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How do you measure success?

  • Published
  • By Col. Scott Fox
  • 90th Missile Wing vice commander
Have you ever been asked a question that really made you think? A young airman who was new to the 90th Missile Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command asked me just that sort of question during one of my visits to the First Term Airmen Center. The question was, "Sir, how do you measure success?"

As I pondered my list of possible answers to this motivated young professional's seemingly simple question, I quickly realized that my answer was not nearly as simple as his question. Before you can measure success, you first have to put the concept of success into context. Additionally, it was instantly clear to me that my definition of success was very possibly different than that of the young people with whom I was speaking!

Fame, fortune and power come to mind when many start to describe their idea of a successful person, and for many, success is measured by the size of your bank account. In fact, the young man who asked me the original question followed it up immediately by saying, "I used to think it was about making a lot of money, but now I know that's not right." Wow! Not only did he ask a deep question, he'd already put a lot of thought into his own answer to the question.

I have to say I agree with the airman.

In my mind, success is really all about actions and effort -- not the specific outcome. What did you and your team actually do? Did you and your team give max effort or did you hold back for some reason? And maybe most important, did you ensure your efforts and those of your team were in line with the mission at hand? Success is also about the internal feeling you get when you've given your all, no matter what the outcome.

I saw success in the face of an individual talking about finishing his first marathon. He really wasn't a runner, but he decided running a marathon was a life goal he would achieve. It didn't matter what his time was; it didn't matter what place he finished -- he was successful and achieved his goal. I also saw success in the face of a blue-collar factory worker one day as she described the productivity improvement in her section that built a very small, but critical portion of an electronic assembly. The workers decided to move the spare parts bins to put it within arm's reach of their workstations. Doing that, they cut assembly time by 150 percent!

In each of those examples, and I could give many more, individuals or teams made the conscious decision to take some positive action and put the effort into achieving a goal. The feeling they had at the end of the day is what I think about when I try to define success.

Look around today and I would wager you can find any number of specific examples of individuals and teams, hopefully including yourself, who set a goal and is doing everything they can to achieve it. When you get up in the morning, ask yourself, "What am I going to do today?" When you figure that out, then go out and give it your all.

Now I'm a realist, so I also realize that even giving your all doesn't necessarily ensure 100 percent mission accomplishment. There will undoubtedly be days when you have the expectation to get ten things accomplished and only seven (or maybe two!) make it to the top of the list. During a deployment to Afghanistan, we joked that some days we took two steps forward and one step back and other days we took one step forward and two steps back. Regardless of our "forward progress" we always gave 100 percent and that drove a very satisfying feeling -- a feeling I would call success.

The legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, wrote about his definition of success. He said, "Success is a peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming."

Here at the 90th Missile Wing, I see this definition of success in the faces of Airmen and civilians across the base. They know that the wing's mission is to provide preeminent combat capability across the spectrum of conflict. More than that, though, they know their specific role or place in that mission. It doesn't matter what their specialty, they personally and together as teams are directly responsible for getting that mission done.

Our 24/7 nuclear deterrent and support to overseas contingency operations are both vital facets of our Nation's defense. It is truly a pleasure serving alongside the amazing and professional team here at the Mighty Ninety. With everyone's actions and efforts, I am confident we will continue to enjoy success in all we do!