There is an old story about the Devil finding a group of young men playing with a ball, tossing it back and forth over a net. The Devil asks them, “So, who is winning?”
The young men look puzzled – “We don’t know. We’re not keeping score. We’re just playing, having fun.”
“But if you don’t keep score, how do you know who won? “ asked the Devil slyly. So the young men started to keep score. Now they knew who won and lost each game. They also started to argue amongst themselves, and though each could tell you the score and who won, they remained puzzled as to why they no longer had as much fun as before.
I’ve had occasion recently to ask friends, “How do you measure success?” On reflection, my question was rather imprecise, for what I really wanted to ask was “How do you define success?” Nonetheless, the answers, when they came, were interesting. Almost as interesting, however, was the long pause that came after the question, as quite a few openly admitted they never really thought about it. Strange, how we can go through life without thinking much or any about what we are trying to accomplish in our lives, what are ultimate goals are, how close we are coming in achieving those goals, and by what yardstick we measure our success.
The un-aimed arrow never misses. Perhaps, we are just trying to maintain our innocence, and avoid the Devil’s trap by keeping score. Or, we are on such autopilot in our lives that it never occurs to question the direction in which we are heading, or how far we have to go before reaching our destination.
As to the answers I received, they crossed a spectrum from having money, a nice house, and “security” to being satisfied with your life, having friends, a loving family: from receiving recognition from your professional peers for your accomplishments to being able to say at the moment of your death “I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”
I wondered: if you did your very best to the greatest of your ability but you did not reach the goal you set for yourself, could you still consider yourself a success? And what if you did reach your goal, but you knew you were capable of more, were you still successful? I’ve had a whole lot more questions, but I think I’ll stop here and ask you, my readers – How do you define success? How would you answer my questions? What have I left out that you consider essential elements of this question? Do you think that a life can be meaningful without some measure of success?
I’m interested in hearing from all of you, and wish you all well.