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Andy’s Notes from Business Folks: John Wooden – How Do You Define Success?

Success Defined

What does success mean to you?

Are you consciously driving after it?  Or are you mostly just going with the flow of your life?

If you’re a typical Leader or business owner, success is usually something that you’ve tried to define for yourself and for your Team.

When I heard John Wooden’s definition of success for the first time, it stopped me in my tracks:

“Success is peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable.”

I found myself stuck on the first phrase, “Success is peace of mind.”  Prior to that, I used to think that success was measured by external accomplishments, achievements, and accolades.  The idea that success might be measured, not by comparison with anyone else, but by the condition at the core of my being…my peace of mind…really got my attention.  The only implied comparison was in relation to my own potential.

It makes sense that no external measure of success would matter without peace of mind, prompting the question, “How can you get peace of mind?”

John Wooden provides one answer to that question in the rest of his definition.  He states that peace of mind is attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable.

Only you know if you’ve given your best.  Others observing you might have an idea, but only you can measure your true effort.

If you’ve truly given your best effort, you should feel a sense of self-satisfaction, regardless of whether you achieved the outcome you desired.  Giving your very best is all you can do.

If your best effort didn’t achieve the result you were hoping for, then you can begin the work to improve your capability for the next opportunity.  The practice of giving your maximum effort is an important step on the path to the peace of mind of John Wooden’s definition of success.

Rising to a challenge.

Giving your maximum effort allows you to see your true capabilities, but only if you are facing a challenge.  Difficult circumstances become opportunities to improve your skills and performance.

When the situation is difficult, or the competition is strong, you’ll be pushed to achieve new levels of performance.  You can only truly see your potential when you are forced to perform under increasingly demanding circumstances.  You raise the level of your ability to perform when you meet challenges with maximum effort.  If doing less than your best results in winning, your competition or your standards aren’t good enough/high enough.

Playing against a weak team with maximum effort and beating them by a lot, is unlikely to raise the level of your game.  Whereas, playing against a strong team, and elevating your game to a new level, may actually achieve a new “best” for you, even if you ultimately lose the game to the stronger team.

Over your lifetime, you have the opportunity to continue to learn and grow.  To be the best that you are capable of becoming, you must be challenged so you can raise the level of your skills and performance.  Your new “best” will eclipse the old….a process you’ll repeat throughout your life.


John Wooden’s definition of success suggests that:

  • Success is peace of mind.
  • Peace of mind comes from self-satisfaction.
  • Self-satisfaction comes from knowing you’ve done your very best.
  • Achieving your best comes from facing challenges and rising to meet them, growing your potential, your skills, and your performance.

Consider how this definition of success might alter your current approach.  I certainly wish for you the peace of mind that characterizes John Wooden’s definition of success.

After learning about John Wooden and his definition of success, there were a few adjustments I made in my life.  These are adjustments that I continue attempting to live out in my daily life.

Reset the scorecard for my life.

I made a point to intentionally seek the peace of mind John Wooden described and shifted my focus away from the material possessions often used to measure success.

Renew my dedication to doing my best, and being my best, every day.

I vowed to give my true best effort, knowing that the immediate outcome is irrelevant.  I recognized that bigger challenges would raise the level of my performance and benefit me in the future.

Rely on my faith perspective.

Colossians 3:23 says “whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men.”  That verse has changed my perspective and the motivation behind my effort.  My performance, and my peace of mind, have little to do with the people around me.  If I’m trying to hide something, I’m only kidding myself.

  • What scorecard are you currently using to measure success?  What might a reset of your scorecard look like?
  • Recognize when you’re being challenged and determine to do your best.  See challenges as a positive thing and an opportunity to grow.
  • Evaluate your motives.
        • Are they external?  Are you trying to impress others?
        • Or are they internal?  That is, honoring your growth and driving toward the utilization of your potential.
  • Whose opinion means the most to you?
  • What’s limiting you from having peace of mind?

John Wooden is widely regarded as the greatest basketball coach that has ever lived. His UCLA Bruins won ten NCAA National Championships in a 12-year period, including seven in a row.  Within that period, the team won a record 88 consecutive games.

One of the most revered coaches in the history of sports,[2] he was renowned for his short, simple inspirational messages to his players (including his “Pyramid of Success”), many of which were directed at how to be a success in life as well as in basketball. Wooden’s 29-year coaching career and overwhelming critical acclaim for his leadership have created a legacy not only in sports but also in business, personal success, and organizational leadership.

  1. What is your 1-sentence definition of success?
  2. On a scale of 1 (no peace of mind)  to  10 (complete peace of mind), how would you rate your peace of mind? (just don’t use 7!)
  3. Who else has helped you form your personal definition of success?