Don’t aim at success

Recently I finished “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. Frankl was a psychiatrist who survived four Nazi death camps, and founded a school of psychiatry called “logo therapy.” The Greek word “logos” translates to “meaning,” and logo therapy is all about finding meaning in your life. One of the most famous quotes from this book, which is one of the most important books I’ve ever read, is “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” That quote essentially sums up Frankl’s story of coping with the horrific experience he endured, but it was another quote that I highlighted and have read at least a dozen times:

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run —in the long-run, I say!— success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”

I could go on all day about why I agree with that quote so much, but I will simply say this: in my experience in business, the times I’ve aimed at success I have either hit the target and felt unsatisfied deep down because I was so relentlessly focused on the results that I failed to enjoy the process, or I have missed the target, as Frankl suggests is often the case. On the contrary, when I’ve let success be the by-product, but not the objective, and I’ve focused instead on enjoying the work and pouring my heart into it, with no definitive time frame for success, success has ALWAYS been the result.