Measuring Success

I’m reading a book right now that profiles four amateur rowers in their quest for a medal in the 1984 Olympics.  In the book, the author makes a statement to demonstrate one rower’s complete dedication to the sport:  He says that one particular athlete measured the success of each week solely by how well his rowing had gone.  Nothing else mattered.

For some reason this statement stuck with me and I’ve thought about it often.  How do I measure the success of each week?  How do others measure it?  For each of us, I’m sure there are lots of things that contribute toward satisfaction in life, but there is a small set of what I’ll call “critical ingredients”.  These are the things that have to be there for a week to be deemed successful in your mind.

For example, my friend and colleague Ben just passed 10,000 miles of cycling for the year — a huge feat for someone with a demanding job and two young kids.  Given his passion for cycling, Ben probably wouldn’t be very satisfied with a zero mile week, regardless of how everything else in his life went.  Same thing for me — if I’m not able to climb or ride for an extended period I get pretty frustrated.  For Ben and I, athletic training isn’t the only barometer for satisfaction but it’s a pretty important component.

There’s no great insight here, but it struck me that this is an interesting way to assess your priorities.  And the things that don’t make your short list are just as revealing as the things that do.  For example, I feel strongly that I should be involved in some sort of charitable cause, and it makes me feel good when I do charity work.  But to be honest it’s not one of my critical ingredients.  On the other hand, it’s impossible for me to be satisfied with a week if I don’t make enough progress at work, or eat poorly, or don’t spend enough time with the kids.

I bet if we all made an honest assessment of how we measure success each week, some fascinating and peculiar (and even embarassing) things would be revealed…


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