Success is the best revenge by Charlie Day ArtMore awesome sketches by: Charlie Day Art

Success [Noun]

1. the achievement of something attempted 2. the attainment of wealth, fame, or position 3. a person or thing that is successful

[from: the Free Dictionary]

I've been thinking a great deal about success lately. It's all that seems to be on my mind lately. This is due to a couple of things:

  1. My personal struggle with measuring my own success. Having written and published The Whuffie Factor, I quickly came down from the high that is the achievement of actually doing something that is challenging beyond my previous experience and was left with a 'what's next?' feeling that left me restless and, frankly, a little frightened as to what to do with myself now. In general, people are getting a lot out of the book and I receive messages daily thanking me for writing it. I could call that a resounding success as that was my goal: write a book that will help others achieve their own success. However, though it wasn't my own measure, the questions on 'sales numbers' and 'Amazon ranking' plague me. My book is selling well and consistently, but it's not on a best seller list and I haven't been featured in the book section of the New York Times. Why should I be concerned with that if that wasn't my goal? If it doesn't fit within my own measure of what 'success' would mean for my first book?
  2. Keeping up with the Joneses. A good friend of mine, Liza Sperling, sent me this awesome TED video:

    The video sent me reeling. The quote in de Botton's message that made me really cheer was this, "So what I want to argue for, is not that we should give up on our ideas of success. But we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas. And make sure that we own them, that we are truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it's bad enough, not getting what you want. But it's even worse to have an idea of what it is you want, and find out at the end of a journey, that it isn't, in fact, what you wanted all along." Comparison to others is something that plagues human beings in general. But what we compare ourselves by is unfortunately boiled down to common tools that don't include the myriad of experiences of success.

  3. Short-term and short-sighted thinking. Success in terms of aggressive financial growth, zero-sum winner-takes-all competition and short-term (and often temporary) success ruling over long-term thinking about success have been established ideologies in North American corporate culture for as long as I've been in the working world. There is a fervent focus on numbers without what those numbers mean, who the people are behind those numbers and what they are experiencing that leads to the desire for quick acquisition of numbers without thought to what that means to important outcomes like customer experience, product improvement and innovation and, well, whuffie.
  4. The value of human beings. Whatever happened to the triple bottom line where we started to realize that there is great opportunity in valuing People, Planet and Profit equally? This ties back to short term thinking as those companies with a triple bottom line have achieved long term success (ex. Clif Bar, Toyota, Khiels, Google, Dupont, Timberland, Stonyfield Farms, etc), but not without some struggle and patience to get there. And much of that struggle and patience is the result of having to explain to investors that by balancing the three P's, there will be long term outcomes much more lucrative than a short-term push that leaves the company with a poor reputation and a mess to clean up. But because there isn't a direct measure of the value of People and Planet, this is an incredibly difficult argument to make. If a stock isn't performing, people will dump it and move to one that is. There are no 'stocks' in humans or the environment. But there are very significant impacts on stocks over the long term because of humans, which is a part of the discourse that is missing from the recent economic melt-down (and now seems to be missing from the discussion on healthcare). And the environmental impact is predicted to be a growing concern for everyone, especially industry.

I assume that most of us struggle with this. In our heart of hearts, we define success very differently than how it is commonly measured. When asked about their definition of success, most people I know answer with things like: health, happy family, fulfillment at work, the ability to help others, owning your own home, etc. Of course, many of these results require a certain level of income, but the income is tied to relationships, our bodies and our environment. So, if our personal definitions of success include non-monetary, non-numeric results, shouldn't our broader definitions as well? And why aren't we pushing back on these measures more? This should be a regular topic of conversation as I think it makes us miserable and anxious.

I've been harping on the theme of 'what we measure communicates what we value' for a couple of years now and I think I may have even found a way to tie everything back what will be my next book (working title, "Happiness as Your Business Model: why a bottom line that benefits all is good economics").

So, what is your definition of success? What makes you happy? Do you have personal or professional stories and case studies to share that support my thesis? I'd love your input and help. And thank you for continuing to support me. That I have an amazing group of people around me is my own definition of success.