The Illusion of Success

Posted By on Aug 31, 2010 | 0 comments

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I was flattered and very pleased this week to be selected by one of my favorite bloggers, Lisa, to guest blog on her site, The topic that I’d chosen to write about was How to Court Failure.

You might think this was a cautionary tale, and in a way it is. But not like you think. Read on…

So what is the Harley emblem doing blazoned across the top of this post? I love Harleys. I hate loud noises but I love the sound of my Heritage Softail Classic. It’s also a beautiful piece of machinery, not unlike artwork by my friend, Ginny Ruffner, at least insomuch as they both use lots of heavy metal.

Harleys were once the ride of the social misfit. Not that bikers were necessarily misfits but mainstream culture saw them that way. Now big bikes are the ride of corporate CEOs who want to play bad boy on the weekend. At $16,000 to $25,000 for a new Harley, that’s an expensive image.

But it’s one that Harley has sold extremely well. Harley’s success cannot be measured in dollars alone.

I don’t know what the company’s officers thought about their customers when Harley was associated with danger and criminal activity. But they effectively transformed the company into a respected worldwide product line that is one of the handful of instantly recognizable brands that scream “America” without being offensive (I’m sure that’s a matter of opinion, yes). McDonalds would have a very hard time doing that. In fact, part of the worldwide allure of Harleys is their association with “American” values of freedom and independence.

(Please take note that I realize this is an illusion. My Harley does give me a feeling of freedom and independence but so did my Yamaha. It’s the association with those feelings that Harley markets so well. And there is something about the name, the styling, and the sound that sets Harley apart.)


What does this have to do with illusions of personal success? Whether we’re talking about Bill Gates or Harley or AIG or you and me, we seem to have very narrow definitions of what success means. The worst part is that we often don’t define it for ourselves but we let the culture provide a definition into which we try to shoehorn ourselves.

As I said in one of the comments on Lisa’s blog, perhaps the biggest failure we make in life is not defining success for ourselves, defining it narrowly by social standards, subsequently defining its absence as failure, and then being miserable with the results.

I suspect what most people want is not really mega-success but freedom from worry and want. I didn’t need that Harley but I wanted it. I also didn’t define its absence as a personal failure.

The truth is, some days that bike is just a thrill to ride and I’m so glad I have it. Other days, I can’t get into the groove on the road and it’s tiring to ride. (On those days, I’m still glad I have it.)

We choose how we feel about the things that happen in life. Sometimes overwhelming feelings make it feel like we have no choice but we do. People in extreme situations have shown that over and over.

This meandering post has a point. Whether or not I successfully convey what I’m trying to say in it is irrelevant. If my definition of success for this blog is a million readers, I’m falling short and this post won’t help that.

But that’s not my definition. I haven’t decided yet what this blog is going to be. I just know I like to write it.

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