Friday, May 13

Moving Forward: Success As A Verb

“Success is a journey not a destination. The doing is usually more important than the outcome.” — Arthur Ashe

Sure, you’ve seen the quote used often enough (usually twisted and unattributed) that it borders on cliche. And it might seem out of place for someone who tends to be outcome focused. However, it doesn’t make the concept any less valid. Success works better as a verb than an adjective.

I had a discussion with my son the other day. Although he is only 12, he wanted to begin some type of physical fitness training.

So I gave him a schedule suitable for his age. But he almost didn't commit because the first few days surprised him. He wasn't as strong as he thought he was and had to reduce the weight related to some exercises. It was discouraging, he said. I'm weak.

I encouraged him not to give up. He was already succeeding because he was moving in the right direction. Everything else is just a matter of time and commitment.

A few days later, he found that the exercises were getting easier. And with every day he succeeded in completing a schedule of sets, he felt a sense of accomplishment (and was impressed by early results). I feel stronger, he said. His muscles tighter.

So, I used his discovery as a teaching opportunity. I mentioned the Ashe quote, but in a different context.

“No matter where you are in life, all of it is nothing more than a temporary state of being.”

In other words, it doesn't just apply to fitness. It applies to everything. Weak; strong. Fat; fit. Poor; rich. Burning water; celebrity chef. Struggling hack; brilliant author. Eager entrant; respected professional. Unread blogger; popular publisher. So on and so forth.

Almost every label you can dream up is nothing more than an adjective that takes a snapshot of the place where you are, without considering the place you're moving toward. And as such, they don't matter all that much.

I suggested that my son picture two extremes in his mind on a mile-long line. Imagine where he was on that line. And then imagine imagine moving toward the extreme he wants. Once he did, I told him to erase it all and focus on the movement in the direction he had picked. That's all that matters.

Let's face it. Most people never reach either extreme destination. And if they do, their time there is only temporary. A best-selling author only retains the title until his next book. A boxing champion eventually gives it back. This year's best actress isn't necessarily the same one who will accept the prize next year.

What's more important than adopting the snapshots as labels is continually moving in the right direction at a comfortable pace. Pace is important, but only because people generally work on several dozen goals at once. (No one can set the highest pace for all of them they eventually want.}

The secret to success is never thinking you’ve achieved it.

While it might come across as a paradox, most people who are successful find themselves striving for some higher or seemingly unreachable benchmark. Meanwhile, people who say they are successful are usually on their way down, perhaps already having enjoyed a brief moment of weightlessness after being shot up into the air with the full force of 4 Gs.

success2Imagine what would happen to my son a few years from now if he set some benchmark of success based on how much weight he could lift. If he stopped working out after reaching it, it wouldn't be long before he wouldn't be able to do it again.

In other words, success as an adjective isn't a place you stay. It's a temporary state of being while we are continually moving in one direction or the other.

At first, my son thought this sounded a bit discouraging. But then might find it liberating. If he wants to build strength, the act of building it makes him successful. That will never change (unless he gives up or moves in the other direction), making the verb more powerful.

Whereas the adjective is a snapshot, success as a verb is a journey. And knowing this, he doesn't have to think of himself as weak (he's not anyway, given his age) nor afraid of what areas need more work than other areas. All that matters is he is getting stronger every day and I wasn't only talking about fitness. Success is a verb in anything we do.

“I run on the road, long before I dance under the lights.” — Muhammad Ali
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