Like You, I Wonder About “Success”. How Do You Know When You Arrive?
Are there “stages of? ….building blocks for?…. formulas or recipes?
It’s a big topic so let’s get it popping.
I recently ran into a business friend from many years ago.
We’d known each other when we were both grinding it out through a dismal time in the construction industry.
We’d agreed to catch up over a Starbucks. Now here we were.
Phil is a burly guy with a kind of brusque manner and voice that is permanently set on “outdoor” volume.
After some opening banter, he pauses and then declares (outside voice).
“I googled you man. You’re a freaking 40-year overnight success!”
The conversations around us fell silent. I could feel multiple laser stares aimed right at me.
His spontaneous outburst and the absurd hilarity of it all caught me off guard. Something welled up and I burst out laughing and couldn’t stop.
He laughed boisterously, enjoying the dramatic effects of his own comedic delivery.
When our moment of mirth subsided, the surrounding conversations came back to the normal Starbucks level.
As with any honest humor, it’s usually wrapped around a nugget of truth. This was no different.
Examples of “success” in any field if examined, come after a ton of hard work, sacrifices made and obstacles overcome over extended periods of time.
“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” -Winston Churchill
When you talk “success” and how you actually define or quantify it, the definition tends to vary.
A quick G search of the word renders 2.5 billion hits in .67 seconds so it’s obviously top of mind for lots of people.
For some folks, it’s about money. Ok, probably for most folks that’s the measuring stick for comparison.
For others, it might be house size or being able to travel to faraway places. For others, it’s about a relationship to their family; for some it’s faith, and for many, it’s honestly just staying alive another month. The definition of the term will change relative to where you’re at in life, probably dozens of times.
The part I love most about my work is helping clients figure out what success looks like for them. Then we start navigating obstacles, achieving more or getting better at something – a.k.a. becoming “successful.”
Because most of us spend on average 1/3 of our life (about half of our waking hours) pursuing a livelihood to make ends meet, it’s important to have some sort of scaffolding or contextual framework around how to think about this concept.
From observation and experience, there are some underlying factors to success in any realm.
Wealth is definitely an easily understood way of keeping score, but if that‘s the only way then look out!
Ok – back to the point.
Because the wealth/success thing has such an overshadowing effect, I’ll get it out of the way in this post.
“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.” ― Albert Einstein
A Remarkable Essay
I love it when someone else writes a brilliant article around something I’ve been thinking. Moreover, they absolutely nail it.
In this instance, kudos to American venture capitalist Morgan Housel who has provided a remarkable essay ranking every type of success, wealth and poverty.
It’s equal parts enlightening, entertaining, surprising and useful for perspective.
Stage one of 19 on the spectrum begins where you would expect – complete dependence on others for sustenance – but quickly jumps to people who have money and assets but are impoverished in other ways.
Stage four is a cautionary tale, “Your lifestyle expectations consistently grow faster than your income and assets. Adaptive poverty.” Stage seven is too: “Your entire personality is built upon the appearance of being wealthy, attracting a predatory social group that will abandon you.”
The stages of wealth start looking attractive around number 13, where you love your job enough that it feels like a hobby and pays more than you ever expected.
I’ll let you go on to discover the highest stage – the psychological equivalent of the Forbes billionaires list.
If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed. –Edmund Burke
The overriding revelation in the piece is that success is often as much a matter of perspective as it is a sum of money.
Folks who are deeply envious and generally insecure are unlikely to feel wealthy no matter how big their investment account becomes.
Those with close family ties and social connections can feel content with far less.
Another poignant revelation of this innovative list is that we often fail to recognize the wealth of all types that we already have.
Here Are 19 Ways to Gauge Success
- Complete reliance on the kindness of strangers for sustenance. Deep poverty.
- Your income is above average but you are overcome with envy and a feeling of inadequacy towards those who earn more. Psychological deep poverty.
- You have a large income and net worth that was acquired in a way that brings active disdain from people who would otherwise want to like you. Socially bankrupt.
- Your lifestyle expectations consistently grow faster than your income and assets. Adaptive poverty.
- You have so much money you can do nothing, and doing nothing leads to boredom at best, self-destruction more often. Ironic poverty.
- You have a large income and net worth you are satisfied with, but your career and assets are fragile (often leveraged) and will disappear when the world shifts only a little leaving you yearning for the money you used to have and became accustomed to. Pent-up poverty.
- Your entire personality is built upon the appearance of being wealthy, attracting a predatory social group that will abandon you without remorse the moment the money stops.
- You have a large income and net worth that was made in a job you hate that requires such long hours that it derails your social and family life. Financial wealth, life poverty.
- You have a job you love surrounded by people you enjoy but one that doesn’t pay well and leaves you vulnerable and stressed about your finances. Financial poverty, life wealth.
- You have enough money to stay comfortable and a good group of friends but you didn’t earn the money yourself, creating a lack of pride and ability to appreciate the value of a dollar that makes you feel poorer than someone with less money that was earned from hard, meaningful work.
- You can afford a little bit more than the people you interact with daily and it makes you feel superior to them. Technical wealth but actually insecurity that’s likely to backfire into social poverty.
- You can afford a little more than the people you interact with daily but you still live the same material lifestyle as they do, which creates social cohesion among your friends that’s valuable. You have a high savings rate that puts a gap between your mood and most financial hassle.
- You like your job so much it doesn’t feel like work and it pays more than you ever expected to make.
- You could stop earning a paycheck tomorrow and your lifestyle could remain the same for the indefinite future.
- You can go to bed and wake up when you want to. You have time to exercise, eat well, learn, think slowly, and clear your calendar when you want it to be clear. Health wealth.
- You can, and want to, use your wealth to help other people. And you want to help them because you care about them, not because it will make you look good or make them beholden to you.
- You genuinely feel no benefit from the social signal of wealth, because everyone you want to love you would still love you if you weren’t wealthy. So everything you spend money on is for its utility, rather than glitz.
- The people you love the most will have to work hard in life, but your wealth provides them a safety net that will help them avoid undue hardship.
- You are respected and admired by people you want to respect and admire you regardless of your financial circumstances. Psychologically speaking, you’re now on the Forbes list of billionaires.
“I’m a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down.” ― Abraham Lincoln
Phil’s perception of my alleged success was that somehow I had “arrived”.
My read on the same scenario was that I was merely “staying on track and keeping going.”
Huh! Guess that’s the kind of stuff that makes life interesting.
Like Abe, I had some friends who believed in me. I didn’t want to let them down.
Until next time!