This past week, I tuned into the "Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money and Power," a conference hosted by Arianna Huffington and Mika Brzezinski with the goal of empowering women and men "to redefine success to include well-being, wisdom, our ability to wonder and our ability to make a difference in the world."
With the influx of media coverage and national dialogue over the past year on work, life, women, leaning out and leaning in (I could go on and on), I'm grateful for these types of forums that work to empower professionals to find their own version of success. The Third Metric did just that. It brought prominence to the importance of looking at life in a more holistic way. As women and professionals, it is important to take into account the many aspects in the quest for finding a happier and more meaningful life: our health, desire for meaningful relationships and for giving back, meeting professional and personal goals, and the like. When any one of those aspects is out of sync, everything else will just be off.
As I watched the dialogue over the Third Metric unfold, there were a couple points that stood out to me as possibly misaligned with the messages being emphasized. First, the audience and speakers were almost exclusively people generally acknowledged to possess both wealth and power -- and deservedly so. Their message was that money and power were of minimal importance to overall happiness. I found that to be intriguing, and can't help but wonder: Is it easier to focus less on money and power if you already have it? Here is a parallel: It's easier to take for granted gainful employment when you already have a job. You show up to work, day after day. But, for someone who's out of work, finding a job will likely become the singular focus of their days.
All of these types of situations are relative. When I talk to colleagues, friends and even my children, I notice a tendency across all ages and life situations to simply want (or think we need) the things we don't have. That could be a lake house or a candy bar in the grocery aisle. It's human nature to continue to strive to be better versions of ourselves. And the things that lay in front of us, or just out of our reach, are what we tend to work the hardest towards -- a promotion, a bigger house, a nicer car. So, to politely disagree with some of the content of the Third Metric, for some of us, money and power are at least of some import to our overall happiness.
Secondly, to follow-up on the first point, the individuals presenting said that success should be measured not just by money and power, but also by a third metric -- giving back, happiness, etc. But, who is defining this success and based on what measurement? For your own life and choices to truly be meaningful and contribute to your overall happiness, your own idea of what that looks like should be the only real metric. Here's a good perspective produced from the Third Metric conversation on one woman's journey in finding her own success.
You have to ask yourself the questions -- How much money do I need to live a life that will fulfill me? How much power or influence do I want to feel a sense of meaning in my job? What do I have to do to really feel that I have accomplished what I want to personally and professionally? Maybe travelling the world gives you the most satisfaction, but that takes a significant amount of money. Or maybe you just like to work as little as possible so that you can spend time with your family, and you aren't striving for that management role. Or, maybe you don't want to volunteer, but you find your greatest level of contentedness mentoring younger professionals at work.
All of these preferences are perfectly acceptable. If I may state the obvious -- we're all different. And I've said before, but it's worth underscoring again: Women can and should feel comfortable with the fact that there is no "correct" or "proper" work, life, personal or professional situation.
What a valuable experience it was tuning into the Third Metric. With all of the exciting dialogue being shared, my one hope is that this visibility being provided by successful women like Arianna Huffington, Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer doesn't compromise or create out-of line-expectations for the "every-woman." Let's recognize that even if we aren't leading at the very top of our industries, we live lives of meaning, purpose and fulfillment on our own terms. Please share... what defines your happiness?
Allison O'Kelly is founder/CEO of Mom Corps, a national professional staffing firm with a focus on flexible work. Launched in 2005, Mom Corps has helped champion the view that flexibility is a benefit to not only professionals but to the companies that employ them. Follow us at @MomCorps and @AllisonOKelly.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.
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