What sitting in the 3rd grade hall taught me about success

Listening to Mike Barron brought back some memories from 3rd grade.  I got in a lot of trouble when I was in school. I mean… a lot of trouble.   I have no one to blame. Oh sure, other students made it easy for me to act out in school, but I was the primary source of all my classroom problems.  Listening to my classmates from the other side of the hall door made me willing to examine crowd logic critically.

I could relate to every word Mike described in our recent Unbeatable podcast interview. Mike described why his teachers had to move his chair to a separate part of the classroom to prevent him from distracting other students.

Like Mike, my teachers went to great lengths to separate me from the rest of my class.  I remember bringing toy cars to school to occupy all my time in the hallway during 3rd grade.

Looking back on it now, I am ashamed of how I conducted myself in school.  However, spending all this time away from the rest of my classmates caused me to start looking at life from a different perspective.  I don’t think I was wise enough in 3rd grade to recognize the insanity of following the crowd. However, my school years created enough distance between me and my classmates that I was able to start to look at life a little bit differently. 

Before I finished high school, I had a different definition of success from most of my classmates.  While most of the students from my graduating class were chasing after a promotion from their school job or off to college to get the education to land their dream job, I walked away from a promotion and pay raise that many middle-aged men dream of.

Throughout my last two years of high school, I worked long hours at a fast-food restaurant.  By seventeen, I worked 60-70 hours a week on top of my schoolwork.  Before I started my final year of high school, I was promoted to assistant manager of a franchise, doing extremely well in our company.  I had to learn to lead people over twice my age while still in school.  A few weeks after graduating, the regional manager of our restaurant chain asked for a personal meeting with me.  I mistakenly assumed I had done something wrong for this kind of attention.  

I was shocked when, at 18 years old and only a few weeks out of high school, I was asked to take over as the manager of one of our stores a few miles away.  This moment is seared in my memory because of the struggle it created inside me.  I was proud of my work and honored to be considered for this unprecedented promotion.  At the same time, I was confronted with my goals in life.  I distinctly remember standing in the restaurant parking lot, declining this amazing offer from our regional manager because it didn’t fit my definition of success.


Success doesn’t wear a Rolex watch.  If you listen to the crowd, you might be listening to a lie. The purpose of this article is to challenge you to examine what influences your definition of success ruthlessly.

You are still acting like a child if you haven’t examined where your definition of success originates.  Learning from others’ definitions of success is natural, maybe even beneficial. However, having the courage to examine what influences that definition ruthlessly is essential for all adults. 

Being better than the next person in your class at the less important stuff doesn’t equate to success.

Most of what passes for success sounds more like a slick marketing campaign than something that will deeply satisfy you. I wonder how many people have unknowingly accepted someone else’s broken definition of success based on images in popular opinion.  If owning a supercar is the standard for success, why do people continue to work the day they drive the car home?


If possessions can’t bring success, what about relationships?  We all know instinctively that people are far more important than possessions. If success can’t be defined by the quantity of your possessions, then does the quality of your relationships make you successful?

Here’s the good news: Relationships are important.  I mean very important. This means that you rarely waste time developing the quality of a few important relationships.  As important as relationships are, believing that more is better would be foolishWith relationships, more isn’t better… better is better.

Here’s the bad news: Success isn’t captured in the perfect family picture either.  We instinctively know that no perfect family pictures hang above the mantle or on the front of this year’s Christmas cards, because there’s no such thing as perfect relationships, if you look at relationships alone for your definition of success, you will feel like a failure every time your relationship doesn’t go perfectly- which is almost all the time for most of us.

What’s left?

If money can’t buy love or the cure for cancer, having an 8-figure bank account cannot be the standard for success.  This cuts to the heart of the popular definition of success.  There’s a constantly perpetuated myth at school graduation ceremonies that defines success as making it to the top of your career field and having more money in your bank account than the next person. 

Having possessions or relationships alone doesn’t equal success.  Similarly, doing better than your peers doesn’t equal success either. Many students have been indoctrinated by this myth as early as 3rd grade.

Even in that 3rd grade hallway, I refused to allow my relationship with my peers as a definition of success. To measure your success in contrast to your peers is to give someone else the ability to determine your measure of success.   

Throughout this article, I’ve tried eliminating the most popular definitions of success.  Little’s left when you strip away the most popular notions.  If success can’t be measured by comparing yourself to others, if your possessions don’t define it, and your relationship with others can’t measure it, what’s left? 


Success is best measured by your heart.  When you are satisfied with your possessions and enjoy your relationships more than a relentless desire for more… you’re successful!  That’s a grownup lesson many adults can learn from 3rd grade children.

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