You’re valuable just because you exist, and you are worthy of doing something just because it’s nice with no achievement.
– Rebekka Tauqiri, psychologist
SBS Insight Program “Pushing for Success“
Our society likes to put labels on people – are they successful? What are their achievements? When someone asks “how are you?” are they really asking “what have you achieved lately?” If someone was to ask you “are you happy?” how would you respond? How do you define success? Or do you let success define you? Do you measure your success by how much “better” you are than someone else?
First impressions are important in both our personal and professional lives, and very often, these are intertwined. For example, when you meet someone for the first time at a party, a function or some event, you introduce yourself by your name and, depending on the occasion, by your profession. Do you ever catch yourself immediately judging your new acquaintance or yourself by this introduction? If someone told you they were a doctor or lawyer, do you react differently to them than if they told you they were a janitor?
I have been a contract consultant, primarily in the IT industry (don’t call me with your tech support questions though, unless you want me to ask you to restart your computer), for more than a dozen years. When I began my career, I believed titles were important: anything with a “senior” in it was automatically better than not having it. I worked hard and earnt several promotions in the early part of my career, but then I was struck by the realisation that sometimes, no matter how hard you worked, there will always be circumstances outside your control that will push you back down the “success” chain, like nepotism or someone else with more connections than you do.
When I was at university, I, like many other eager students who wanted to make sure I had a job at the end of a long academic life, attended campus interviews and soaked up every word of wisdom uttered by directors and human resource managers sent to campus by their employers. Each touted the exciting careers we would have ahead of us if we were lucky enough to be employed by them including travel to far-flung places and opportunities to work for a global conglomerate. What they don’t tell you, however, is the kinds of sacrifices you would have to make to get there: giving up personal time to travel to small country towns, staying in dodgy motels and working long hours, just to name a few.
Don’t get me wrong, I know people who thrive on that kind of lifestyle. Only recently, I caught up with some former colleagues who I have known for over ten years, some of whom were only just beginning their careers when we met. Since then, I have watched their careers blossom and they have become the successes they wanted to be: directors, vice presidents, senior managers – whatever their titles. At one point, I even made the comment that I felt like I was watching my children grow up (not that I am actually old enough to be their parents). But at the end of dinner, two of them said they were returning to the office – there was always more work to be done.
On the Insight program (which aired on Australia’s SBS – see above link), one of the mothers appearing on the show defined success for her daughters as being able to do whatever she wants, to buy whatever she wants and wear designer brands. I’m no stranger to owning a few designer brand items and coveting beautiful jewellery, clothes, bags and the like, and I have certainly worked hard to earn those things. But at no point did this mother mention that she asked her daughters what it is that they think “success” means to them.
Granted, I agree that very few teenagers know what they want to do or be when they grow up. Heck, I’m still “finding myself” twenty years after graduating from university, and it is unreasonable to expect that, in this ever-changing world, that what you do in your 20s is what you will still be doing in your 40s. My career now has little to do with the degree I studied but more to do with the many years of experience gained through “doing”. I’m not a Director or CEO of a company but I consider myself good at what I do and I try to learn from every client I have worked for and with. And on the side, I write to give me the creative freedom I don’t normally get in my work.
Am I successful? I know my self-worth isn’t driven by what I do, where I live or what I wear. My success story, and what I want my legacy to be, is one where I will be remembered as a good daughter, a good sister, a good aunt, and a good friend who will be that one phone call to whom you make when you are in trouble. If I am all that, then I feel successful.