I had a fascinating conversation the other day with Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun and his senior communications strategists. We were discussing the subject of trust, the erosion of trust in virtually every segment of society, and the need for current and future generations to re-adjust their definitions of success as a result.
I volunteered that I’d noticed quite a few Millennial-focused surveys of late in which respondents seem to accept the very real possibility that, due to the economy, limited job options, staggering student loans and global competition, they may never attain their parents’ level of success. But, many seem undaunted and, in fact, point to new, and different, definitions of success, including:
- Achieving a work-life balance
- Feeling fulfilled in one’s occupation
- Believing one’s contributions are somehow making a difference for the better.
That’s very different from the definition of success when I grew up.
We were told one wasn’t successful unless one at least earned one’s age (i.e. $25,000 per annum if one were 25 years old, etc.). We were also led to believe that success meant getting married, fathering 2.4 kids, as well as owning a dog and a house with the requisite white picket fence (I scored with the wife and two kids, and now am pleased to say I report to two pooches: Mick and Rooney, respectively).
I also came of age in the Me Generation, monster-of-the-universe Gordon Gekko ‘Greed is Good’ Wall Street era. In fact, I distinctly remember a great example of success in the late 20th century. We were dining with my next door neighbor who, at the time, toiled at the now defunct Lehman Brothers. He was boasting about a huge raise and year-end bonus. Then, he glanced down at his PDA and shouted: ‘Look at this! ‘My boss just e-mailed saying, Jimmy, you da man!’ It was nauseating to say the least.
Well, with Wall Street, Main Street and just about every other street either stagnating or in full retreat, the You Da Man moments seem to be dwindling in an inverse ratio to our country’s budget deficit. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some incredibly successful executives rising through the ranks in the near and long-term future; it just means there will be fewer masters and mistresses of the universe.
So, knowing that, how have you personally re-defined success? I’m especially interested in hearing from my Millennial readers (as well as the Generation X and Baby Boomers who have been forced to re-set their expectations as a result of the New Normal). Success is still there for each and every one of us. It just may no longer look like a million dollar paycheck, a trophy wife, two kids, a dog, a house and a picket fence anymore.
What will it look like to you, and what do you envision prompting a boss or peer to text a message saying, ‘You da man!'
I use credit cards, RepMan….and pay them off every month. That’s part of my definition of success too. Wish I could say the same about the mortgage, though.
Thanks Julie. I’d add a taxi in the rain and a cop when you need one. Otherwise, we’re perfectly aligned.
My Definition of Success:
Health, daily bread, a nice roof over my head, great family and friends.
Everything else in life is a bonus.
Steve, Re: Quoteship.com – now that’s funny. Well we three Ted, yourself and I certainly defined our success on the trip to visit QS, remember the Ritz?
Good for you, GoToPEngel. As for me, success will always be measured by the number of Benjamin’s in my hand.
Great POV, Steve. Thanks for sharing. I wonder how Quoteship.com would define success if it were still in business today?”
I can no longer afford Eliot Spitzer’s hookers.
It’s a delicate thing to redefine success. As a Gen Xer, the original slackers, our very character as a generation was pre-defined for us by the Boomer generation. Honestly following the Boomers is a lot like following the marauding hoard of an army, picking through the desolate remains of a battlefield for bare subsistence. The Boomers are, quite literally a hard act to follow.
But so what, life can and should be challenging and I think it can be a dangerous habit to redefine success if we do it solely because we cannot or will not rise to the challenges life presents us. Several months ago a NYT headline caught my eye describing how many thousands less American are living below the poverty line.
“Wow!” I thought, isn’t that great and encouraging. I should have left it at the headline but, no I had to read the damn article and ruin my Wow. First graph in to the article I realized it was placed by our Commander in Chief’s PR machine and as I made my way through the myriad self-serving platitudes it became clear there were not fewer poor people in America struggling to survive. The administration had redefined the metrics for being poor.
It’s all well and good to be fulfilled as a person and strike a balance between work and fun, I don’t think these things were ever off the table of success – think about how much money it can cost to have fun. Being realistic about goals and objectives also seems like a good idea but redefining success based on a challenge or obstacle set before us; I do not think helps anyone, including those doing the redefining.
The whole banker master of the universe thing was making me sick 25 years ago. Except for a bit more income, I’ve re-defined success as what I have now: a loving family, home ownership, being in the city I love, great friends and family, and the sense of community I longed for growing up.