During dinner, someone asked me a profound question:
“Victor, do you consider yourself successful?”
For most questions, I can answer off the top of my head with barely a thought.
For this question, I had to think about it for a minute.
I’ve decided to share my answer below. I added a few details I neglected to mention in person.
“Yes. I consider myself successful, but not because of any commonly used measure of success, such as power, prestige, status, or financial success.
"I consider myself successful because I am able to live life on my own terms.
"I spend time personally and professionally with people that I want to.
"I don’t spend any time with people I don’t want to.
"I do work that I love doing.
"I am happy.
"I am able to pay all the bills, take a vacation occasionally, and have some money left over to save.”
I then went on to explain that I believe “success” is most useful as a subjective and personal construct, rather than as an objective construct where everybody in society shares the same definition.
Stated differently, I feel comfortable determining whether my own life has been successful.
I do not feel comfortable making that determination for anyone else.
Similarly, I don’t think it is useful to invite, allow, or take too seriously other people’s assessments of our own success, or lack thereof.
If you’re living life in a way that’s personally meaningful to you, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about it.
One of my biggest life goals has been to coach little league softball for all three of my girls.
Early in my career, I estimated the likelihood of various potential goals as follows:
- Make McKinsey Partner - Possible
- Start and run my own company profitably - Possible
- Write and publish a book - Possible
- Coach little league softball - ?????
I don’t know any McKinsey partners that coach little league.
I don’t know any startup CEOs that coach little league.
I don’t know any people that are extremely financially “successful” that coach little league.
In the end, I was able to pull it off. I’m probably more proud of coaching little league than I am most of my other career achievements.
I feel this way because coaching little league has great PERSONAL meaning for me.
What’s personally meaningful to you?
What’s your own definition of success for yourself?
What’s the life and career you want for yourself?
Notice the common thread in all three of these questions related to “success.”
They are all focused on YOU and nobody else.