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What Is Success? An Uncommon Definition From John Wooden

“Success is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

John Wooden, Wooden

Success. What an important yet fuzzy concept.

What does success mean to you?

Is it a certain amount of money in the bank? Is it the fame and accolades you’ve accumulated? Is it the number of trips you’ve taken? Is it the number of lives you’ve positively affected?

As you saw in the quote above, hall-of-fame basketball coach John Wooden defines success differently. His definition is a little wordy, but the concept blew me away when I first really absorbed it.

To Wooden, the essence of success is not accolades, titles, money, championships, points scored, trips taken, or any other outwards signs of success. It’s simply peace of mind.

What produces peace of mind? Being satisfied with your effort. In other words, did you do your best? Did you give your all? Did you do everything in your power to close the gap between your potential and your actual performance?

To Wooden, his team could have won a game and still been unsuccessful if the players did not give full effort. They also could have lost a game on the scoreboard but still called it a success if they gave full effort and played close to their full potential.

The scoreboards of basketball and life are only potential indicators and byproducts of true success. They are not the ultimate judges. The only one who can judge true success is you.

As you’ve probably noticed in our high-glitz, low-substance world, hype and publicity can create the appearance of true success. But, when you lie down on your pillow at night, you’ll know the truth. You either have peace of mind or you don’t.

You might wonder if this is just soft, feel-good philosophy that sounds nice in books. Does this definition of success also lead to results? Will you have peace of mind, yet never reach your goals?

Ironically, the normal symbols of success, like money in the bank, accolades, wins, profits, and deals done, come naturally when you make true success your focus. If you constantly and enthusiastically strive to give full effort to become your best, you can’t help but experience the byproducts of success in your chosen endeavor.

The best example is Wooden himself. Using this philosophy, John Wooden became arguably the best coach in sports history with his UCLA teams winning 10 out of 12 national championships in a row! 

In order to get full effort in games, Wooden focused on getting the most out of preparation time. Every practice, every conditioning drill, and every meeting was focused on full effort and small details. His players, including hall-of-famers Kareem Abdul-Jabar and Bill Walton, said his practices were among the hardest things they every experienced.

The overriding expectation was “give 100% effort.” If Coach Wooden sensed slacking, he’d start practice over. If he noticed someone ignoring a detail, he’d make them do it over. His job as coach was to set the bar high, to show his players their potential, and then to push them to reach it. He knew if this job was done, the wins would take care of themselves. 

So, what areas of your life do you want to be successful in? Do you want to make profits in a business? Do you want to do more real estate deals? Do you want to be a great friend, spouse, parent, or grand parent? Do you want to make a difference in the world?

Those are all fine pursuits, but remember they are by-products. As Wooden articulates and demonstrates, success starts with your effort and with your expectation of excellence. Most of all, it starts by turning the responsibility back to yourself.

If you want more money, focus on being the most valuable person possible. If you want to do more real estate deals, focus on being the best problem solver for people with properties and with money. If you want a great relationship with others, focus on being the best friend, spouse, parent, or grandparent possible.

I hope you find Wooden’s definition of success to be as empowering and liberating as I have. I wish you true success, and all of the byproducts that flow to you as a result.  

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