My brother Nicholas and I stood shivering in the ankle-deep snow, each wearing nothing but a pair of boots and the shortest shorts we owned. Was all this worth five bucks? Probably not. But we were young, dumb and bored. And a bet was a bet.
The terms of our frosty wager had been agreed upon a short while earlier with our three big brothers, Dan, Chris and Damien. If Nicholas and I successfully ran around the house in our shorts, they’d pay us a whopping five dollars. The hitch? Our brothers would be waiting for us on different sides of the house, wearing full winter gear and doing whatever they could to stop us.
Step one was to get by Damien — which proved easier than expected. Nicholas and I linked arms and charged towards our brother, as if to clothesline him. At the last second, however, we split to either side, veering off before he could grab either one of us.
The second side of the house didn’t go as smoothly, with Chris wasting no time in attacking us.
I managed to sidestep the rage monster, but Nicholas wasn’t so lucky. As I sprinted toward the final side of the house, I heard Nicholas squealing as Chris wrestled him to the ground.
Dan stood waiting ahead of me, the last obstacle between me and glorious victory. I was freezing and wanted nothing more than to get inside the warm house.
Alas, my conscience wouldn’t let me abandon Nicholas.
Bellowing like a madman, I turned around and raced back to save my baby brother from the clutches of Chris.
To the surprise of no one, my heroic rescue mission failed miserably. Chris easily brushed off my attack and proceeded to drag Nicholas back to Damien who rolled my comrade-in-arms around in the snow until he gave up. Chris then turned his attention to me, pinning my half-naked body to the frozen ground and shovelling snow in my face until I also surrendered — forfeiting our five-dollar fortune in the process.
There was no question that we lost the bet. But I don’t consider our attempt at the snowy gauntlet a total failure. We tend to gauge our level of success according to achievement — what job we have, how much money we make, what place we finish in a race. And while achievement can be a great benchmark, I think it’s a narrow view of success.
What we do matters. But how we do it is just as important. Yes, I failed to complete the brotherly obstacle course. But I’m happy with how I ran it.
I could have easily just kept going without going back for Nicholas. But I’m glad I did, even if it ended with my face in a snowbank instead of money in my piggybank.
I’m not saying we should remove achievement from our definition of success. But by weaving “how” into it, we get a kinder, more robust interpretation — one that allows us to experience “success” daily by the way we treat others and the world around us.
So at the end of each day, go beyond asking yourself what you did, and ask yourself how you did. Were you helpful? Were you patient? Were you present? Were you willing to risk frostbite to save your little brother during an idiotic winter wager? Because by expanding the definition of success, you empower yourself to feel accomplished and satisfied — win, lose or draw.
More stories from the Overcoming Obstacles Handbook
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Cancer reminded me that life is the greatest teacher of all. The following stories share obstacle-busting lessons from some of life’s other awesome and absurd moments — from sleeping in a barn to multiple run-ins with Bill Clinton’s bodyguards to nearly driving a car off a cliff.