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Success, Defined by Unsuccessfulness

Billy Crystal, as radio air time salesman Mitch Robbins in the 1991 movie City Slickers, is sitting before his boss, who is dressing him down for slacking on the job.  It is his 39th birthday.  “You ever reach a point in your life,” the depressed salesman interjects blankly to the boss, “where you say to yourself,  ‘This is the best I’m ever going to look, the best I’m ever going to do, and it ain’t that great?”  It is a feeling that has probably been around as long as people have: the realization that halfway through the game,  things aren’t turning out quite as expected.

If life were fair, there would be a time when reality exceeded our expectations, there were more answers than questions, and most of our dreams came true.  The truth is different for each of us.  There have always been losers and winners, but each of us deserves to be successful.

SUCCESS is difficult to define.  Perhaps knowing what it is not can help each of us know when we get there.


1. A man who was head of one of the world’s greatest monopolies.

2. A man who was one of the most successful speculators on Wall Street.

3. The former president of the largest independent steel company in America.

4. A past chairman of one of the country’s largest utility companies.

5.  A former president of the largest gas company in the United States.

6. A man who was once the president of the New York Stock Exchange.

7. A former president of the Bank of International Settlements.

8. A former member of President Warren Harding’s Cabinet.

Here are the names that go with the “happenings.”

1.  Ivar Krueger, head of International Match Corp.  (known as the “match king”), committed suicide, or was murdered.  The truth was never established.

2.  Jesse Livermore, the “most wondrous of the boy wonders” of Wall Street, committed suicide.

3.  Charles M. Schwab, chairman of Bethlehem Steel, died broke.

4.  Samuel Insull, chairman of Commonwealth Edison Co. and other utility corporations, was acquitted on embezzlement and mail fraud charges. He died in Paris in modest surroundings.

5.  Howard Hopson, president of the Associated Gas and Electric Utility empire, had been in prison for mail fraud and died in a sanitarium.

6.  Richard Whitney, president of the New York Stock Exchange, served time in Sing Sing for grand larceny.

7.  Leon Fraser, president of the World Bank for International Settlements, committed suicide.

8.  Albert Fall, Secretary of the Interior in Harding’s Cabinet, served a prison term for accepting a bribe.


Some years ago, Denis Waitley wrote  Seeds of Greatness, in which he identified 10 principles basic to personal success in all phases of life.  These 10 fundamental principles are just as valid today as they were a decade ago.


No one can succeed without it.  During the past decade, Americans have certainly shown an awareness of the importance of self-esteem, but there is still much misunderstanding of the true meaning of the term.

Self-esteem is an intrinsic sense of internal self-worth that allows its owner to empower others…not degrade them.

Self-esteem encourages success in life because it does not allow you to remain static.  It insists you grow as you learn to express your internal values through new endeavors.


Our minds can’t tell the difference between a real experience and one that is vividly and repeatedly imagined.  So one secret of success is to visualize and mentally enjoy your future success.

By doing this, you will more easily imagine creative routes to achieve your goals and know how to enjoy them once you get there.


It is true that we reap what we sow.  Our rewards in life depend on the quantity and quality of our contribution.

During the past decade, we seem to have lost the seeds of responsibility and personal accountability.  We believe we are entitled to what we want without any effort, and are aggrieved when life gives us something we don’t want.

Significant indicators of how prevalent this attitude is:  More lawsuits are filed in the U.S. than in any other industrialized country in the world.  While people in many other nations admit that their governments cannot solve their problems as well as they themselves can, many Americans seem to be going in the opposite direction.

While millions of foreigners see that America still offers unbounded opportunity for those with energy and ambition who want to take responsibility for their own success, too many Americans want everything handed to them on a platter.


The wisdom needed for success in life includes knowing who you are and what your true internal talents are, and taking advantage of every opportunity to develop these gifts to the best of your ability.

How do you do this?  By reading, going to lectures, taking select courses, listening to tapes, and choosing friends that you can learn from and with.


