Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Meaning of Success


In the hands of a Master Planner, The Meaning of Success Priceless Conversation uses clients’ or donors’ own words, thoughts, insights, and stories to discover and clarify how they see life, what they value in life, and what ultimately they want from life.
Just as each one of us has developed our own unique definition of the meaning of money based on a collection of experiences called “meaning of money stories,” we also have developed our own unique definition of what it means to be successful, again based on a set of experiences that we in SunBridge call “meaning of success stories.” The Meaning of Success Priceless Conversation uses a set of story-leading questions and an interview to help the client or donor recall and share these stories, and then draw his or her own conclusions from them. From that interview, the Master Planner develops a clear understanding of what to offer the client or donor.               

There are many facets of success in life; The Meaning of Success Priceless Conversation focuses on five of them:  

Professional success  
Success in learning and education       
Financial success       
Success in relationships       
Personal and spiritual success      

Within each of these five areas of focus, clients or donors are invited to recall life experiences that helped to shape the way they define success. From these stories, they are invited to compare their early definitions of success in each area with their current views, and to identify secrets to success they have distilled from those experiences.        

When I am working with clients, I sometimes share this example of a learning-and-education “meaning of success story” from my own life.

As an elementary school student, getting good grades was always easy for me, so report card day was always a piece of cake. At least it was until fifth grade in Miss Ratliff’s class.      

Miss Ratliff was a tall, awkward woman who wore professorial half-glasses, pulled-back-into-a-bun hair, and most of the time a severe, judgmental expression. She expected a great deal from her students. Fun and horseplay were never permitted in her class.        

Miss Ratliff employed, I discovered on the first report card day of the school year, her very own custom-designed report card, one I had never seen before and never since. Besides the usual places for letter grades for academic subjects and for “S’s” and “U’s” for deportment, at the bottom there were two statements and a place for Miss Ratliff to check one or the other. They read:

“Student works to the best of his ability.”

“Student does not work to the best of his ability.”      

When report cards were handed out that day, I scanned mine to confirm the usual complement of A’s and S’s, then carried it home to my parents. After supper, I went to my parents’ room for my customary report-card-day meeting with my dad, fully expecting the usual commendation for another job well done. To my surprise, I found my father looking rather stern and displeased.      

"Scott, I’m concerned about your report card,” he said.      

“But dad,” I protested, “I got straight A’s and straight S’s. You can’t get any better than that.”      

“Maybe so,” he replied, “but look down here at the bottom. It says you are not working to the best of your ability.”

“Oh,” I uttered and swallowed hard. My mind was racing. “Who does she think she is?” I thought to myself. “I’m her star pupil. It’s not my fault that her work is too easy for me and that I can just coast to an easy A.” But I didn’t disagree with her assessment. My dad went on, cutting off my thoughts.

“Son, I’m happy that you got good marks, but I’m disappointed that you seem to think that going to school is just about getting a grade. It’s not. It’s about getting an education, and for someone with your capabilities, that means pushing yourself, reading ahead, exploring on your own, asking for extra credit assignments, being curious. For some people, straight A’s are not good enough. Do you understand?”      

I nodded my head, a little puzzled but starting to see a bigger perspective. “I think so, dad.” I mumbled.       

“Well, I hope that Miss Ratliff never has to check the ‘does not work to the best of his ability’ box again.”      

“Me too,” I said, relieved to be getting off with just a warning. “Me too.”      

Happily I can report that she never did all the rest of fifth grade.      

That experience and many others, I tell my clients, helped to shape my sense of what it means to be successful in learning and education. Those experiences also helped me figure out some of the secrets to success, and gave me a sense of satisfaction for the achievements I've enjoyed and a quest for further things I still had left to accomplish.               

“Like you,” I say to my clients, “I have similar experiences, similar definitions, similar secrets, and similar longings in the other areas of my life, financially, professionally, personally, spiritually, and in relationships. As your advisor, I want to understand how you define success. I want to capture your secrets to success in all facets of your life. I want to hear of your accomplishments, your moments of feeling proud of yourself.               

“And most important of all, I want to know what’s still missing for you, what’s still left to do or achieve or become, in order for you to feel completely successful in your life.”      

I love the structure and simplicity of The Meaning of Success Priceless Conversation, and the fact that when finished I can deliver a beautiful package for the client’s or donor’s legacy library. It makes it easy because the process, the experience, and the deliverable all come in one elegant kit.               

But it is not imperative to employ a formal process to begin to understand what’s still missing for the client or donor, and to learn what the next steps need to be. In certain situations, I can achieve approximately the same result using three questions to lead into a thoughtful and meaningful discussion, especially if my listening skills are up to par. Those three questions are:               

1. If you had an abundance of time, energy, and money, how would you live your life?       

2. If your doctor told you that you had three years to live, what would you do with that time?

3. If your doctor told you that you had 24 hours to live, what regrets would you have?      

Once again, questions of this sort, combined with transformational listening, allow the Master Planner to begin seeing the big picture of the client’s or donor’s past and present—essential information for mapping their ideal future. From there, it’s time for the Master Planner to show the client or donor he or she has a process for accomplishing the three roles of the Level-Three Advisor: architect, drafter of blueprints, and general contractor. The details of how to do that will be the subject of my next article: “What’s Next? From Airy-Fairy to Nitty-Gritty.”

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