What is Success?



Recent experiences have caused me to reflect on the meaning of success. I’ll share my reflection journey.

Outside of family, I’ve been taking stock of the little things that have made me happy recently. For example:
- When I’m at a store and a baby gives me a big smile.
- When a former co-worker from years ago sends me a text to wish me happy birthday.
- When I receive hugs from participants (strangers) of my workshops and trainings.
- When the worker at my local juice bar greets me by my name.
- When a waitress discouraged me from ordering an item because she didn’t think it was worth the money and recommended a more delicious and less expensive option. (She was right, by the way.)

It also brings me joy to see other people happy. For example:
- When an elderly lady gleams with joy when a teenage boy working at the grocery store holds her hand as he assists her walking through the store aisle to gather her items.
- When someone is in line at the store with only one item and the person allows her to go first.
- When multiple strangers help someone chase down his naughty, runaway dog.

All of the examples above help make me happy, calm, and even productive. We know how it feels to work if we’re unhappy and tense. These are not always the most productive and healthy days for us. When packets of joy come our way and change our behavior more positively, there’s an essence or feeling of “success” here. This feeling of “success” is what prompted me to reflect more on what it means to be successful.

A meaningful test of success is how helpful we are in contributing to our fellow human being’s happiness. 

This non-groundbreaking insight led me to think about how society has tended to define success.

Our society (or at least my generation) has been conditioned to believe that success is defined by graduating from a top-tier university, owning an expensive car, landing a job with a hefty salary, climbing the corporate ladder, and buying a big home. You know, being a “winner.” For corporations, it has been about maximizing profits for shareholders. For schools, since the passage of No Child Left Behind and continued similar efforts, it has been about students who can score well on high-stakes tests despite the need to focus on the teaching and learning.

What if we defined success by how we make others feel?

In terms of organizations, what if we took an approach that prioritized people? For example:
- We turned down an organization (i.e., revenue) knowing the potential client was not yet ready to implement services effectively (which could potentially produce future revenue because trust and credibility was built).
- We shifted corporations’ historical mission of maximizing profits for shareholders to maximizing the well-being of its workers (which could potentially produce more profits by focusing on people).
- We focused on giving public schools and colleges the quality time and research resources they need to test, refine, and continually improve mandated initiatives, instead of turning up the accountability pressures when initiatives do not produce unrealistically quick results (which would most likely create more organizational ownership for an initiative and produce the desired results over time).

In terms of individuals, what if we took a different communication approach? For example:
- I remember when I made a similar mistake. This is how I handled it…Does my example help and how can we avoid this issue from happening again?
- Let’s have lunch to discuss a strategy.
- How can we work together to make this better?
- I don’t know. Let’s figure this out together.
- How can I help you be successful?
- Do you have the capacity to take on this project/task?
- As I reflect on the week, I noticed you did x, y, and z. Just wanted to let you know that I noticed and appreciate you and your work.
- What do you think?
- Thank you.

Through my reflection journey I’m reminded of what our ancient ancestors—regardless of nationality or ethnic origin—have taught us through the ages…some variation of the Golden Rule. Remember? That saying about treating others how you would want to be treated? Of course, the saying is only as good as the person saying it but you know what I mean.

Often in our all-too-human efforts (and understandable efforts…we do, after all, need to pay the bills and take care of our families) to climb the organizational ladder, produce profits, focus on titles and prestige, and/or amass material wealth, it doesn’t take much to forget what prior generations taught us and what should be in our hearts: How we help contribute to our fellow human being’s happiness. That, to me, is success.

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