Success Unpacked

If you were asked one simple question, “what is success?” Could you answer it in one sentence or one word- quickly? Try it now. To do this, top of mind, is not easy. Why? This challenge can probe us in a number of ways. Has technology and modern living made things ‘too complex’? Have media, internet and all the other noise we face daily distracted our minds to things we think, or we are told, are identified with success? In this article we will try to unpack success and list a few elements for you to consider. At the very least we want to try to provide you with a workable framework to reflect on your highest purpose in life, and that of your organisation or business.

Lessons from The Masters

At we sit here in the early 21st Century, we are fortunate to have the lessons from master thinkers now at our finger tips. So many sages, philosophers, writers, business leaders and others have written on the topic of success and purpose, it might even explain why we find the earlier challenge difficult. We are flooded with too much information.

I want to use the work of one key thinker, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson also lived in the dawn of a new century, 1803 to 1882. He was a lecturer and writer in the US and inspired many in his day. In our century perhaps his succinct sketch of the meaning of success still resonates with us loudly-

“What is success? To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I first read this quote many years ago. If we break it down a little, we can unpack and distil some key elements of success for us to consider –

  1. Laugh often and love much
  2. Win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children.
  3. Earn the approbation (appreciation) of honest citizens.
  4. Endure the betrayal of false friends.
  5. Appreciate beauty.
  6. Find the best in others.
  7. Give of one’s self.
  8. Leave the world a bit better, whether a healthy child, a garden path, or a redeemed social condition.
  9. To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and exultation.
  10. Know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

It is interesting the list amounts to ten. Maybe it was intentional, maybe it was not. In numerology, the number 10 is linked to leadership, optimism, independence, creative powers, and success! Maybe 10 was intentional.

Self and Service Dichotomy

When we closely look at this list we see it can be broken down along a dichotomy of: 1) self, and 2) service or giving to others. Items 1 to 5 and 9 revolve around self. Items 6 to 8 and 10 revolve around service. This may also have been intentional. Importantly, it shows us that success involves the balancing of self and serving or helping others.

We cannot have success unless elements of self and elements of service are satisfied.

 Service Elements

It is worthwhile studying the service elements in more detail. They can be distilled a little further as-

  • 6. Find the best in others;
  • 7. Give of one’s self;
  • 8. Leave the world a bit better;
  • 10. Know even one life has breathed easier.

There may even be a flow or causal link between these elements. If we find the best in others, if we give of ourselves, we can leave the world a bit better and ensure that at least one life has breathed easier.

Element 8 is worth pausing on. It is not directive. It does not say we should do a particular thing, follow a particular career, or pathway. We can serve by doing things from raising a healthy child, tending to a local garden, or redeeming a social condition. The important thing is the intention– to serve others. How we do this will vary with our talents, opportunities and the course life takes, often when we are busy making other plans.

The Rise

Another aspect of the dichotomy between the self and service elements relates to what I call, The Rise. I and others have written about how life seems to be a journey moving us from self to service. We can only do this if we become strong. Life and all of its challenges can make us strong- only if we choose to perceive things this way.

When we alter our perceptions towards growth, becoming stronger, rising and then directing this power to serve or help others, then this often forms our life’s work or our highest purpose.

Remember, ‘the how’ is not the important thing, the intention is. You can serve by raising children, tending a garden or redeeming a social condition. We all work in either a business or a government department. The highest purpose of our enterprise, our work, or our mission is to serve- if we choose to perceive things this way.

History clearly teaches us, the most successful businesses are those that put the needs of consumers first, and deliver a product or service solving a particular problem or need efficiently. The best governments or departments are those that put the needs of the people first, and deliver programmes to address a particular social and/or economic issue. On both cases, when people and service are put first, success soon follows.


I have Emerson’s message in my long term vision statement. I read it each day. I suggest you consider also keeping it or something similar nearby. Ensure it is top of mind. This gives us a focus point. It will help us see clearly the highest purpose of moving from self to service. If many of us do this, imagine how our world might look like in decades to come. When the highest aspect of self morphs into service we all succeed. This simple logic is compelling. Now, you might like to go back to our challenge at the start of this article.


Regards, Lee M. Spano, Creatness International CEO

© Copyright Lee M. Spano, 2016 All rights reserved.