Updated: Apr 23, 2022
Mirriam-Webster defines "Success" as follows:
Often as we get older, the definition we tend to focus on is the one definition that implies that SUCCESS = WEALTH. This way of thinking may result in a culture of taking on roles and responsibilities that we may not personally enjoy doing nor in some cases, be qualified to do. Still, because we know we want to be "successful," and we also know the result of doing them is hopefully financial success, we take on the role or responsibility anyway.
When we're young children, it seems our definition of success, as defined by our still-developing brains, is much different. It may be to draw the picture we have in our head to show our parents, to build something with our toys, or to read a storybook on our own. These days kids likely also learn about success by way of beating the next level of their video games, but regardless of the era, kids tend not to appreciate the value of money, nor worry about how much of it they have, and they are kids so this is appropriate. It does not define success for them. Nor should it.
As we grow up, we continue to use the definition of measuring success as one of achieving the desired outcome, whether that's winning the big game of our little league, getting good grades, learning something new, or scoring a date with your high-school crush. We are, however, introduced more to the idea that money is necessary, even critical to our happiness. Examples of how this is displayed include selling items for fundraisers, being given an allowance for doing chores, or even parents trying to burden themselves financially to give their children the best stuff around the holidays. Material possessions and having/raising more than others starts to be a viable mindset. My point here isn't that giving children responsibility for chores nor an understanding that the 'fun stuff' costs money is a bad thing. Far from it, it is merely to say that if any of these things start to become a competition, it can further the perception that "MONEY = SUCCESS." Remember, previously Winning/Non-monetary accomplishments equaled success. If raising money is turned into a way to win or accomplish something, the natural correlation becomes that to be successful you have to have the most money. Instead consider the goal of a fundraiser is a personal goal of selling a specific amount of items or a particular, reasonable dollar amount, not that you outsell everyone else in the class. It's a difference in mindset.
Coming out of grade-school and high-school is a highly influential time in our lives career-wise. Friends, loved ones, career counselors, and our parents are all filling our heads with what they think is best for us and will ultimately bring us "success". It may just be my opinion, but I consider myself lucky that instead of telling me what they wanted me to be, my parents said: "Be what you want to be, and we'll do whatever it takes to support you in that." Had they instead said, "we want you to be successful, you should be a doctor/lawyer (enter other job your parents wanted for you here)." I may have ended up on a career path that I ultimately was not happy doing and it may have wasted a lot of my time in getting to a career I wanted. Instead, I told them I wanted to find my way. Today my definition of success is to be satisfied and to help other people be happy. By focusing on this, I have managed to ascend to the level of Vice President of the company I work for and still co-own my own company and coincidentally became financially secure, but it was never the goal.
When I get a new team member onto my team, one of the first questions I ask is, "What are your personal goals?" if they provide a general answer like "To be successful by moving up with the company." I always follow it up by asking, "If you weren't working here, and could be working anywhere, doing anything, what would it be?" This question sometimes causes them to think for a few moments, likely because it's the first time anyone has asked this of them. After thinking about it, I've had people tell me all kinds of answers, all very achievable. I've heard responses, from interior designers in New York City, stay-at-home web designers, to a teacher traveling the world teaching underprivileged kids. So what's stopping them?
A few years ago, Gallup released a poll that showed 85% of people hated their jobs (mostly because of their bosses), this number is staggering. Worse yet, 90% of people who responded to the poll stated that their job was more a source of frustration than it was fulfillment. As leaders, we have many responsibilities; I believe a portion of those responsibilities is to make sure people are engaged and fulfilled in their jobs.
Having spent a good part of my career in hospitality, I can appreciate how a reservation agent may feel their role isn't that important; it's repetitive, tedious, and challenging when getting yelled at when things go wrong. However, imagine instead of letting that agent believe that's all their job is if you instead engaged them. Let them know that their role may be impacting far more people than they realize. Perhaps the reservation they just booked for the last-minute traveler was actually for a specialized doctor that was flying into town to perform surgery to save someone's life, how impactful is that thought? Maybe it's not life-saving, but giving the departing guest a late check-out may make them leave in a better mood, in turn, they are a little nicer to their flight attendant, who is then nicer to the surgeon flying in on the next flight... you get the point of how it's a chain event. The possibilities and what-if scenarios are endless, and if given some credit, the position can change into something quite rewarding.
But what if an entry-level position like 'reservations agent' isn't the person's end goal? That's fine too, for most people it's not. As the person's leader, it's part of our responsibility to make them feel needed and valuable while they are there. It is also our responsibility as real leaders to build them up and understand that in doing so, we may lose them to bigger and better things. At one point in my career, the office I was working for had a 25-30% attrition rate at the agent level, this might seem quite high, but the reason was great! People were leaving to become supervisors and managers in other departments, leaving the company to enter their desired career path, or moving up internally in the department to different positions. I try to watch the careers of many former team members, and I am happy to see many of them grow to become Managers, Directors or VPs of their respective companies. Not to mention, the attrition rate had another positive effect; we could keep pulling new people into the office and give them better jobs or get them off unemployment. To my knowledge, we helped no less than five people get away from living on the streets to living in an apartment and having real shelter. That is what I mean when I say my definition of success is to make other people happy. I don't just want them to be satisfied at work; I want them to be happy at life.
In the end, our success should only be defined by us; our goals and dreams should never stop growing and should never allow others to dictate that to us.
Dr. John Maxwell teaches that if you find something you enjoy and are good at, then put 100% behind it and make it your thing. I believe it's true that you must have both sides to be happy and prosperous. I enjoyed playing sports when I was younger, but as an overweight, nearly 40-year old office worker, I know I'm not going to be very good at it. Therefore, it would be pointless to go try out for the NFL. Conversely, I'm good at talking to people and figuring out the benefits of things, but when I worked in sales, I hated it and therefore was not happy nor helpful to others.
Only when I realized my definition of success and start following it did I start to become truly happy because my goal became learning more and gaining more influence to be able to help more people and make them happy.
Parents: I often hear that a goal of parenting is to try to give your kids the stuff you never had; it is, however, equally important to bestow upon them the great things that you did have. Focus on and support them in becoming responsible adults and success will follow. Teach them to leave things better than they found them in all ways, people places, and things.
Leaders: We take on responsibility for the outcome of many people's lives professionally, and therefore, influence their personal lives. Always strive not to be part of the 90% frustration level or the 85% that leave because of their boss.
Everyone: It is my hope for everyone reading this to find your passion. If you're struggling in a position and it causes you to get fired, don't get mad about it, look at it as an opportunity to chase your dreams, to be happy, to make a difference for someone. If internally, you know your definition of success isn't just to become the next supervisor in the company you work for, then reconsider if you're going to the position just because of temporary financial happiness. You may be better off skipping this promotion and focusing on something bigger and better for you.
Regardless of your path, strive every day to make today great and tomorrow even better.