A couple of weeks ago we had dinner in Baltimore with my two nieces – one who lives in New York and the other who recently moved to Baltimore.
We were chatting about how these two beauties were feeling about where they are in their lives, when one of the girls said, “my parents just want me to be successful and I’m not so sure how to do that”. She was comparing herself to her sister, her cousins and even to her parents, using other’s definitions of success as a measure for herself. The truth is, her parents, like most, want their daughter to be happy and lead a fulfilling life.
The conversation got me thinking about “success” and how we determine what that means to us. Clearly my one niece is struggling with what that means to her.
This morning, over breakfast with my son in a Brooklyn bistro, I was curious to find out what his thoughts were on success. I wondered if happiness would be consideration of fulfillment for him as it is for me.
I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.
- Bill Cosby
Sean said that success to him was to have the ability do whatever he wanted to do which he explained, would take “lots and lots of money”. He agreed that the individual defines success in one’s life and he gave the example of someone who devotes their life to charitable service such as joining the Peace Corps or someone like Mother Teresa. Both would certainly be considered successful as they achieved what they wanted in their chosen field and in life.
Success is the progressive realization of predetermined, worthwhile, personal goals.
- Paul J. Meyer
When I look at my son and my nieces I see three smart, kind and compassionate young adults doing exactly what they should be doing, exploring life and the world. This journey is a process of self-discovery so when I see my son thriving socially, engaged in his work, traveling and fully responsible for himself, I see a successful and happy person. He is living a life different from what I would choose for myself, but that is the point. Wanting to make our parents, spouses or other significant members of our circle proud of us by what we accomplish, our financial security and professional prestige are not true appraisals of success. Real success requires personal reflection to determine what is meaningful to you and any measurements are set by your goals alone.
So to my strong, beautiful and wise niece, I’ll quote Steve Jobs who put work and life in such perspective in his speech to a graduating class at Stanford:
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything _ all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
- Steve Jobs
Define your life and your happiness by what is meaningful to you.