On redefining success

Can we talk about success for a minute?

Here’s what success looks like to me: a good job at a good company, a good home that I mortgaged with my good job, a good partner to raise good kids with and a mountain of good things to surround us at all times. Every day, better. Every purchase, bigger. Every year, more.

Or at least, that’s what I was told success looks like. Because really, we are told and we are trained – told to want more, have more; trained to do more and be more.

We go to school to learn skills that will support us in the so-called real world – you know, that one we’re all student loan debt deep in right now. Skills that will allow us to achieve, to succeed, to be productive citizens of society.

We learn the whos and the whats and the when to apply them and the how to apply them. We do it all under this pretense of buiding a future – a future where we can acheive, where we can succeed, where we can be productive citizens of society.

But no one ever really tells us the why. I don’t recall any Q&A. No philosophical why that over this, no deeper defining of what life after might be actually be like.

No one ever asked me what success meant to me, whether any of this mattered to me, or what’s more, whether any of it would ever make me happy.

Just focus on the now, focus on the next. Climb the ladder, shatter the ceiling, build and take, borrow and make do. Do it all, be it all, have it all – you know, you really can, if only you’d try a little harder.

But I’m here to say, I have tried. I have climbed. I got the job. I got the house. I got the spouse (rhyme points). Took a personal pass on the kids, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

And you know what? With the exception of the spouse, none of it makes me very happy.

Don’t get me wrong, I value my job. I take pride in the work I do there. I love my house – every last crooked doorway and cobweb-strewn corner of it. And I love my spouse, even if he’s spent the better part of the last few weeks playing the same three chords of “Here Comes the Sun” over and over until I want to smother him with a couch cushion (love you).

But truly, lastingly, deeply and unequivocally happy? Not the house. Not the things we’ve filled it with. And definitely not the jobs we now need to financially support it.

Now let’s talk happiness. What makes you happy?

Me, it’s the tired old cliches. The slow, unhurried pace of Sunday mornings. Quiet cabin car rides with the boy, no conversation necessary – and the spirited debates over the latest bro drama passed off as entertainment by the KFAN morning crew. The post-work greetings from our canine kiddos. Reading. Learning. Being curious. Those rare days that stretch long and easy with nowhere to be and little to do.

Not Mondays. Not meetings. You’ll notice no mention of performance reviews, annual dividends or stock options. Not even my 401k.

When was the last time your personal happiness significantly (and sustainably) grew as a result of your work? Your home? Your designer clothing, your stainless steel appliances or your new car?

No? Me either.

So why do we spend our formative years training for a workforce that at its best, financially supports us, and at its worst, leaves us feeling detached, uninspired and physically (and emotionally) spent?

And what’s more, why do we spend so little time talking about and building a life that makes us happy vs. one that makes us the envy of our coworkers, family or neighbors?

When I started this path to small-business ownership just a few weeks ago, I tried to define what success looked like. Here’s what I came up with.

Am I having fun?
Am I proud of what I’ve created?
Am I growing and stretching as a person?
Am I given the opportunity to be creative, each and every day?
Am I confident in the quality of the product and the presentation?
Would I be proud to own what I sell?
Do I really and truly enjoy it, even down to the dullest of moments?
Am I treating my peers, customers and fellow small business owners the way I would want to be treated in each and every interaction?

In sum? All of the things my current job wasn’t. It’s funny, with all of the metrics we’ve built to measure the minutia of daily work and personal life, we’ve failed to measure the one that truly matters.

No one says we have to be happy all of the time. But who says we shouldn’t strive for at least some or most of the time? Imagine what the world might look like if we all spent as much time working toward happiness as we do trying to achieve the modern-day definition of success.

I don’t have it all figured out. In fact, I don’t have much of it figured out. I mostly have a pretty basic idea of what I don’t want and a whole lot more wishes for what I do.

I wish we talked about it more. I wish we felt safe saying, hey – this whole success thing? I’m starting to think maybe that just isn’t for me. Do you maybe feel that way, too?

I wish that for every ten articles I read on how to launch a successful startup, I could find one outlining real and sincere ideas for building a successful life.

So me, I’m still defining what success looks like, both for Wander as a business and for my work/life/whatever comes next. Except now, I measure in moments and feelings like pride, kinship, growth, and most importantly, happiness.

What does your version of success look like?