Many individuals fail to achieve their goals in life because they never really decided upon them in the first place.  Only when you think directly about your concrete goals can you set your determination and imagination to work and decide the concrete steps you need to achieve them.

No one else, least of all the government, can direct your life for you in the way that suits your unique personality.


You cannot succeed as a person if you cannot communicate with others.

The two most important aspects of effective communication are empathy (feeling with the other person), and love (looking for the good in others).


Life is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  You may not always get what you want, but in the long run you usually get what you expect.

Faith gives you the expectation that what happens to you, however it may seem on first sight, is ultimately good.


All the seeds of success are timeless.  You have to be flexible enough to be able to use them appropriately.

In today’s atmosphere of incredibly rapid change, adaptability is more vital than ever.  We are swamped with new gadgets that distract our attention and threaten to steal the little time and discretionary income we still have.

Our task for the 1990’s: Keep our eyes on the fundamentals of character so technology does not distract us from our true interests, but aids us in advancing them.


If you want to get ahead in the world, you have to be prepared to work at tasks no one else is willing to work at.  But they have to be tasks that are worth doing.

Hint:  Set your priorities for the day every morning, better still, the night before, and concentrate on getting the high-priority items taken care of first.


As you go through life, always bear in mind that the point of the journey is the journey itself, not the destination.

The ultimate secret of success is to live in a way that lets you enjoy life.


Back in the 1860’s when pickles and crackers came in barrels, and preserved foods came in dark jars, a young boy raised horseradish in his parents’ three-quarter acre garden and sold the surplus to his neighbors.  Soon he began grating the horseradish and packing it with vinegar in clear glass bottles to show his customers that his horseradish was not falsely diluted with chopped turnips.  That boy was Henry John Heinz, and pure horseradish was the start of H. J. Heinz’s 57 Varieties food business.

In 1902 James Cash Penney opened a dry goods store in Kemmerer, Wyoming, and named it The Golden Rule.  “Golden Rule principles are just as necessary for operating a business profitably as are trucks, typewriters, or twine,” he said.  One application of The Golden Rule was “to charge a fair profit for what we offer, and not all the traffic will bear.”  In less than five years his chain had twenty-two stores.

Heinz and Penney had in common a deep respect of their moral obligations to their customers.  This is an aspect of customer care no successful business can be without, particularly today.


Success is an elusive notion, a paradox.  After all, it is both a journey and a destination, isn’t it?

It’s the steady, measured progress toward a goal and the achievement of a goal.

Success is both an accomplishment and a wisdom that comes to those who understand the potential power of life.

It’s an awareness of value and the cultivation of worthwhile values through discipline.

It’s both material and spiritual, practical and mystical.

Success is a process of turning away from something in order to turn toward something better:  From lethargy to exercise, from candy to fruit, from spending to investing.

Success is responding to an invitation to change, to grow, to develop, and to become an invitation to move  up to a better place in order to gain a better vantage point.

Most of all, success is making your life what you want it to be.  Considering all the possibilities, considering all the examples of others whose lives you admire, what do you want from your life?  That is the big question!

Remember, success is not a set of standards from our  culture but rather a collection of personal values clearly defined and ultimately achieved.

Making your life what you want it to be for you, that is success.

I wrote this article and it was first published in the Farran Report (the precursor of Dental Town) in January of 1997. I had found it almost 15 years later while cleaning out a cabinet of old papers. We published it here 6 years ago, but it’s worth reading again. It is funny how truth never ages. In a profession where every consultant, speaker, and writer seem to change their strategy or come up with some newer “best idea” that will change Dentistry for the next decade just in order to sell the gullible dentist one more thing, Summit Practice Solutions has stayed true to its roots by helping dentists “Produce More, Collect All, and Keep Half” all over the United States. We have spent an entire career of almost 40 years maintaining the integrity of our purpose, and delivering a service that cannot be faulted. We are honored to have served so many of you. This article defines how you Summit.

Michael Abernathy, DDS
972-523-4660 cell
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