Everyone has a similar but different definition of success. Some people feel it is to achieve something great. Some people feel it is to create something. Some people feel it is about how much money or awards you obtain.
But however you personally choose to define success, learn to see the larger system around that success. Is that person causing those around them to suffer just so they can go after their dream? Are they making those around them better or worse?
Too often we envy someone who has earned a ton of money and is at the top of his or her field. We talk about his or her achievements and praise their life for being so great.
But using the lens of systems thinking we can start to break that perspective down. We can start to see various aspects of their life that conflict with our image of success.
Years ago I met a very successful audio engineer and producer. I was a fan of his and listened to albums he was responsible for producing for years. I remember having a conversation with him about his family.
I didn’t have a wife or children at the time, as he was a quite a bit older. He told me how much his family had to sacrifice so he could live his dream. He didn’t have much of a relationship with his children because he was always on the road.
He had all the fancy audio toys and gear, but his kids grew up with nothing, essentially being poor. The more he painted the picture the more I got the impression that for him to achieve his idea of success, those closest to him had to suffer.
Now that I am a parent I can’t imagine sacrificing my relationship with my children for any level of career success. Yes we all have to make choices and we can’t just hang out with them all day. Sometimes when I leave for a work trip the sad looks they give pull at me but I still go.
I’m not talking about the occasional business trips or long hours at the office. I’m referring to the habit of choosing career over family to the point of hurting the family.
I’ve met many successful people career-wise who keep getting divorced, never see their children or always seem unhappy and miserable. Usually if we peak beyond their career accomplishments we see others around them neglected, pushed aside or forgotten.
But how do you define success? Is it one area of focus while you leverage everything and everyone around you? If so you can obtain massive levels of achievement but leave a trail of pain behind you.
But what about the person that sacrifices their personal aspirations for their family?
About 10 years ago I was interviewing for a company that makes audio equipment. I interviewed with a gentlemen who did not have a ton of success as an audio engineer. It turns out he was on the path to having a great audio career and then had a child.
He decided to give up his work as an audio engineer to take a corporate job so he can give his family and future child a better life.
As he told me about it, he had a tone in his voice that he failed. I was surprised because I feel what he did was incredibly admirable. But you won’t hear about those that take this path in any news article or motivational speech about success. In fact, more often people would view him as the failure for giving up his dream and taking a corporate job.
But looking at both individuals who started out very similarly being an up-and-coming audio engineer and producer, which one was more successful?
Do you feel the one with all the career success and admiration of others who have heard their incredible work is the very definition of success?
Do you feel the one that sacrificed what could have been a very successful career with tons of attention, for a boring corporate job but one that gave him the ability to have a great family life?
As you define success for yourself don’t just focus on each individual area and expect massive achievement. Realize what it takes to gain such a level of career success and understand what it will really take to get there.
Then define your life according to what is really most important for you. Whatever that is you can have the life you desire, but don’t misunderstand the various aspects you may need to sacrifice if you are striving for some incredible accomplishment. And certainly don’t assume that sacrificing personal goals for your family means you failed if that ultimately guides your decision.