot-something, strong, charismatic, well travelled and well liked. He had many, many successes. Yet, it seemed to me that in the last decade or so of my father’s life he pondered the magnitude of his accomplishments.
This is likely quite typical of ambitious people. “I will achieve X by 30 and Y by 40…” et cetera. Setting goals is essential to achieving them. However, I wonder whether this is one of our fundamental challenges.
Ambitious people set high hopes from themselves. They generally work very hard and view themselves as ever so smart. Ambitious people often come from a simple start and work towards achieving much more.
Striving for greatness is critical in a successful life. More so, measurement of success is subjective, complex and personal. The success of one’s life is likely only able to be seen on reflection. A story only reveals itself completely at the end.
In the final months of my father’s life, he mentioned to one of his brothers that he was too young to die. His story had more to tell. It is a sad time. Life is short when you look back and it can be difficult to reflect and map a successful story when the world seems to be in a spin.
I understand we all have moments of self-doubt. Reflections of where we are, versus the journey we have traveled and the road to come. If we avoid the unknown we will undoubtedly live a less interesting story. If we regret the story we have to tell, we will surely be absent of contentment and a sense of the success we have achieved.
My conference presentation went well, and I will continue to have moments of reflection as to my successes, failures and the journey to follow. I certainly do not know the answers, nor the best way forward. As others, I will continue to regularly doubt myself, where I have been and what might come next.
To me ‘success’ is about living a story worth telling. My story, will be different to your story, which will be different to the story of others. The story is likely to have many dimensions — family, friends, career, journeys and more. And, it will cover a wide range of emotions — happy, sad, scared and hopefully contentment. Ultimately, a successful story comes from within, but leaves others with happy memories, and has many more than one character.
A successful story rolls into the story of others. Parents pass their story onto their children, who in turn have their own stories to tell. Friends play a critical roll in the stories of friends. Workmates play a role in the stories of their workmates. The most successful of stories splinter into many more stories of the lives of family, friends, workmates and even the broader community.
My random mind wanderings as to the meaning of success bring me back to this: a success story of any man or woman is less about that one man or woman and more about the stories they have been part of as a parent, friend, auntie, uncle, sibling, child, workmate, leader, follower et cetera.
Success is about being selfless more than selfish. Having a laugh, much more than you have a grump. Avoiding nasty people, but realising that their nastiness is a massive lesson in itself (mostly to avoid nasty people). Be nice and work hard at work, at play and at home. It isn’t easy to have a successful life, whatever that means.
And, stop procrastinating — life’s short.
The world needs more success stories.