Why You Shouldn’t Always Try to be Successful

There are two kinds of success, and one of them can kill you.Click To Tweet

What does it mean to be successful?

Making $10,000,000? Marrying the person of your dreams? Climbing Mount Everest? Winning Universe Got Talent?

What if I told you that success could ruin your life instead of making it better?

It can — if you pursue the wrong type of success.

Success Type 1: your achievements (what you do)

This type of success is easy to define. It means fame, fortune, and fans, or some combination thereof. It can be measured in amount of dollars earned, awards received, competitions won, etc.

Also, attaining Type 1 Success is simple. Not easy, but simple.

All it requires is blood, sweat, and tears.

And a little luck.

Cheating, lying, stealing, and cutting corners can also help you achieve this kind of success.

But this kind of success is hard to hold on to.

Sports records are broken all the time. Champions are defeated by young upstarts. Competitors lure clients away.

And if you cheated, lied, or stole your way into Type 1 Success, your chances of losing everything is astronomically higher:

  • Bernie Madoff made tons of money off his Ponzi Scheme…but is now serving life in prison.
  • Lance Armstrong won seven Tour de Frances, but was stripped of his titles and banned from Olympic sports for life when his long-term doping offenses were discovered.
  • Elizabeth Holmes became the first self-made female billionaire in Silicon Valley…until a reporter discovered that all her claims were a sham and she’d been lying to investors the whole time. She now faces up to twenty years in prison.

Worse, this type of success leaves you empty

The emptiness of success is a well-documented phenomenon. And it appears the greater the success, the greater the potential of emptiness. Consider these sound bytes from “successful” people:

“I’m plagued with insecurities 24/7” –Madonna

“As I get more successful, insecurities only pile on top of one another” –Oscar Wilde

“I have self-doubt. I have insecurity. I have fear of failure.” –Kobe Bryant

Too many successful people committed suicide and/or died horribly/died penniless, despite their fame and fortune (Oscar Wilde, Nikola Tesla, Michael Jackson, Virginia Woolf, and many, many more).

But is success always is so ephemeral, unreliable, even treacherous? Not if you pursue the second type.

Success Type 2: your identity (who you are)

The second type of success is not really quantifiable, or measurable.

This type of success depends on how well you have mastered your personal weaknesses (such as cowardice, selfishness, and pride), how close you are to the kind of person you are meant to be, and how deeply you have impacted other’s lives for good.

Type 2 success is difficult to achieve

It isn’t just about hard work and a touch of luck. People who achieve this kind of success also must develop qualities such as humility, wisdom, integrity, and courage.

There is no way to lie, cheat, or steal your way into this type of success.

But if you do achieve it, you will not be left empty. And no one can take it from you — not a competitor, nor an accident, nor retirement.

Those who achieve Type 2 Success are more likely to achieve Type 1 success as well:

  • Desmond Doss: became famous after the selfless courage he developed gave him the strength to single-handedly save 75+ men during WWII without a single weapon.
  • Eric Liddell: Earned Olympic gold after honoring God by refusing to race on Sundays.
  • Joni Eareckson Tada: Is known worldwide for her art and philanthropy after learning to maintain her hope and joie de vivre after a tragic accident left her paralyzed from the neck down.

Case Study: Chad Williams, US Navy SEAL

When Chad Williams decided to try out for the Navy SEALs, only 13 out of the original 173 candidates completed training.

Chad was one of them.

On his graduation day, though, Williams felt a strange sense of loss.

I had reached my mountaintop, only…the view disappointed me. And there was no higher step to take…Why did I feel so disappointed? –Chad Williams

Unbeknownst to Chad, he was experiencing what speaker and apologist Ravi Zacharias once described:

one of the loneliest moments a man will ever experience is when he has achieved that which he thought would deliver the ultimate, and in the end, it lets him down.Click To Tweet

To fill the emptiness, Williams began drinking and partying, and became a danger to himself and his family.

Finally, Williams realized that his outward success did not matter when his pride and selfishness was rotting him from the inside out.

From then on, Williams refused to indulge in his former hedonistic lifestyle with fellow SEALs — some of whom, ironically, tried to kill him for it.

But Williams stayed strong. He served in the Middle East, then retired to write and speak about his life experiences, leaving behind the prestige of working as a SEAL to share with others the hope he had found.

Why do people pursue success?

For most of us, it’s not the success we want. It’s the happiness, meaning, and fulfillment we think comes with success.

But these gems only come with one type of success: the second type, success in who you are.

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl once said:

The more you aim at [success], the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself. – Viktor Frankl

In other words, if you only focus on outward achievements, you will be disappointed in the end.

That’s partly why rich people keep trying to make more money (even if they have more than they can spend), and athletes are driven to keep making and breaking records (even if they’ve broken all the records already). It’s why people are driven to climb Mt. Everest and indulge in dangerous sports, risking everything for a thrill, which doesn’t last, and so they go on to chase the next thrill, and the next, and so on and so forth…

Type 1 success, on its own, always leads to dissatisfaction. And that frustration and dissatisfaction can lead to dissipation, despair, even death.

Instead of focusing on racking up golden stars (whether that’s in the form of fans, fortune, or fame), focus on becoming the person you want to be, a person you can be proud of, who feels his/her intrinsic worth and does not need externals to complete him/herself.

To be Successful or Not to be?

Pursue achievements, by all means. Part of life’s fun is setting goals and nailing them.

But don’t put the cart before the horse. Recognize that no medal, no quantity of money, and no amount of recognition can make up for who you are. And who you are will greatly affect the amount of medals, money, and recognition you earn in your life.

So invest in yourself. Master your faults and build up your strengths. Do all within your power to become the person you are meant to be:

A blessing to your family and friends, a helper of the helpless, an encourager of the discouraged, an inspiration to all who meet you.

Then you will be your biggest achievement.

In this, I wish you success.

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