Don’t Aim at Success

 

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I love the Olympics, and I really really love Olympic stories, like the one, for example, that was created by Ester Ledecka during the Super-G event.

“An instant after completing her run in Saturday’s Olympic women’s super-G, Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic stood motionless in the snow as she gazed at the scoreboard where her name was atop the list of finisher.

“She shook her head side to side, convinced that what she saw was a mistake or a timing glitch. Professional snowboarders racing on hand-me-down skis do not win gold medals in ski events at the Winter Olympics.

” ‘I thought they were going to put a couple more seconds on my time,’ Ledecka later said, laughing and well aware that the race would be decided by hundreths of a second. ‘I was waiting for it.’

(Quoted from the New York Times)

Recently I came across this quote from Viktor Frankl: “Don’t aim at success.” My first reaction was, What?! Did him mean to say “Do” aim at success instead of “Don’t”? Was that a typo? I read it over a couple times trying to figure out why he would say not to aim at success. Isn’t aiming at success a good thing? What if all those athletes in the Olympics never aimed at success? Doesn’t aiming at success created progress and push us to reach new levels of ability?

Viktor E. Frankl author of Man’s Search For Meaning said “Don’t aim at success-the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it.” He calls success “the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself”. He also refers to success as “the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

His thoughts on success makes sense in reference to his book. He wrote Man’s Search for Meaning in nine days (though the topic of his book had been on him mind for years). The motivation driving him to write that book wasn’t based upon him trying to create fame and fortune in his life.  He wasn’t motivated by that type of success. However I’m sure he had hoped that his book would be “successful” in the sense of being of worth and value to others. I’m sure he hoped that his book would be “successful” in articulating the powerful lessons he learned during his time in the concentration camps. But I don’t think he ever anticipated at the time he wrote the book that one day there would be more than 12 million copies in print worldwide and that it would be translated into 24 languages. That wasn’t his focus or his purpose in writing the book. That wasn’t the “success” he was aiming at. And to be honest, it’s probably best that he didn’t know the future life of his book. Can you imagine sitting down to write a book knowing that millions and millions of people were going to be reading it? That kind of knowledge would created a pressure that could have been massively crippling.

Having read and re-read Viktor Frankl’s book, and having personally been impacted by his book, I am glad that he when he was writing his book he wasn’t focused on becoming well known and wealthy.  The simple fact that when he was writing he was “dedicated to a cause greater than” himself is why his book became successful…not successful in the fame and fortune sense though that also happened. But successful in the sense of it’s ability to articulate an important message. And successful in the sense of it’s ability to create good in the lives of others.

I don’t know, but I wonder if Ester Ledecka success that day on the slopes on hand-me-down skis was “successful” because she was more focused on doing her best rather than being the best. Perhaps she was more focused on preforming in a way that she would feel proud of and just giving it her all. She could have showed up for that race already defeated telling herself she didn’t have to really try, after all she was ranked 43rd in the World Cup. She was the last one down and the course was in bad condition after having all the other racers take their turn on the snow. She could have just skied down not really caring, just wanting to get from the top to the bottom so she could check that off her bucket list. But she didn’t. Even with all the odds stacked against her, she seemed determined to ski her absolute very best. There are many athletes who are just as successful as she is, in the sense that they do their best and they walk away feeling proud and satisfied. Some of those successful athletes walk away with a medal and some do not. I for one believe that not every athlete that walks away without a medal is not “successful”.

I think aiming at success is a good thing, but I also think there are some “successes” that are not worth aiming towards. Ironically, when we aim at those more lasting successes those other “success” seem to follow.

 

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3 thoughts on “Don’t Aim at Success

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my true purpose and success in my life right now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on success and motherhood in your blog. I feel that I have been so focused on becoming a successful provider for myself and my family, that I have been missing on the more important roles and duties in my life. I’m grateful for many gentle reminders and true sources of a better way. Thank you for your thoughts. You have been a positive influence in my life Sharrae, ever since we met in the MTC in Brasil. 🙂

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