Friends on the Journey
How do you define success? And
perhaps as important, how do you know when you have achieved it?
back, I recall speaking with my White House boss and former Secretary
of State and Treasury, James Baker, about this illusive matter
of success and failure. He proceeded to describe his
very first day at the White House, settling into his spacious West
Wing office once occupied by the likes of such nobles as that humble
soul, Dr. Henry Kissinger. He recalled the excitement when the
President's entourage of limousines, hovering staff, press and
security details moved about Washington bringing all traffic to
a halt since the power of that office trumps all else in this city
of power. This was big...this was success; Baker had truly made
it and it felt pretty darn good. As White House Chief of Staff,
Baker would bask in the reflective glory of the most powerful man
on earth...the President of the United States.
During a brief lull
in this incredible day, Secretary Baker gazed out of his rarified
digs onto Pennsylvania Avenue. At that
moment, he noticed a familiar face walking solemnly in front of
the most important address in America. Indeed, it was someone he
knew, a former chief of staff to a previous President. Baker recalled
that moment for me.
"I gazed upon this well known man yet was amazed
that this man who had wielded such power and influence was alone,
a solitary figure...no entourage or press in his face. One man all
alone with his thoughts and memories and a fleeting touch with fame.
I took a breath and considered my puffed-up day. I thought to myself,
'Never forget that image. Remember who your real friends are and
how very temporal is all of this. Now, everyone returns my calls
from the White House but that will change once I leave. Remember
who you are.'"
I never forgot that conversation. In fact, I
wrote several speeches for Baker and worked this theme into them
since I felt it a powerful reminder about the nature of success
and its imitators.
We all have our stories of the moment when
our view of success was altered. It likely came for many of us
when we actually achieved some major accomplishment and were puzzled
by the sour aftertaste accompanied by a strange sadness.
and Superman by playwright George Bernard Shaw, Shaw observes this
are two tragedies in life.
is to lose your heart's
other is to get it."
So, the question remains: what is success?
only have clues, yet true success leaves fingerprints. I would
suggest that a central ingredient of true success centers around
relationships, having others in our life to share the journey with
all of its wonders and heartaches. But the soft underbelly
of success, at least the way in which our culture has defined it
- power, prestige, notoriety, money and influence- can, ironically,
isolate us from others. What a strange fruit from great achievement. Yet
it seems accurate, at least, from my own observation.
friend, philanthropist and financial wizard, Ray Chambers,
despite his colossal success and influence, has remained quite
normal. But how? One reason relates to his long connection to the
members of his college rock and roll band. They gather, play music
and hang out. Ordinary guys still being quite ordinary together.
Another friend, Bill Harrison, former Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan/Chase
in response to my probing question in anticipation of his retirement
from a long distinguished career in banking, told me that he was
so excited about the prospect of fixing screen doors and other
mundane tasks. Then his eyes lit up as he told me of the sheer
pleasure of driving a big semi-truck to deliver something for a
What keeps you grounded? A personal illness or
old books that you regularly re-read, an old sweater, a son with
a tattoo, an old letter from a mother or father or grandparent, a
special place that has been in your life for decades, an old friend
who wants nothing from you? Reminders of your own history
and what you value...
In an odd way, the truly ordinary and random
things in our lives seem there for a purpose-- to remind us of our humanity and
to slow us down. To remember to separate the important from
Two days ago, I had lunch with an old friend
who had been in a
federal prison for over 11 years for financial fraud. I
was curious about many things but two particularly struck me that
day with him. First, him telling me of the number of
'uber' successful people that had visited him in prison
to share a 'secret' , a fear, a dilemma, a crime they had committed,
a profound worry or failure. And second, that he will never view
success in quite the same way. Once you have suffered, you know
what truly matters.
This illusive notion of success is a topic worth
pondering over the summer. Perhaps it is a good time to re-calibrate
your own notions on this subject. Jot down your own musings.
Waldo Emerson in his Reflections on Success identifies
his own formula for success.
How do you measure success?
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect
of intelligent people,
and the heart affection of children.
To earn the appreciation of
your honest critics,
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty,
and to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better,
whether by a healthy child,
a redeemed social condition,
or a job well done;
To know that even one other life has breathed;
This is to have
So long for now,