Measuring Success

I was talking today with my boss and he was sharing the experience of a very successful individual who — by 55 — had established enough professional and financial success to have an impressive network and a massive estate. I listened and then said, “I hear things like that and all of a sudden I don’t feel very successful.”

What ensued was a discussion about how you measure success. The person had:

  • Invested formative years in a career, but churned through multiple failed marriages. 
  • Conceived children, but relied on others to nurture them through their development.
  • Accumulated things, but ended up with no one to share life’s time, treasure and talent.

So, was that really more successful? Did I have anything to feel lacking about? Would I be happier if I was alone in a 40,000 square foot house sending my distant children and ex-spouses monthly checks and sipping $2,000 a bottle Chardonnay?

No. No. Hell no.

There have been times throughout my marriage when my husband has pointed out that, without him as a distraction, I would be more successful professionally. I would likely have ended up in a consulting or banking track where I would have willingly and eagerly said yes to every opportunity. I would have worked every hour that I didn’t have to sleep. I would have lived anywhere and traveled anytime. I would have acted exactly the way I do when we are apart. I would have been a frickin’ superstar.

And, I would have been a shell of myself. I would have worked myself to exhaustion, alone and single focused, suffering the physical and mental effects of that lifestyle. I would not know the joy of being a mother. I would not have learned the value of balance. I would not give myself the space to contemplate my existence until it was too late to change it.

Ok, it’s never too late. But, still.

So, maybe it is best not to compare one success to another. Maybe my ability to build connection, my ability to choose balance over material wealth, is more important. For me, maybe that is the right measure of success.

All I know is that I wake up pretty much every day satisfied with my trade-offs. I have enough of everything on Maslow’s hierarchy. If there’s a better definition of success, I’m not sure what it could be.

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