Photo: Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

Sacrifice and Success: A Transformative Process

“There is no such thing as a free lunch”

When I was younger, I didn’t understand this quote at all. I thought that it was just something that jaded, bitter adults said. As I’ve become older, I’ve started to realize the value in this statement.

Many people choose to interpret this negatively. In most cases, they’d be right to view it within a negative light. When people say this to others it’s often to imply entitlement. Like with all things, this is but one way to view the quote.

An alternative way to view this quote is an assertion of value. I love food and think that lunch is a great meal. In some ways, I’d love for lunch to be free every day. Between my currently meager stipend and lack of creativity, my lunches usually leave much to be desired.

Free lunch may feel good at the moment, but my love for lunch would probably diminish if it were free. Despite my subpar cooking skills, I deeply enjoy my homecooked lunches. I’ll yield, part of this may be me trying to justify shoving my food in my mouth, but part of me is genuinely proud that I made the lunch.

Even if the food to make lunch was free (which, unfortunately, it wasn’t) there was still an associated cost. I still had to spend my time and acquire the knowledge, like reading the box for instant mashed potatoes, to make lunch.

The experience and pride I feel would be cheapened, if not absent, had my lunch been handed to me. In order to feel pride and eat a passable meal, I had to give up something in return. Thus, we are introduced to the inevitable link between sacrifice and success.

Defining Sacrifice

Sacrifice is often seen as an ugly word. We don’t really like the term because we know it involves loss and losing something, right?

In the most strict sense of the word, this is true. As defined by Webster Dictionary:

Sacrifice — “destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else”

Webster’s definition, like many things, is one of the many stories we can tell about sacrifice. An alternative view of sacrifice is the catalyst for transformation. It’s my belief that in order to for something to be created, something else must be destroyed.

In many ways, this law feels ancient and primordial. For any fans of Merlin, this will sound awfully familiar. I prefer to tie the link between creation and destruction back to a fundamental principle of the universe: Energy cannot be created or destroyed.

Before you believe that I’ve fallen off the deep end, just hear me out.

Usually, when we are sacrificing something, say an object, time, relationship, etc. it’s for something else. An argument could be made that we’re transforming one thing into another, thus transferring the energy.

The most straightforward example of this is getting in shape. When trying to become more fit, you’re usually sacrificing your short-term happiness, your time, and your present self. In return, you hope to gain long-term satisfaction with yourself, more years of life, and a more idealized future you.

In this example, it seems there is a one to one transformation between what you sacrifice and what you get. Sacrifice, if viewed through a transformative lens, loses its negative connotation. Instead, sacrifice becomes a neutral or positive phenomenon. As with most things, our perspective informs our feelings.

When we have a clear intention about what we want and understand what we have to transform to obtain our desires, we have clear criteria for sacrifice.

Defining Success

It goes without saying that markers of success are highly personal. Thankfully, if we don’t decide what we want on our own, society is more than happy to give up arbitrary things to chase after and desire.

The idea of picking something that you want and then obtaining it is what I’m going to use as the basis of success. I believe this definition avoids some of the biases and trappings of other definitions, while not being so abstract as to be almost useless.

Given the early points about sacrifice being a precursor to success, it’s important to know our ultimate end goals. This is especially true if you buy my idea that sacrifice is a process of transformation.

For me, I’ll consider my life successful if I was able to create more laughter and joy than pain and sorrow. One of the most important things to sacrifice to achieve this goal is my ego. When I think or act with my ego in the lead, the results are often devastating to those that aren’t me.

To be clear, since I believe sacrifice is transformative, I’m not saying that I’ll be able to completely remove my ego. Instead, given enough time and practice, I believe I’ll be able to transform my ego from a self-absorbed asshole towards one that values the community almost as much as itself.

With a little luck, this subtle but powerful shift will allow me to achieve my goal. Of course, this transformation isn’t pain-free. Pain is an indicator that I’m moving towards my goal as I’m slowly beating weakness out of me.

Based on my definitions and examples, it would appear that success and sacrifice are linked, but a few questions remain. Is this always the case? More importantly, are they linked in a strictly sacrifice causes success relationship?

Why are They a Pair?

Although my analysis thus far implied a linear cause and effect relationship between these two things, I don’t believe that’s the whole story. It seems more likely that these two led into a cycle which sacrifice becomes success which eventually becomes more sacrifice to become more successful and so on.

Thanos is a good fictional example. To accomplish his goal, he needed to sacrifice more and more of himself but became more successful each time he did it. In turn, his success drove him to sacrifice more to further achieve success. Eventually, this led to him making the ultimate sacrifice before obtaining his ultimate success.

It was inescapable for him. He was bound in the cycle of success and sacrifice because they are two parts of the same transformative process. If one wants success, then one must be willing to sacrifice. It is very rare that success is obtained without a substantial sacrifice.

This brings me to my next point, can one achieve success without sacrifice or can one sacrifice and not achieve success? In case it wasn’t clear, I believe to obtain true, long-lasting success a sacrifice is required. This is the natural order of things, to get something of value, something of value must be given for the transformative process to work.

Unfortunately, the reverse isn’t true. It is very easy for one to experience sacrifice without reward or success. Think about all the college athletes who were so close to becoming pro, to just miss the cutoff.

The sacrifices they put in to get to the level of skill they were at were immense. Physically, mentally, emotionally. They gave up time, in some cases fun, and all the other things they could have been doing with that time instead. Given their level of commitment, all of these were substantial.

While they saw intermediate successes, such as continuing to move up the ladder, their ultimate success was denied, in spite of their sacrifices.

Generally speaking, success will be linked with sacrifice, but sacrifice is no guarantee for success.

Wrapping Up

Sacrifice and success are closely linked. If one hopes to have a chance in hell of succeeding, then they must sacrifice. We must all remember though, just because we sacrifice, we’re not guaranteed or owed success.

While many people view sacrifice as a negative thing, I prefer to view it as a positive process. Instead of loss, I believe it’s a process of transformation. I’m taking things I value now, and turning them into things that I’ll value more in the future.

Ultimately, only you can determine what success is and what’s required to get there; however, I highly doubt any goal worth having will be able to be obtained without the serious pain intertwined with the transformative parts of your journey.




I’m a nonprofit professional who’s deeply passionate about effective learning, self improvement, and chasing my curiosity wherever it leads.

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Dallas Blowers

Dallas Blowers

I’m a nonprofit professional who’s deeply passionate about effective learning, self improvement, and chasing my curiosity wherever it leads.

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