Recently, I went out to dinner with my dad and in the course of conversation, we started to talk about success. He is always nagging me to quit my second job slingin’ coffee, because he thinks that I would make more cash if I worked at my full-time job on Mondays instead of serving coffee. We argued back and forth a little bit and finally I made my point: “ I stay at my coffee shop job because working there gives me the extra cash to put towards experiences that make myself successful in my own opinion.” I want to travel, and I want to travel a lot. Guess what? It’s expensive. Working at the coffee shop provides me a way to make those trips happen.
I also recently had the opportunity to work with someone at my coffee shop job whom I had never met before. While we worked, we chit-chatted and got to know each other a little better. He was completely surprised when I told him what my major was (foreign language and international trade – Russian) and told me that I could be doing so much better for myself than my coffee shop job. I know that he was trying to be encouraging but when people have conversations like that with me, it always seems to bum me out a little bit. Am I really that far away from my goals? It makes me take a step back and reflect.
I always come back to this point: people put too much value on financial success. If you are making a good salary and have a job that doesn’t break your back, many feel that you have achieved success. I take fault with that – success should be a measure of how well you are accomplishing your goals, NOT how much money is sitting in your bank account! If you want to be a world-class painter and are making hardly any money but are spending time perfecting your art and getting a lot of recognition/attention, do you consider yourself successful? I would consider that person a success in the career aspect of their life. On the other hand, I would consider a mid-level executive who earns a six-figure salary but works 80 hour weeks, travels frequently, never gets to spend quality time with family or friends and (most importantly) dislikes their job a failure. That person isn’t chasing their dreams, they are chasing dollar signs.
What about family life? Personal relationships? Hobbies? Volunteer goals? Making a difference in the world? I think that all of these things are important measures of success. I would also venture to say that most individuals, if they really gave thought to it, would tend to agree that money isn’t everything. However, it seems like financial achievements are the first place that individuals jump to when trying to define success. It shouldn’t be.
Sometimes, I think that society misses that money is used as an exchange. You can exchange money for services, goods, experiences, or other intangible things (for some reason, I think of protection money in the mob! ;-). It’s a means to an end. When I save money up, it’s not so that I can have the joy of sitting on a bank account that has a substantial amount of money in it. Every dollar has a name! Some go towards travel, others go towards emergencies or replacing a car. It’s there so that eventually I can exchange it for something that is valuable to me (a new computer, a weekend vacation, repairs to my home to make it more comfortable). I don’t get a joy directly caused by seeing my savings account balance grow – I get joy from knowing the possibilities of what that money can do (Lunch one day in Iceland? Concert tickets to see my favorite band? Sending a relative a plane ticket so that they can come visit me?).
One thing that you can’t exchange money for – happiness. It may buy you some things that make you happy, but true happiness comes from within. I don’t mean for this to sound like a hippie, new-age adage, but money can only take you so far down the road of happiness and in order to go further down that path, it has to come from you.
After describing my personal viewpoint of success, you may wonder what I think of my own personal success. I would say I am pretty successful! Yes, I do work three jobs, one happens to be relatively low pay – and none are related to what I got my degree in. On the flip side, I have an awesome relationship with my family, an amazing boyfriend, a supportive and fun group of friends, enough money to provide for myself with a little left over, and life-changing travel experiences that no one could ever take away from me – not to mention being the parent of the coolest cat you will ever meet! All of those other good things increase my perception of my own success, even though my career and financial state are not top performers.
How do you define success? Is it related to financial gains or to something else? Let me hear your opinions!