Etymology: Latin successus, from succedere
1 obsolete : outcome, result
2 a : degree or measure of succeeding b : favorable or desired outcome; also : the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence
3 : one that succeeds
4 : (fill in the blank)
This morning, a prospective client asked how I defined success. I literally had to suck in my breath for a second before responding. What ended up coming out of my mouth were phrases like “establishing goals, benchmarks and deliverables”…”ensuring strong ROI”…and “yes, of course PR can be measured.” Those were the right words to say at the time, and I meant them. But what I really wanted to shout, with all my heart, was that success for me is best defined in terms of happiness. Am I happy? Is the team happy? Is my family happy? Are our clients happy? And are the results we’re producing making those clients even happier? These things, too, create success. Right after that meeting with the prospective client, I met a dear work-life friend for lunch and we talked at length about our jobs, our lives, our families and our goals. She, too, looks at success somewhat differently. (Must be why we get along so well.) Anyway, all of this got me thinking about this damn thing called success and wondering to myself, “Am I truly ‘successful’?” Gosh, I hope so. At least, that’s the aim every day, just like most folks. For seven years, I was so very happy at my former company, Fleishman-Hillard International Communications (http://www.fleishman.com/). Working for one of the top PR firms in the world. Great company, great bosses, pay, team, clients, friends. Life in that fast lane was really good–until it wasn’t. The high-speed lanes had worn down my nice tires and I was driving recklessly faster and faster down the highway of my career, with bald tires and in desperate need of an oil change, and maybe even a new transmission.
So I pulled over.
That was 12 years ago. Today, my little PR agency, which started up in ’98, continues to thrive. The tires now have good, solid treads on them, the engine hums along, and I drive the speed limit in the right-hand lane. Sometimes I’ll speed up and pass someone if I’m feeling brave, but then I usually check myself and tap the brakes. Sure, flashy sports cars (probably leased) often fly on past, driven by beautiful people racing with their, um, tops down. And then there’s those noisy, big-ass trucks. But here I am, cruisin’ happily along, lovin’ my lane…and my life.
In The Wall Street Journal’s “Turning Points” column today, writer Dennis Nishi “drives” home the obvious: Life can be really good in the slow, stress-free lane (http://bit.ly/b5uF9t). But in essence, what Nishi’s really asking is this: What makes you happy at work? How do you define success? And shouldn’t these two things be inextricably linked? Whether you voluntarily demote yourself at work, step up to a higher-level job, take a long sabbatical, or leap off a cliff like me to start something new, spend a little time with the word “success” and create your own definition.