“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 of it.”
Dr. Viktor Frankl, who penned these words in the preface of the 1984 edition of his famed bestseller Man’s Search for Meaning, should know. When he wrote the original book in 1945 he had intended it to be published anonymously under the absolute conviction that it could never earn literary fame for himself. He simply wanted to tell the story of his experiences, observations, and personal survival from the atrocities of the concentration camps. Or in his words, “I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of a concrete example that life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones.” Yet, in spite of efforts to convey a quiet but profound message and do so anonymously, he was convinced by his friends to claim authorship, the unexpected consequence of which was a highly acclaimed bestseller.
Since World War II Dr. Frankl’s writings have revolutionized the field of psychiatry, no doubt impacting thousands of patients around the world in positive ways, which was his only intention from the beginning. Never was it in pursuit of fame or fortune. Yet, in the long run success did follow – precisely because he had forgotten to think of it.
How much better off would we all be – indeed, how much better off would the world be – if we focused our best efforts on something or someone greater than ourselves rather than on success itself? Do we, I wonder, often times limit our success – or worse, miss it altogether – because of our focusing on it? What if our highest energy and best talents were focused on doing the right thing for the common good? Success will surely follow.