There is an iconic passage in Bessie Anderson Stanley’s famous poem “Success”:
“(He has achieved success who…)
has left the world better than he found it, Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had”
If there is a better definition of success, I don’t know what it is.
When you take the time to reflect, you begin to realize how many people did things that made your life and career better. There are friends, family and colleagues of course, but as you dig a little deeper, you realize that, along your journey, there are hundreds – maybe thousands – of others who made a difference to your life.
There was that customer who gave you a second chance when you made a mistake; The waitress who put a smile on your face when you were having a bad day; That person who offered you his place in line because you were in a hurry. Individually, these actions may not be tremendously memorable or earth shattering, but collectively they helped shape who you are and where you are in your life today.
One of my examples happened 25 years ago, as a small chain of toy stores that I owned were in their final death throws, victims of a lingering recession and more than a couple of poor business decisions on my part. In the last few days of our flagship store’s bankruptcy sale, dozens and dozens of sympathetic customers took the time to come in and wish us well – many bringing lottery tickets, bottles of wine and other small but thoughtful gifts. These people have no doubt long since forgotten these gestures, but I never have. And it continues to be a great lesson for me in how easy it is to make a difference in somebody’s life. Sometimes all it takes is a smile.
So, the question becomes, what will your legacy be? In what small ways will you be leaving the world a little better than you found it? Will you make somebody laugh today? Bring a coffee for a coworker? Help a customer through a challenging situation? These things take very little effort, but they do make a difference – and in many ways they define who you are and how successful you will be.
The thing is, while we don’t have any control over world events, the one thing we have absolute control over is how we treat the people around us. And those are the moments that people will remember about you.