How to think about success

Tim Ferriss asks the question, “When you think of success, who’s the first person who comes to mind?”

Derek Sivers answered this question by pointing out that the first person who comes to mind probably isn’t the best answer. The first person who comes to mind might be rich and famous, but maybe that person intended to have a quiet life and just happened to become rich and famous. Sivers said that in order to judge who’s successful, you’d first need to know their intentions and goals.

I’d like to add another piece to this equation. Not only do you need to know their intentions and goals, you’d also need a standard for good intentions and goals. Hitler was devastatingly successful at killing Jews (though notably not completely successful), but I’d like to keep Hitler out of my list of most successful people.

Perhaps two examples could help clarify this:

  1. Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” He thought he was called to be a missionary to share Jesus with the Auca Indians in South America. He dove in, ended up getting killed in the process, but the Auca Indians learned about Jesus because of his work.
  2. George Muller said, “The three chief reasons for establishing an Orphan House are: 1. That God may be glorified, should he be pleased to furnish me with the means, in its being seen that it is not a vain thing to trust in him; and that thus the faith of his children may be strengthened. 2. The spiritual welfare of fatherless and motherless children. 3. Their temporal welfare.” He ended up housing over 10,000 orphans in his lifetime, all without asking anyone except God directly for financial support, and his ministry was known around the world for his faith.

To me, not only did these men achieve what they set out to achieve, they also set out to achieve the right things. That’s what makes them successful.