What is Success?
By Dr. Robert A. Scott,
I was asked to reflect on the meaning of success following an awards ceremony on Long Island. The winners were being recognized for accomplishments in their professions and in the community. They were heralded as successful. But I wondered, what is success?
Most people seem to think of success in terms of achievement in the realms of status, wealth, or power – – in relation to others. I wonder, though, is this dimension, “in relation to others,” necessary to understand success? I think not.
For me, success is the optimal balance of talent, time and treasure, and how we use and understand each in terms of status, power, and wealth.
By “talent,” I mean how we use the gifts of mind, body and spirit we have as a result of heritage, nourishment, practice, motivation, happenstance, and luck. No scholar, athlete, artist, or community leader of note is born successful. It takes circumstance and initiative to develop talents to their fullest.
By “time,” I mean time for others as well as for self, time as the present and time as the future. A single-minded focus on honing skills, enhancing abilities, and accumulating knowledge may result in the maximum development of talent, but also may result in a life devoid of the pleasures that come from relaxation, reflection on the meaning of life and our role in the world, prayer, compassion, conversation, companionship, and community involvement. Time is a scarce resource, just as talent is; neither should be squandered.
By “treasure,” I mean that with which we start and that which we gain. Just as we can lose sight of important dimensions of life by focusing on achievement through talent alone, or by being selfish in the use of time, we can lose perspective – – and sometimes integrity – – by focusing solely on the accumulation of wealth.
Those who measure success through the size of bank accounts or the brand of cars and yachts, who keep score by counting currency, may know the price of everything but the value of nothing.
This is not to say that we should ignore financial rewards, or that money is somehow bad. No, it is to argue for balance in how we organize our lives.
In my view, the successful life is one that achieves symmetry in the attention given to the appreciation and use of talent, time and treasure in the fulfillment of life’s dreams and in service to others. Such a person knows that status, power, and money are measures used by others without regard to his or her own standards. As the bard said, “to thine own self be true.”
Originally published for the “David” Awards, Networking Magazine, Long Island, 2009. Revised December 3, 2019.