The Secret of My Success
How would you define it?
How would you define it?
“What is the secret of my success?”
This is something we often hear from wealthy or famous people, usually in response to an interview question. But does it cause you to stop and think, especially about what success really means? How do you define success? Try writing down your answer, before and after you’ve read this poignant story. When the late Christopher Reeve discussed the secret of his success, he moved his audience to tears.
In his excellent book: “Fast Food Nation“, Eric Schlosser recalls going with a fast-food chain manager, and some of his employees, to an event entitled “success”. It was a large-scale event with big-name speakers, all giving advice or encouragement for an eager audience. All seemed hungry for success and it’s hardly surprising that the words “success” and “wealth” seemed almost synonymous.
Speaker after speaker addressed the audience. Each was making the link between money and success until finally, accompanied by the theme tune from the film “Chariots of Fire”, actor Christopher Reeve was wheeled onto the stage. Despite his tragic physical condition, Reeve talked clearly, though with pauses to allow his respirator to work. He thanked the audience for their welcome and began by explaining that he donates his speaking fees to groups that conduct spinal cord research. This set the tone for what was to follow.
Famous for his acting role as Superman, Christopher Reeve was critically injured by a riding accident in 1995. This accident left him fighting for life and permanently paralysed. Reeve had often been asked: “what is the secret of my success”, but tragically his answer was totally different now. Schlosser recounted that, in the midst of what had been a non-stop celebration of wealth-related success, Reeve hushed the crowd with some thoughtful words:
“I’ve had to leave the physical world. By the time I was twenty-four, I was making millions,” he continued. “I was pretty pleased with myself …. I was selfish and neglected my family….. Since my accident, I’ve been realizing …. that success means something quite different.” Members of the audience started to weep. “I see people who achieve these conventional goals,” he said in a mild, even tone. “None of it matters.”
Schlosser described the atmosphere in the arena following the former film-star’s speech. “His words cut through all the snake oil of the last few hours, calmly and with great precision. Everybody in the arena, no matter how greedy or eager for promotion, all eighteen thousand of them, know deep down in their hearts that what Reeve has just said is true – too true.”
“When the first Superman movie came out, I gave dozens of interviews to promote it. The most frequent question was: what is a hero? My answer was that a hero is someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences. Now my definition is completely different.
I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. They are the real heroes, and so are the families and friends who have stood by them.”
In many ways, Eric Schlosser’s book uses fast food as a metaphor for modern life. It looks good, it tastes good, it’s affordable and available for almost anyone. For all its convenience or allure though, we still don’t regard it as “proper” food. Much fast-food, as with much success, can leave us feeling hollow and unfulfilled.
Christopher Reeve’s moving words bear a timely testament to such an interpretation. He died on October 10, 2004 at the age of 52. Reeve redefined success by asking what really matters.
I felt I needed to do something – not just for myself but for everyone else in the same condition. Even if I had wanted to (which I didn’t), I would never be able to forget the other patients I had met during rehab. I had seen too much of their struggles and pain. I couldn’t go home, devote my life to myself and my family, and ignore the larger picture.
If you were ever asked for the secret of your success, how would you want to answer? It’s worth using this story to think about what really matters. Is enduring success really about fame and fortune or could it be something else? Something that helps others and helps them to achieve success? A success defined much more widely than just by our own wealth and possessions. In answering these questions, you might find it useful to read our Stress Management Tip.
This introduced the views of two Harvard academics, Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson. They suggested that “enduring success” has four categories:
We’ll leave final thoughts on “the secret of my success” with Christopher Reeve:
What I do is based on powers we all have inside us; the ability to endure; the ability to love, to carry on, to make the best of what we have – and you don’t have to be a ‘Superman’ to do it.
Reeve has left a practical legacy with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Be inspired by “the secret of my success”. Take a look at their site and “start making a difference today.”
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