Are You Successful? Ask Yourself These Three Questions.

Are You Successful?

Posted Feb 08, 2012

Are You Successful? Ask Yourself These Three Questions.

Murray Graziano works at The Golden Orchard in Toronto's famed St. Lawrence Market. One morning, I paid Murray and got three apples plus wisdom placed in my paper bag.

I asked Murray, age 71, if he enjoyed doing what he does. He responded by telling me the story of serving an elderly couple and then recognizing that he and the man had been classmates in high school. The classmate told him how he had achieved financial success and national esteem. Murray talked about how he enjoyed selling fruit.

As the couple walked away from the fruit stand, Murray heard the woman tell her husband,"I guess Murray is one of the students who didn't make it."

In reflecting on the event, Murray understood why the woman would make such a statement. But he didn't agree with her.

He told me there were three reasons why he considered himself a professional success.

I wrote down Murray's three criteria and am passing them on  to you:

1. Are you positioning yourself so that one day, you do not have a financial need to work?
2. When you no longer have a financial need to work, would you still continue to occupy that role?
3. Do you define your own standards of excellence or use external measures?

Are you positioning yourself so that you don't have to work?

You need to be putting enough money away in a retirement fund so that you might one day have the option of not working. If your job doesn't pay you enough to set aside funds for retirement, then perhaps it is time for a different job.

Your work may be exciting and noble, but if you are not positioning yourself for life after your professional life ends, then change your occupation.

In my work with senior executives, for example, I see too many counting upon that Life Changing Event (an IPO, M&A, or hot investment tip). That is a hope and not a plan, given the statistics behind Life Changing Events.

Spending your professional life seeking statistically unlikely events is called "hoping."

When you have no financial need to work in your role, will you still want to work in that role?

Murray no longer needs the money but enjoys being needed by the fruit stand and serving customers in an area where he has content expertise.

I understand Murray well. I work with executives and professionals on careers and leadership. But I have the same satisfaction as Murray.

It saddens me to hear "successful" leaders tell me they can't wait for that "life changing event" so that they can finally get to do what they really want to do.

To paraphrase Warren Buffett, a career strategy based on doing what you dislike today so that you can do what you like tomorrow is as wise as deferring youthful sex so it can be enjoyed in old age.

Do you define your own standards of career excellence?

Whether your business if nonprofit or for profit, business is about measuring your performance against external standards. For example, when I invest I measure my yearly success against the S&P 500 Index. I know who my competitors are. I know what their market share is. Am I gaining market share or loosing?

Does it make sense to use external standards to measure your own professional success?

Use external standards to evaluate professional success and you are guaranteed a life of dissatisfaction: you will always find someone with a bigger income, a bigger house, a bigger boat, better car, and cooler gadgets.

When was the last time you gave yourself Permission to Dream your own dreams versus trudging to meet/surpass external standards others established?


The three levels of Murray's Law of Professional Success are simple. If your answer is "yes" at all three levels, congratulations.

If your answer to any of the three questions is "No," then it is time to remember what Professor Anthony Athos once told me. There are three phases in a professional life:

* Learning the "Game."
* Winning the "Game."
* Defining the "Game."

Whether you sell apples or lead a major corporation, where are you?

Where do you want to be?