Zig Ziglar always said (quoting Daniel Webster), “There’s always room at the top!” 

And Vince Lombardi said, “The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.”

Success is possible. It’s within reach. It just needs to be defined well.

I define success this way: Success is having done the most good only you could do while becoming the ‘you’ that you were created to be. 

Let me unpack that a bit.

Having done…

It’s worded in the past tense because “success” is measured after it’s all said and done. As Rory Vaden says, “Success is rented, not owned, and the rent is due every day.”

In other words, if you would describe yourself as successful, you have to preface it with the word currently. The hard truth is that too many leaders at the top sacrificed their character, and we should all be aware of our propensity to do the same.

So, at the end of it all,

Having done the most good…

Life is a trust. We don’t own our time or our resources, or even our relationship. It’s all borrowed and we get to manage it for a season and then hand it all off to others.

So success isn’t just did I enjoy itOr was I happy? Rather, success is did I do the most good I could do in my season?

I love this description of the ancient King David of Israel:

David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died and was buried. (Acts 13:36 ISV)

No matter what you build or achieve, you’re going to die and the only thing left behind will be your influence.

Having done the most good only you could do…

You’ll never be held responsible for the assignment given to someone else. You don’t get the option of trying out life with someone else’s giftedness or personality.

So success is doing the most good that only you can do. And nobody else can do it for you.

While becoming the you that you were created to be.

Doing great things is well and good. Becoming a person of mature character counts even more.

Some of the best leaders I’ve known weren’t financially wealthy. They didn’t necessarily have national or global impact. Sometimes they’ve just been fantastic leaders in their local communities, schools, churches, and families.

And what makes great leaders really great isn’t necessarily what they do. It’s who they become along the way.

Having defined success, how do you get there? How do you make your mark? How do you change the world?

I believe there are three basic pathways to becoming a successful influencer in any market or industry.

1. Be the first.

Some people have made a lot of money and built large companies and organizations because of the fact that they were first.

There’s always a race on to be first-to-market with a new idea. When you’re first, and you make it, you get to dangle before others the possibility of being like you. But you were first.

There are, however, a few major drawbacks to being first.

When you’re first, you’re being chased. Everybody wants to catch up to you, ride your coattails, and share some spotlight. But that’s not the biggest problem with being first.

The biggest drawback to being first is that you get to make all the big mistakes from which others will learn.

Myspace was on the web before Facebook. The McDonald brothers made good burgers but Ray Kroc came along later and built an empire.

Being first gets you attention. It creates envy. And it’s only available to the lucky few who stumble onto the right idea and bring it to reality at just the right time – usually just in time for someone to come along and improve it, which leads to the second pathway to success…

2. Be the best.

This one is a little easier if you just think and hustle hard enough. Anyone who really puts their mind to it can take an existing product and improve upon it.

Remember BASF’s award-winning advertising campaign slogan? “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better.” Pretty sharp thinking for a chemical company.

Being first requires us to have great timing, which is often something we can’t control. Being the best requires us to work harder. That’s something we can control. What we still can’t control is how hard our competitors are willing to work.

In other words, being best comes with its own big challenge – the challenge of burnout.

Being the best means pushing, driving, competing, working, engineering, and lots and lots of elbow grease.

None of that is actually bad, but it often leads to imbalance and exhaustion.

There’s a third pathway to success that is probably a better option.

3. Be faithful.

Lately, I’ve found myself signing a lot of correspondence with the line,

Keep going,

Real success isn’t just hitting it big. It’s growing over the long haul.

Real success isn’t just beating the competition. It’s serving the world, including the competition.

People who are really successful may or may not be really smart, or really talented, or really charismatic. But they are all definitely faithful.

They plug. They plod. They keep going.

That leaves us with the basic questions we started with.

Who am I supposed to BE? And how can I become that person?

What am I supposed to DO? And how can I do the best I can at it?

I don’t know that I’ve ever been first at anything in my life. I’m not sure I’ve been the best either. But where I’ve been faithful, I can see fruit. And fruit satisfies!

So, get going.