Defining Success

Every now and then I read something that just rings so true for me that I have trouble imagining that other people wouldn’t respond the same way. But I’m sure that’s unrealistic, so I’ll tell you about an article that rang my “truth bell,” and you can let me know if you agree.

The article, “The Best Definition of Success Is One You Never Use,” showed up in my inbox as a message from LinkedIn listing articles that I might find relevant. While usually those lists are not relevant to me, I always take a look as I never know when I might find a nugget of wisdom that I want to share. This was one of those cases.

The author, Jeff Haden, makes a really strong case for the definition of success being tied to happiness—a topic I’ve talked about several times in this blog. What I like about this article is that Jeff recognizes that what makes one person happy isn’t going to work for everyone, and that happiness takes into account all aspects of your life—work and home, friends and family, social and private.

So throw out any idea that you have to make a certain salary or have a certain title, that you have to make as much as your sister or outperform your colleagues. As I’ve said before, figure out what makes you happy, and then work toward happiness as a goal.

Another thing that probably makes this article resonate for me is that one of his examples is a friend who is a teacher. The friend constantly complains about being underpaid (a common complaint for many teachers at all levels of our education system, including me), but says he wouldn’t want to do anything else because he loves his job. The teacher isn’t happy because he hasn’t found a way to accept what can’t be changed (his income), and that means that he doesn’t enjoy his job quite enough to create the balance needed for happiness.

I’m pretty happy, and I do think of myself as successful. I don’t make as much money as I probably would have if I had stopped my education at the MS level and gone to work as a technical communicator (instead of getting a PhD and becoming a college professor), but I truly do love my job. I love my ability to work with and help young people, to have control over my schedule, to choose the projects that I focus on, to work with intelligent and equally dedicated colleagues, and to have time to spend with friends and family. Would I like more money? Sure. But I don’t need it to be happy.