“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” —Albert Einstein
Einstein was a pretty smart guy and the world acknowledges his many contributions to science and to understanding the world we live in; but, it in some of Einstein’s quotes that ae not about science, but rather, about life, that you can see and understands just how insightful he was. Today’s quote is a prime example.
Success is usually a measurement that we hold ourselves up to, as a comparison against others. We ask ourselves, “Where I’m I in terms of possessions or power or status against others?” We look at organization charts to see where we are or we read lists of wealthy people to see where we rank. Sometimes others make the lists and we just look at them. Others may look at the same lists or charts and make some relative judgement about the level of success that you’ve achieved, but it is really of little consequence to them.
The thing that matters to others and what should matter to you is what value they place on encountering or knowing you. To be of value to others normally involves dong something for them. The richest man on earth, if he just stands there and does nothing to help when you need it is of no value to you. The poorest man, if he reaches out to share what little he has, is invaluable in times of distress. We see it time after time in disaster scenarios such as those playing out in Texas and Florida – neighbors who pitch in to help neighbors, even as they face their own crises. Out West we see stories about fire fighters who are out on the line trying to save the homes of others, even as their own home is destroyed.
When the floods are rising or the winds blowing or the fires raging, it doesn’t matter how much money you have or how high up on the corporate ladder you’ve climbed. The measure of your value in those times lies in what you do, not what you’ve achieved. Indeed, in life in general; it is how you choose to serve others that gives you value. Jesus did not say, “Go forth and make as much money as possible and achieve a high position in society.” In fact, he said quite the opposite in Matthew 16:26-27 – “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” Notice that He did not say that you will be rewarded for what you have accumulated or the position that you have achieved.
Does that mean that you shouldn’t strive for success in business? No. What it means is that the level of success that you might achieve in business has less meaning than the value that you might be to others. People like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who rank numbers 1 & 2 in the world in terms of wealth have come to that conclusion and are taking actions to put the gains of their business successes to use in ways that will make them valuable to others – fighting poverty and disease through many projects around the world. A poor native in the middle of Africa doesn’t care how much money they have, he just cares about the value that they brought when they paid to have a well put into the village, so that they would have drinking water.
In our own neighborhoods, the people living in the homeless shelter don’t care if you are a loading dock worker or the CEO of your company; they care that you just dished out the first meal that they’ve had today and provided them with a warm and safe place to sleep tonight. You are valuable to them. Even within your own family, the value that you children associate with you has more to do about being there for them and loving them that it does about how much money you make or what job on the org chart that you hold.
So worry less about your worth and focus more on being of value to others. You’ll find it way more rewarding than that next promotion that you’ve been striving for. Add value to someone’s life today.