Measurements of Success

Why do we need all the “quantitative” or “visible” measurements in life to prove our success? Why does it seem we calculate success mainly from these vantage points? Westerns cultures are not alone in the placement of tangible assets as a cornerstone for acceptance into the “halls of success.”

The dictionary’s definition of success is: “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” There are no words in this definition that specify success is measured by net worth.

We have heard and at times may have made some of the following remarks or comments. “She drives a very expensive car and lives in the best neighborhood.” “He drives a brand new red Ferrari.” “Have you seen the size of her wedding ring?” “He went to an Ivy League school.” “She has a designer wardrobe.” “Look at the Chanel handbag she’s carrying.” “Their kids go to the most expensive private schools.” “They belong to the best country club.” “Wow, they own a big yacht.”

We assume, and in some cases rightfully so, these “outward shows” do reflect a “margin of success.” There’s a view wealth or money equals success. It’s almost like a math equation – Money = Success. It’s shown in movies and television shows, it’s adorned in on-air and print media advertisements, highlighted in songs, flaunted in displays in retail store windows and remains hot topics of conversations with friends and family.

We are bombarded with these visible signs of conspicuous consumption and have come to take them for granted. Unfortunately, we have come to judge the measurements of success from outward and tangible items.

A family event triggered thoughts on this subject but more specifically on how we should measure success in different and less tangible ways.

Back to the event that sparked this writing. My twelve year old granddaughter was celebrating her birthday with her girlfriends and family at our private beach club. Yes, I know this is one of those tangible measurements I’ve just referenced. The girls had spent the morning and early afternoon bogie boarding and frolicking in the surf of the Pacific Ocean. We joined up with them and all had lunch at the club’s Beachside Café. We watched the girls enjoying the looks from a group of preteen boys several tables away. The boys continued to exchange glances and smiles, but never got up the nerve to come over and talk with the girls, even after the adults left the table.

The birthday fun continued as we left the club to take the girls for their manicure and pedicure appointments before having a movie night and sleepover at our home. They chatted nonstop on the ride back to our house with “typical girly” conversation. When the discussion shifted from hair and clothes it went back to the boys they saw at the beach club. There was a volley of questions and comments, “I wonder where they live,” “Where do you think they go to school,” “If they live around here – they’re probably wealthy.” Then there was a defining statement made by one of the girls and echoed by the others. “I want to marry someone rich when I grow up.”

My daughter was driving and I was seated in the front seat trying to listen to her conversation but finding it hard not to respond to the girl’s statement. I had to tamp down the desire to say, “Of course you want to marry someone rich – rich in character, purpose, ambition and principles.”

But alas, I knew “rich” in this context meant – money, wealth and financial success. I began to reconcile this to the antiquated notion that women attended college solely to get their “Mrs.” degrees. When I went to college that notion was alien to me. I grew up with a mother who relied on her professional career as a nurse to support two children and my maternal grandmother, who resided with us once my parents divorced.

As the conversation continued, I interjected questions and comments but did not interject my own thoughts on the intrinsic nature and measurements of success. The girls articulated their notions and assumptions about college, career, marriage and family.

The resounding theme of money and “marrying rich” was a sound acknowledgment to the “quantitative” nature of our existences. This brought me back to the thought – if money and all the other tangible measurements are not the true benchmarks of success than what are or should be our principle markers? How do we teach our children to understand that money should not be the primary focus in life? How do we practice this concept on a day-to-day basis in our material world?

There was an expectation in our household that our children be involved in service projects at school or other community volunteer endeavors, in addition to their normal course work. With our sense of determination, efforts, hard work and perseverance, we led by example. In parenting, we stressed the importance of the intrinsic measures of success and how to equate that type of success in both your personal and professional lives. We would discuss seeking knowledge for the sake of learning while not abandoning the need to have employable skills. We conveyed a belief everyone has a social responsibility and that is a part of a balanced and fulfilled existence. We wanted our children to discover their passions and allow those to govern and define what and where they go in life.

When our children reached their mid-teens, I had them to work in my travel agency answering phones, filing, updating brochure shipments and delivering tickets and documents to the local commercial and leisure accounts in the neighboring buildings.

I have a college friend who has spent her entire adult life running a large soup kitchen as the unpaid Director. Through her efforts the soup kitchen serves between 700-900 meals per week to homeless and needy men, women and children. In addition, it provides bags of groceries, clothing and hygiene items, backpacks and school supplies, other services and programs all free of charge. It even offers English classes. On the measurement-of-success barometer, she is at the top even though she wouldn’t qualify for the “financial” driven success model equated with income or high salary.

When money and income are sidelined the inherent determinants – happiness, contentment, satisfaction and value rise to the top of the success ladder.
Happiness comes from within and when we are truly happy that helps shape and blossom our relationships with family, friends, neighbors and colleagues. With happiness comes a sense of contentment that affects us spiritually, emotionally and physically. This can foster a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction with life. We add value – when we give to others.

We can make a difference in the world . . . by making a difference in the life of just one person. I was fortunate to have had that experience as I worked and befriended a middle-aged woman in a board and care facility for the mentally ill. I assisted her to transition to independent living, find and hold a part-time job and enroll in a community college.

If money is the sheer determinant of success we can equate the most successful by financial net worth. But we cannot determine who is the happiest, most content or satisfied as those true measures of success come from within. Identify your own terms of success and then you will realize what is truly important for you to be successful.

Thanks for reading. I invite your comments.

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