What’s your definition of success? Money? Power? Good health? A happy family?
Though most people would likely say that it’s some combination of them all, the definition of success that drives the American workplace, and American culture in general, is made up almost solely of the first two.
The problem is that money and power, by themselves, are a two-legged stool — fine for balancing on for a short time, but after a while, you’re headed for a fall. And guided by this limited definition of success, more and more “successful” people are falling.
So we need a more comprehensive, more human — more sustainable — definition of success. We need a third metric that includes satisfaction, happiness, balance, well-being and wisdom. But how do we recalibrate our current benchmarks of success?
The current definition of success, in which driving ourselves into the ground and working to the point of exhaustion is considered a sign of virility, was created when the American work force was predominately male. Now, with more women not just populating the work force but occupying the upper levels of their fields, this unsustainable criterion for achievement is having a hugely negative impact. It’s failing both women and men — but if change is going to come, it will likely be driven by women.
One of the keys to changing our definition of success — and making sure our work places reflect that new definition — is getting business leaders and CEOs and shareholders to realize that what’s good for employees is also good for the bottom line. And vice versa.
To not be in a half-panicked, half-crazed, fight-or-flight state at work is to be seen as shirking your duties or not being fully committed.
When calling friends or coworkers, or even spouses, we’re obliged to give a throat-clearing boilerplate apology: “Hey, I know you’re busy, but I just had a quick question....” Yes, God forbid we waste a friend or loved one’s precious work time with some actual human interaction. It’s tolerated — barely — but only if the question is very important and quick. Then we can get back to the 72 things we each have to do before we wolf down lunch at our desks (as one-third of us do).
The problem is that as long as success is defined by just money and power, we are never going to be able to enjoy a crucial aspect of the third metric: wonder.
Though I have to make a deliberate effort to create the space in my life for wonder, I was blessed with a mother for whom it came naturally. She was in a constant, near eternal state of wonder.
She moved through life the way a child does. Whether it was washing the laundry or taking a walk through the market — which might be an all day affair — she was exquisitely attuned to the moment. She managed to live her entire life in the moment. It’s not something we can all do naturally, but it’s something to aspire to.
I was fortunate enough to give the commencement address at Smith College last week, and in the invocation, Jennifer Walters, the dean of religious life, said something that stuck with me. “Every moment,” she said, “is a doorway to the sacred.”
And yet how many of those doorways do we decline to walk through because we’re too busy pursuing the conventional, outmoded, destructive and unsustainable definition of success. It’s bad for people, it’s bad for businesses, it’s bad for profits, it’s bad for women and it’s bad for men.
Yes, more and more people are coming to understand this, but until burning the candle at both ends not only ceases to be rewarded but becomes looked down on and considered the destructive behavior it is, millions of Americans will continue to pay a costly price.
So let’s go beyond money and power and add a third metric. How would you define the third metric? What steps have you taken to add elements of it to your life, or to see that it’s rewarded in your own work place? Join the conversation and help us redefine success, so we can live the lives we want, not the lives we settle for.