A general. A priest. A poet who penned a number of still-studied ancient Greek tragedies, including the incomparable and chilling "Oedipus Rex." Sophocles was certainly a versatile and knowledgeable man.
But he was sadly shortsighted or maybe misquoted when it comes to creating success.
He called it "the reward of toil."
While there's a high correlation between hard work and success, plenty of personal experience tells me there's something else to it. If not, for instance, I would be the author of a critically acclaimed and maybe even best-selling Young Adult novel, The Second Hurricane.
I've put in at least 2,000 hours writing the rough draft and then fine-tuning the resulting versions again and again and again after critique upon critique by my agent's readers. And I don't think that it's a matter of the book being so-so and me being stone-blind to its mediocrity.
Some of the fiction I've had published in the past now makes me cringe. I see the effort as embarrassing and sophomoric.
But this book still moves me even though I've read some scenes hundreds of times.
So why am I sharing my fiction failure in a health and fitness column? Because it might mirror your last experience with health and fitness, one where the end result was something less than you initially envisioned and yet you're not quite sure why.
I want you to be able to objectively determine if that episode was really a failure. To help, let's begin this whole process again and consider another famous person's definition of success.
An educator. An author. A college basketball coach who led UCLA to 10 NCAA championships in 12 years. John Wooden was certainly a versatile and successful man.
But he did not equate success with books written, games won, or championships accumulated.
He simply called it "peace of mind."
While there's a high correlation between books written, games won, and championships accumulated and the apparent success of a college basketball coach, Wooden knew a settled soul was a far better indicator and a far better goal. In his book as told to Jack Tobin, They Call Me Coach, Wooden explained how he reached that conclusion.
"Only one person can judge [success] you. You can fool everyone else, but in the final analysis only you know whether you goofed off or not. You know if you took the shortcut, the easy way out, or cheated.
"No one else does. I know that I look back with regret on some things that seemed to be a success to others."
Wooden's words make me feel much better about my lack of success in getting The Second Hurricane published, for I know I've never goofed off, never taken a short cut, or the easy way out. In a sense, the part of the process that I control, the manuscript itself, is a success.
I'm at peace with my effort.
The part that hasn't worked out as well is the marketing of the book, a part that I assigned to someone else for my goal is to write books, not hawk them.
Debating the value of two definitions of success is all well and good if it aids you in reaching the next level of health and fitness, so now's the time for you to honestly assess your latest effort at it.
Have you done what Sophocles suggests and what I see as the groundwork to it? Have you toiled to get it?
The poet e e cummings calls being yourself, "the hardest work I know," since the world "is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else." Because of the way society is structured today, it may not be too much of a stretch to use those same words about the struggle to obtain optimal health and fitness.
After all, isn't the world with all its technological advances and round-the-clock access to unhealthy food making maintaining a healthy weight and finding the time and motivation to work out more and more difficult?
So what are you to do? The second part of cummings' quotation: "To fight and never stop fighting."
Do you fight temptation when your coworkers bring cakes or doughnuts for your work breaks nearly every single day? Do you do what you must to squeeze in a workout between your daughter's basketball game and your son's piano recital?
If you are doing things like these, yet are still falling short of some quantifiable goal like losing 10 pounds or performing 10 chin ups, don't sweat it. After all, you are doing all you can do.
That should bring peace of mind.
If it doesn't, maybe a quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes will. He said, "The greatest thing in the world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving."
Relax. Making the right strides is the start of long-term success.
Now you just need to see it through.