One of the great ironies of life, and what might be a stroke of metaphysical genius, is that lasting success in any endeavor requires that we put ourselves, our own wants and needs, second in line. There is only one exception and that is giving priority to, and paying attention to, our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Much has been written, both in support of and critical of, the “Law of Attraction.” I have no argument with its intent, however I have learned that there is a principal that supersedes any other when it comes to “attracting” success. It is called--The Principle of Contribution. Successful people understand the principle as follows: “Before crops can be reaped, seeds must be sown; before profits can be reaped, problems must be solved; before love can be reaped, love must be shown.”

In a world that is being transformed at breakneck speed, The Principle of Contribution has never changed—it’s truth is timeless. Contribution is the invisible thread woven throughout the very fabric of the universe. In our earliest science lessons, we learned how the sun and the moon contribute to the earth. Without the sun, life would not be possible, whilst the moon, with its gravitational pull, controls our tides. The science behind climate change has made us even more aware of how nature itself is an intricate balancing act in which every species plays a part.

Contribution, however, is also the magic word for understanding how to achieve what we want for our lives. If we want a successful career, we must discover ways to maximize our contribution to the organization for whom we work and the people we serve. If we seek rich relationships, we look to how we can contribute to enriching the lives of our loved ones, our friends, and our colleagues.

What businesses have you as a loyal customer? Those that consistently contribute value to you. What businesses fail? Those that fail to contribute. What friendships or relationships mean the most to you? Those that contribute value in ways that are important to you. Who are the people who are universally most admired? Those who make the most of their lives and contribute to the betterment of all.

When I am asked to speak to college students, an inevitable question is: “How can I get a good job?” My counsel is very straightforward: “Keep in mind that no organization wants to ‘give’ you a job, but there are many who need people who are ready, willing and able, to contribute to their success. Your first task is to discover an organization to which you would make that level of commitment.”

Consider your own career and why you were hired for your current position. Your resumé may have been the catalyst for an interview. Your performance in the interview landed you the job, and the job has a description of what you are supposed to do. Now here is the challenge—job descriptions define tasks and responsibilities--they do not define contribution. And yet, that is ultimately what you are measured by.

In his classic, ground breaking book, What Color is Your Parachute, Richard Bolles states: “The major issue you are facing in the minds of employers is not what skills you have, but to what end and purpose do you set them? Do you use your skills to merely while away the time? Or do you…use your skills to solve problems?”

Life is at its very best when people are enthusiastically contributing to each other. We love to work in a team where our gifts are appreciated and our contribution is valued. We love to be with friends who accept, encourage and support us. We love to dine in restaurants where not only the food is delicious, but also where the staff contribute to an exceptional dining experience. We love to go to concerts where the musicians contribute their talents to lifting our spirits and stirring our souls.

Contribution has many forms. It can be witnessed in simple words of encouragement or a listening ear. It might involve help with a personal, professional or technical problem. In our families we may contribute patience, kindness, attention, and guidance. At work, it may be energy, creativity, leadership, and expertise.

Each of us will define and measure success in our own way but, no matter your choice, if you are to succeed, you must understand that your rewards in life are connected to the contribution you make.

How can so simple a principle be so profound? And yet it is! Here are two questions to assess the contribution that only you can make. When the game of life is over:

How do I want my family, friends and colleagues to remember me?

What do I want to be remembered for?

Wherever you look the evidence is clear--great leaders, great parents, great partners, great friends, and great organizations all have one thing in common—they are contributors--and the world is better because of their existence.

The Lesson: “The difference between luck and good fortune is that the first is arbitrary and the latter a consequence of contribution.”

Quote source: MARK OF AN EAGLE—How Your Life Changes the World.

MARK OF AN EAGLE is available here