What is success?

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What is success? A year after John Wooden died, just short of his 100th birthday, his definition of success still lives on . . .

A few years ago I read a book about an American hero, John Wooden. I reviewed the book in Wineskins and I want to share that here.

Review of John Wooden’s and Jay Carty’s Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life. ISBN: 0830736794. Price $17.99 136pp (Regal, February 2005).

Coach Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success” has been used and copied by tens of thousands of coaches over the years, but now he is offering something more in his book: an inside view into the faith behind the man, behind one of the greatest basketball coaches ever.

Wooden teams up with his former assistant coach at UCLA, Jay Carty, who mentored and personally trained Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr. (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) when he was a freshman.

Wooden draws from his forty years of coaching expertise and Carty from his twenty-five years of coaching and teaching in Christian camps and seminars to write this new clear, concise—and most importantly—biblically tested new book, Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.

I read few success-oriented books, but Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is not the typical success self-help book. Far from it.

In contrast to money, fame, or self-worth driven success books, Wooden’s definition of success is not to reach the top with the most money, trophies and accolades. He defines success as “peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

But this is not mantra derived from a mediocre life. Instead, author and forty-year veteran coach John Wooden “is a national treasure . . . an icon. No one has duplicated what he did: ten national championships in twelve years,” says Carty. That includes seven in a row at UCLA.

But winning is not Wooden’s only legacy, says Carty. “(His) legacy, besides basketball is the pyramid of success.” Carty approached Wooden with the idea of putting the pyramid to the biblical test. Wooden agreed. “That’s where (this book) stands out from all other success-oriented and motivational books. Every component is compared against biblical illustration and scrutiny.”

Carty and Wooden lay out the building blocks for success from the “Pyramid of Success.” Wooden tells anecdotes from his coaching and public life and faith then Jay Carty, who played NBA basketball and later coached with Wooden, follows in each chapter by expositing Scriptures that under gird the pyramid with a biblical foundation.

Both Wooden and Carty write in each chapter, and the pace is fast-break fashion that lets you read each chapter in minutes then elect to spend time journaling on the building blocks of success, such as Industriousness, Intentness, Self-Control, Cooperation, and Loyalty. Each chapter is wrapped up with journaling thought questions that can also be used in group discussion then a prayer for this particular area of endeavor.

The book is divided into two portions: the first half describes the fifteen building blocks of success and the second half the ten mortar elements of character. Holding the building blocks together, says Wooden, is the mortar of character, the most important of the ten being faith and patience.

So, when do we know we have succeeded? Wooden returns to advice given by his father to him while he was growing up on the farm: forget what others think and don’t try to be better than they are. Rather than winning or gaining a reputation—what others think about us—Wooden says success is doing the best we can in the work, relationships, or events in which we participate.

One of the most incredible things about this book is that Wooden wrote as a 94-year-old who still traveled and spoke about success and faith. He says awards and winning are not the blessings of life that he looks back on with satisfaction. “The real determining factor,” says Wooden, “is this: Did I make the effort to do my best? That is the only criteria, and I am the only one who knows (well, me and God). Am I a success? I have peace of mind.”

Making it to the center of the bracket—winning—says Wooden, is the frosting on the cake. “Doing your best is the cake,” says Carty. “Focus on the cake and let the frosting take care of itself.”