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What Really Defines Success?

Posted on July 6, 2023 by James Harold Webb

What Really Defines Success?

I’m often asked at what point I realized that I had made it, that I had become successful, and I always answer that it depends on how you define success. For a lot of people, success and satisfaction are about money. If that’s the case, then success came in the venture I pursued after our stint in the Caribbean and Latin America. Preferred Medical Imaging operated in that same imaging industry and the feeling of finally feeling some success came a couple of months after we opened the Rock wall imaging center. The money I had left from selling Paradigm Healthcare was just about gone and I was taking a small salary. Too small. I had put $25,000 into starting the company, and we began by building and operating entirely on borrowed money. Expensive borrowed money. Even though I had a salary, things were getting really tight at home, even as they were growing at work.

At the end of 2003, a few years after moving back to Dallas, I was trying to figure out how to pay my house note, so I decided to take a look at the books from the Rockwall center. I realized that there was enough in the bank for the three of us to make a distribution and take a $9,000 dividend from the business. I won’t say I was stunned, but there was a moment of relief. I wrote checks for myself and my team for the first time and it only grew from there.

I paid the mortgage and other bills, took my family to a fancy steakhouse, and went back to work the next day. In terms of feeling successful, that was a big day. The next month, I was able to take out $10,000, then $11,000, at one point, several years later, even approaching close to $1 million a month. Before I knew it, I was able to write a check for more money a month than I could ever have imagined. Is that success? I suppose so, at least for a lot of people.

Money is never an end, but it is a means to that end and a benefit of taking on risk and surviving the crucible. But I’ve never been motivated by money. Not when I was a little boy, not when I was working for other people, and not when I was building companies. I wanted it, of course, but I have never made the mistake of confusing gratification with cash.

I am an unabashed, unashamed, and proud capitalist. I believe in the power of the market. I believe that choice and competition lead to the innovations that define modern life. I believe in recognizing opportunities and going hard after them, in the relationship between risk and reward, and that the people who deserve success are the ones most willing, prepared, and focused enough to earn them. I like having a nice home and the financial freedom to do a lot of things other people cannot. However, money is a result, not the goal. Teddy Roosevelt said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” There’s a lot of truth in that. Gratification comes from doing the work you want to do and being in control of the decision to do it how, when, where, and with whom you choose. I knew we had “made it” when I was able to get up in the morning and go to the office to run the company I had built. Income and growth may have meant that my team and I could play golf on Fridays—five or six years after we got started—but even then, business was on our minds.

To this day, it still is. When you reach one goal, it’s time to reach and work for the next.