How do you define success? Please stop and consider your answer before you read any further.
Is it defined by your income? Your notoriety? The size of your house?
Is it the same as your partner? Your mother? The society?
Should success be defined as the attainment of fame, wealth, or social status? Are the most successful those who can accumulate more material things?
Allow me to offer another view.
Let's compare Bill Gates and Mother Teresa. If we are measuring success by financial means, Bill Gates is far and away the more successful. By that definition alone, Mother Teresa would be considered a failure.
Mother Teresa dedicated her life to comforting the poor, the dying, and the unwanted. Her work impacted thousands, and her influence continues to this day. To most, she is seen as a role model of charity, compassion, and selflessness. Should we not consider her successful? Is her worth diminished because she did not gain monetary wealth?
If she wasn’t awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, would she have been considered successful? If I was to guess, I say that Mother Teresa was more fulfilled by her work than by any of the awards placed upon her by society.
Too often, when thinking of success our focus is set on accumulating wealth, which means our capacity to accumulate material things and benefit from this planet disproportionately that the rest of humanity.
When we focus more on the happiness of others than we focus on the happiness of ourselves, something special happens — we become the happiest version of ourselves. And I feel that’s probably a better measure for success. Is one bringing joy to the world? Is one making the world a better place? Is one choosing to contribute to collective betterment and doing so with a humble posture of learning vs. assuming that they have the answers?
The same can be applied to businesses. Should success solely be defined by maximization of shareholder value? What about the happiness of employees? How about the impact made in our communities? There simply must be more to the definition of success than only monetary gain. I tend to think that building businesses only for the sake of getting rich is an archaic way of thinking. Our goal can be much more profound and fullfling. As someone who’s been an entrepreneur for decades I can tell you that in general, entrepreneurs – even those who are massively successful in business – are not necessarily any happier. However those who have added a cause, a higher calling to what they do – those who have said no to growth at any cost, and have walked away from personal financial gain that wasn’t good for humanity – they are the ones who are joyful. And successful.
If we can find a way to use our resources, our time, expertise, and money – a substantial portion of it – to make the world a better place, it will bring us joy and satisfaction that is unattainable from money alone. Make the journey to “success” meaningful rather than looking only for financial gain.
I humbly believe it is time for a different indicator of success, for both individuals and businesses. Success should probably be measured by the positive influence we make in the world, rather than the amount of money in our bank accounts. This can be a profound lens to look through that I believe can guide us all toward more noble and purposeful actions.
Oddly enough, this approach may in fact also result in more profitable and sustainable businesses, good for the shareholders, employees and the world.