You have arrived: how does one define success?

I once had a navigation system that when I reached my programmed destination, it would say “You have arrived.” I would circle the block just to hear that over and over.

success

In a professional world, when do you know you have arrived? Is there ever a point where an individual who has accomplished much thinks “this is enough” and stops trying to accomplish more?

As a hospice nurse, I worked with many patients who faced their last months, weeks, days and were able to look back over their lives and say they did well, they were happy with the totality of their lives if not some particular details. Outside that environment, it seems to be rare.

How do you define success?

Some undeniably successful people define it in this article:

  • Success is more than wealth and power – it is wellbeing, wisdom, wonder, and giving according to Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffington Press.
  • Maya Angelou believes it is about enjoying what you do.
  • Deepak Chopra says success means constantly growing.

Oprah provides this article of the ten signs of success – or rather, that your life is on the right track. It includes such things as:

  • Your reputation precedes you;
  • Having a deep connection to those you love – like picking up the phone to call each other at the same time; and
  • To not be burnt out.

That’s all well and fine, but this is not about recognizing if you are doing the right thing or have become successful as measured by wealth, title, accomplishments, awards, or recognition. It’s about knowing when is enough enough? When should it be enough?

This study by Princeton University in 2010 says that the pivotal salary is $75,000 annually.

The lower a person’s annual income falls below that benchmark, the unhappier he or she feels. But no matter how much more than $75,000 people make, they don’t report any greater degree of happiness.

The Wall Street Journal helpfully converted that salary for cost of living in different locations.

So, once you make $75,000, then that is enough? And enough for what? Do we strive for a meaningful job, to help other people, for future stability, to have good health, to ensure your family has food, shelter, and the other necessities of life? At what point can you determine that all your needs are met – be it the basic necessities, the desired luxuries, or satisfaction in one’s actions?

Let’s return to the original question: In a professional world, when do you know you have arrived? Where is the point where you can honestly feel that you have accomplished what you wanted in your career and stop clawing to reach the top – and who defines the top?

For each individual, this is an intensely personal decision. I do believe that for most people, career gain tends to wain and gives way to some level of altruism. Some people may never view a career in an ambitious manner. They take pride in what they are doing and are happy  doing that for as long as necessary – a job is a way to earn the funds required to live in our world as well as fulfill some need of which there is a value assigned.

My grandfather James D. Fairchild never seemed to be ambitious. He delivered gas in rural Mississippi most of his life. There never seemed be his goal to advance to management. He spent his days delivering gas to people’s homes – for their residential gas tanks (propane). He knew everyone. Everyone knew him. I don’t recall him bragging on any accomplishments, winning awards, or getting big promotions or titles. He was proud of the service he provided. And he was valued by customers and the company. In fact, the company – when ready to shut down – refused to close its doors until the last member of family retired. It’s a Southern thing.

My younger self had a goal – to be able to walk into a convenience store to buy a coke without having to balance my checkbook first. I have accomplished that.

My other goal was to live somewhere other than Mississippi. I accomplished that.

Then I developed professional goals – to do something i enjoyed. To be intellectually challenged. To help others. And to travel internationally. Most I have accomplished. One I have not – not really. I don’t think Costa Rica truly counts.

So is this enough? And if something is enough, do you stop? One lady informed me that her professional goal was to take a start-up to IPO. And she did that. She was still not in a position to retire, so she looked for something she enjoyed doing and stopped focusing on professional ambition.

It is a reality that even if most of us accomplish our career goals, that we are not independently wealthy enough to stop working. Some may have independently wealthy as their professional goal, but for most of us, it is not realistic.

Some of us would never stop working even if we acquired status of being ridiculously wealthy. Maybe our career goals then change and we work to be busy, help others, improve the world in some fashion – or maybe to indulge personal passions such as traveling, writing, or designing homes.

Some people have no drive to accomplish something professionally. They are content and fulfilled in their lives – and their job is a means to an end in which they take pride in doing. They may be the happier people.

If you are using professional recognition and success to serve as personal validation, you may never reach enough. You must learn to value yourself as a person.

If work is your escape from your personal life, you also may never reach enough; but you may not care. Your drivers are different.

The rest of us (not in the three groups above), the point the we reach enough is driven by who we are, what we are looking for, what we need and/or want, and how we balance the rest of our lives. “Enough” may never be reached.

Set specific career goals and anything beyond those – you’re gravy.

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