If you're not giving something back, it doesn't matter how much you win.
    Life is about maintaining relationships-your ability to be a good father, husband, son and brother-not about how much money you make or how much power you have. As a child, I had expectations that corporate success would give me happiness and make me a good person. But when that success became a reality, all I found was confusion. I kept having the belief that if it wasn't going to be this new venture, I would certainly find what I was looking for with the next venture, the next house, the next car, the next honor. I think it happens to a lot of people: You start losing perspective. You've climbed the ladder of success, and when you get up there, you realize somehow the ladder was leaning on the wrong structure.

    That is when I realized that the greatest overall impact I can have on the world, the one thing that would bring the most love and grace and healing to people, is to constantly base my thoughts and actions on one simple question: How can I help you today?
    Once I made this realization I started to look at the world around me, and what I saw encouraged me to try and change it. Children inherently compare athletic ability to their friends and compete for whatever attention that brings. Adults compare bank accounts and job titles, houses and cars, and compete for the amount of security and clout that those represent. We will even compare our children and compete for some sense of parenthood and significance attached to their achievements. We compare, we compete. That's all we ever do. It leaves most of us feeling isolated and alone. And it destroys any concept of community. Most of us don't realize that we do these things, let alone that we teach our children to do them.
    We have to remember to love our children, to educate them, to let them have good experiences, but at the same time they need to learn that life is hard. It's a good journey. But you're not always going to be ten-and-oh. You're not always going to be carried off the field of life as the big victors. You're not always going to have everything go your way. Being a good person and possessing integrity and humility, being able to help others, that is what really makes you victorious. I don't think anything that's good is easy, and I don't think anything really worthwhile is simple. But if you give to the best of your abilities all the time you can never really lose.
    As a society we need to think about others outside of our social circles, to help people when they can't help themselves, and to do this for the right reasons. When you have a cause, it should never be about trying to measure the "impact" of what you are doing. It should never be about counting the number of families touched or calculating the number of meals served at a homeless shelter, or whatever the case might be. It's about connecting to others, and reaching out to them. I believe that if we can encourage our community to share their talents and their time with other people, we can show our children and the world that compassion can make a difference. Then they will be able to see the reality that the goodness in a human being matters infinitely more than outward appearances or socioeconomic status.
    In the end, it's not the mistakes you make that really matter. It's what you learn from those mistakes, and how you respond to the mistakes of others. It comes down to this: What kind of father were you? What kind of wife were you? What kind of daughter were you? What kind of brother were you? What kind of friend were you? This is what I have tried to teach my children and my neighbors, that as long as I always put forth maximum effort into whatever I was doing, acted responsibly, conducted myself with class and pride and extended kindness to others, then I would never have anything to worry about. I would have lived with no regrets, and this is what has allowed me to really live.

William S. Villafranco is president of Southwind Associates, an advisory firm in Woodcliff Lake, N.J.