What Does Success Really Mean to You?

I was a guest on a recent podcast and the host asked me an interesting question:

What’s my definition of success?

I actually had to step back and think about it.

For me, success has never been about money or fame – which are the obvious answers – but I’ve never actually ever thought about my own personal definition.

It’s actually a hard question.

To better understand what success is, I had to change the question around.

Instead, I asked myself this – When have I felt the most successful?

That was an easier question to answer and I could picture the exact moment.

It was the summer of 1992. It was 3 AM in the morning and I was standing watch on the bridge of a nuclear submarine in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. I was the Officer of the Deck in charge of one of the most powerful warships in the world.

There are two things I remember from that night.

First, there’s nothing like seeing the star-filled night sky at sea.

Second, there’s nothing like the feeling of achieving a dream.

There's nothing like the feeling of achieving a dream. Click To Tweet

That was the moment I felt the most successful. I had achieved something I worked hard for almost eleven years to achieve.

Let me explain.

When I first realized I wanted to be on submarines. I was in 8th grade. I was fascinated with the stories of the WWII submariners and how nuclear submarines played a critical role in the Cold War.

I knew this was something I wanted to do. It was my dream to one day serve on these boats.

The problem was, I also knew I had to become technically strong if I wanted to achieve this dream.

I had to do well in High School and excel in Math and Science. I also had to get into a good Engineering School and do well enough to get accepted into the highly competitive Navy Nuclear Power Program.

Fortunately for me, perseverance and eight years of hard work were enough to get me a commission as a Naval Officer and get accepted into the Navy Nuclear Power Program. But that was just the beginning.

The year-long Nuclear Power Program was brutal. Many of my good friends were cut from the program because they couldn’t keep up with the pace. I was in over my head as well.

But I made it through.

And I persevered through submarine school and three more months of trying to get a medical waiver for an episode of kidney stones I once had in college.

But I made it through. And finally – I made it to the fleet.

Then I discovered this was just the beginning of another process. I needed to get qualified as a submarine officer before I could stand watch and achieve my dream. A process that would take almost another year.

But I made it through.

In April of 1992, I became a qualified submariner. I had the gold dolphins pinned on my chest. I had achieved my lifelong dream of becoming a submariner.

And that summer, at 3 AM in the morning, in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, doing the job I had dreamed of since I was a child – I felt the most successful.

So, what’s my definition of success?

I think it’s simple.

It’s about doing the hard work to chase a dream and then, one day, actually achieving that dream.

Success is about doing the hard work to chase a dream and then, one day, actually achieving that dream. Click To Tweet

What do you think? How would you define success?

Is it fortune and fame or is it more than that?

Reach out to me on Twitter and let me know.

The Silver Lining of a Struggle

I’m not a runner, but I ran six half-marathons once.

Growing up in New England, it was always a dream to one day run the Boston Marathon but training for and running six half-marathons was all I needed to realize how difficult that would be.

I learned that running is hard and running long distances is even harder.

Although I only conquered the 13.1-mile race, I learn a lot about myself and what I could do if I just didn’t quit.

The truth is, long-distance running is not about bragging rights, personal records, t-shirts, or race medals. It’s about challenging yourself to do something difficult.

Most people only see what happens on race day – they don’t witness the months of training and the hours spent grinding out the miles day after day.

There is excitement the day you sign up for a race and the day you finish a race.

But the real work, the real struggle, and the real learning are all done in the middle.

The real work, the real struggle, and the real learning are all done in the middle. Click To Tweet

In Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, he talks about the importance of the struggle:

“The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of the story is never about the ending, remember. It’s about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.”

As Miller suggests, the hard work in the middle of any difficult challenge is more important than the ending.

The middle of any difficult challenge is more important than the ending. Click To Tweet

Why – you ask? Because…

The struggle builds character. An easy life is one that doesn’t change you. Challenge brings about change. The struggle requires determination, courage, intensity, and perseverance. Some days it takes everything to keep going especially when the end seems nowhere in sight.

The struggle builds relationships. Persevering through a difficult challenge with a team or another person builds strong bonds that last a lifetime. When you suffer and struggle together, you build a defining moment in your relationship. You build mutual respect.

The struggle builds the story. Every great story has a hero’s journey. The main character must struggle and overcome a major obstacle or challenge. As an audience, we become endeared to the hero as they endure hardships and trials. This is the same with people and organizations. We are attracted to those who have faced trials and have overcome them.

As we find ourselves in the middle of this COVID struggle with seemingly no end in sight, we need to realize that we’re in a good place.

Just like being on the ninth mile of a half marathon on a bridge in the cold, windy, pouring rain – this is when we find out who we really are. If we just don’t quit, we’ll learn we can do amazing things.

So, if you’re going through hell right now, don’t stop. Keep going!

Remember these words from Theodore Roosevelt:

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

So, stay strong and stay in the fight.

Deep Leadership Podcast

If you want to gain some insights on how to power through this crisis, listen in on my joint podcast with fellow podcaster, Jason Oates.

The Power of Passion and Perseverance

As we enter our 5th week in quarantine, I’m reminded of the famous motivational posters produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for World War II. The words were simple but the message was powerful:

“Keep Calm and Carry On.”

It’s a great message for all of us today.

The COVID crisis is clearly testing our resolve.

One thing I have noticed though…some people are handling it better than others.

And it got me thinking.

Why do some people thrive while others falter in tough times?

What is it that allows certain individuals to endure the toughest challenges without wavering?

Psychologist Angela Duckworth set out to understand this. She studied cadets at West Point. She wanted to be able to pinpoint the one thing that predicted whether or not a cadet would make it through “Beast Barracks,” the grueling seven-week initiation program.

What she discovered was groundbreaking.

She learned that endurance wasn’t predicted by SAT scores, GPA, athletics, race, gender, or social status. The most important trait for success in difficult times was “grit.”

The most important trait for success in difficult times is grit. Click To Tweet

Duckworth defines grit as “passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement.” It’s about having such a strong passion for your goals that you are willing to withstand any hardship to achieve them.

Someone who exemplifies grit in action is Gretchen Smith. Gretchen is the founder and leader of Code of Vets. Code of Vets is a charity that helps military veterans in crisis.

Gretchen’s passion for veterans and her dogged persistence to overcome countless challenges has led to one of the most powerful grass-roots organizations in the country. She has an army of volunteers who will drop everything to come to the rescue of veterans in need. In her first year in operation, she raised more than $800,000 of which 99% of the donations went directly to veterans.

She is a powerful force for good who leads with passion and persistence. Listen to my interview with her on the latest episode of the Deep Leadership Podcast.

Grit is about having such a strong passion for your goals that you are willing to withstand any hardship to achieve them. Click To Tweet

To support her efforts, especially during this COVID crisis, I recently announced that 100% of the proceeds of the sale of my book, I Have the Watch, will go directly to Code of Vets from April 20-26, 2020.

We did this last year and raised more than $1,000 for this important charity.

So, buy a book and help a Vet! Go to IHAVETHEWATCH.COM to order.

Please share this with all the leaders and future leaders in your circle of influence so we help military veterans during this crisis.

 

(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt)