Years ago when I was still living in New York City, I was out to dinner with some friends. We were sitting on the street-side terrace of one of my favorite restaurants at the time – Blue Water Grill in Union Square. About half way through our dinner, a guy walking down the street recognized one of my friends from years prior, and so he stopped to say hello. His name was George, and he seemed genuinely excited and happy to have this chance encounter with his old friend.
After playing a little catch up and exchanging some great to see and meet you niceties, George was ready to continue on his way. But before he did, George turned to my friend, his old friend, and in his heavy New York accent, he said quite enthusiastically, “You were a success before you were a success, but congratulations on your success!“
At the time, and for many years after, I just found that comment to be incredibly amusing and humorous. Still, for some reason it stuck with me and I never forgot it. In fact, I’ve often jokingly reiterated that comment at various times to various people over the years since. Also, George was somewhat of a character, so the comment seemed fitting coming from him, and so I never really gave it much thought beyond its unintended comedic effect.
But the truth is, that comment is incredibly deep and insightful – whether or not George meant it to be so. Because it not only points to the subjectivity of the notion of success – how each of us defines our own success as well as how others perceive our success; but it also highlights two kinds of success that are always at work, sometimes seemingly in competition with one another and sometimes confused for being one and the same, which they are not.
Those two types of success are Extrinsic Success and Intrinsic Success.
- Extrinsic Success is the more tangible one, and therefore the more obvious kind of success. It is the success that most people focus on, often to the exclusion of the other. It is measurable and measured, and is usually done so by others – peers, family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large – based on social or financial status.
- Intrinsic Success on the other hand, has nothing to do with anyone else or anything outside of yourself. It is not measured by how much money you make or what your job title is, but rather by your own sense of fulfillment, purpose, passion, and happiness.
There is nothing wrong with wanting and aspiring towards both kinds of success. I think if we’re being honest, that’s actually what most of us want and do. The problem lies in focusing on achieving your Extrinsic Success to the complete exclusion and disregard for your Intrinsic Success, which again – if we’re being honest – many of us do.
It’s a problem because even if and when you achieve that Extrinsic Success, if you haven’t put any effort into, or any focus on, your own Intrinsic Success, then you will not feel successful. You may be regarded and acknowledged as successful by others, and you may have a lot of tangibles to prove that you are, but it won’t matter much because you won’t actually feel it.
There’s a good chance though that you’ll feel empty, ungrateful, unfulfilled, or just plain unhappy. Maybe even trapped, alone, or secretly insecure. And you won’t understand why…. Now, I am sure that is NOT what true success feels like, looks like, or is. Not in my book, and I’ll bet not in yours either.
So, start paying attention to, focusing on, and developing your Intrinsic Success – your innermost truth, who you really are, what you stand for, and what you love. Allow your values and passions to guide you, define you, and drive you, and then share those values and passions with the world. Make an impact on those around you, leave your mark, and contribute your gifts, your talents, your strengths, and your inner truth – your Passion – to others.
That is how you attain Intrinsic Success (and I believe, Extrinsic Success too).
Which brings us back to George. Remember to remember your Intrinsic Success, remember George, and imagine him saying to you (thick New York accent and all):
“You were a success before you were a success, but congratulations on your success!”
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