Blog Article 

 1—Defining Success 

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Michael Santos

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In what ways are you defining success? Leaders taught me how to start with that question. Readers may derive value from the strategy, whether they’re overcoming the challenge of a prison term—or the challenge of rebuilding their life. I’ll share how such questions empowered me through 26 years in prison, hoping the lesson will teach and inspire others.

During the first year of my imprisonment, I picked up a book that changed my life. It wasn’t the type of text that I ordinarily would read.

For historical context, President Ronald Reagan still led the nation when I began serving my prison term. The year 1987, my age, 23. Authorities charged me with crimes related to selling cocaine. I started those nefarious activities when I turned 20. After my trial, a jury convicted me on all counts. As a result of that conviction, I faced a potential life sentence.

A story Plato wrote about Socrates can help people find an answer to that question. Both Plato and Socrates lived more than 2,000 years ago in ancient Greece. As philosophers, they brought wisdom to the world. From reading their work, we can learn how to think differently.

The story took place while Socrates—locked in a jail cell—awaited his execution. Authorities had convicted him for the crime of spreading wisdom. They sentenced him to death, ordering him to drink a lethal poison known as hemlock. 

Socrates’s friend, Crito, visited him in jail. Crito had arranged for Socrates to escape. Rather than taking Crito up on his offer, Socrates explained why he would accept his punishment and drink the hemlock. 

Socrates’s reasoning made an impression on me. Rather than defining success by living, he defined success by living honorably as a good citizen. That story of how Socrates responded to his punishment persuaded me to change. I needed to live with a better philosophy.

By reading Plato’s story about Socrates and his decision-making approach, I accepted a better way to confront problems. I had to start by defining success.

The operative word in the previous question is “possible.” 

Sometimes we focus on what we want rather than what is possible. I wanted to escape prison, but I broke the law, and a jury convicted me. Getting out of prison wouldn’t be possible. 

Socrates taught me to think about the best possible outcomes and what I could do to engineer a new path. 

When we think about possibilities, we can engineer our way to success. 

Start by defining success. 

  • How does a person define success while climbing through struggles?
  • Given your circumstances today, what is the best possible outcome for you?
  • What does success look like to you?
  • How are you defining success for the day?
  • How are you defining success for the quarter?
  • How are you defining success for the year?
  • What does success look like for you in five years?

Word of the day: nefarious / Define nefarious:

Use nefarious in a sentence:

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