Do You Really Need to Succeed?

04/10/2015 09:24 am ET | Updated Jun 10, 2015
Andy Roberts via Getty Images

A better question asked is this: is the goal for your life "success," or, is the goal a life well lived? There is a distinction.

"Success" as a goal has built-in parameters. It has to first be defined so that you'll know when you've reached it. Does success mean:

  • Rising to a determined level in the workplace? Will you consider yourself successful if you reach the job title of, say, CEO?
  • Achieving a certain dollar amount in either salary compensation or tax bracket? Will you be successful if your name is on the "top 100 millionaires in the country" list?
  • A quantifiable following of admirers? Will you consider yourself successful if, for example, your Twitter following exceeds 100k?

Setting success as a life goal means that the quality of how your daily life is lived is not the point. It means that the point of each day is in how the activities of the day have advanced you towards the goal.

What if, on the other hand, your goal is "a life well lived?" What would that mean to you? Would it mean:

  • You enjoy the work you do? There are people who work, not because what they do brings them income or status, but rather brings them joy. Are you working to follow your passion or an organizational chart?
  • Time spent at home is a joy? Does life at home hold a higher calling than life at work?
  • Your avocation is as fulfilling as your vocation? I used to tell my children that their life does not need to be dominated by just one 'thing.' Work at a job or profession that fulfills you and pays your bills. But if you also have a passion for something else, fulfill that as an a volunteer way. Work as a lawyer? Great. But also love the piano? Then volunteer to teach piano lessons at a Boys & Girls Club; or be the volunteer pianist for your church. Or play keyboard with a local band who jams just for fun. Vocation and avocation - both can enrich your life.

How would you define a life well lived? Usually it has nothing to do with material goods and everything to do with relationships. Emotions. Feelings.

  1. Spending time with family and friends is more important than extra hours on the job.
  2. Making memories with your children trump vying for one more promotion.
  3. Sitting in the backyard with a good book outweighs working on Saturdays.
  4. Your health matters more to you than your wealth.

Maybe, just maybe, the definition for success could be changed to mean that finding oneself exhausted at the end of the week is not acceptable. Maybe it could mean that recognizing the needs of others is more important than pushing our own needs to the forefront. Paraphrasing a line from a "Star Trek" movie, maybe the needs of the many really do outweigh the needs of the one.

There are certain traits or qualities that have become de rigueur in the scramble to be thought successful. Among them:

  • Sublimating health for wealth: It has become accepted that to succeed you need to work far more than eight hours a day; it is expected that, to be thought serious, you need to work until exhaustion overtakes you.
  • Greed superseding cooperation and fair play: It has become accepted to admire the worker who puts climbing the ladder before the welfare of the group; in a corporate situation, who is top leadership looking at to promote? The fellow who shares and augments or the fellow who steams ahead and plows through regarding his coworkers as so much chaff in the wind?
  • Power as a goal in and of itself, however, ask the question: Power over what? Power to do what? Power defined how? Power at what cost?

Picture this: You are now 80 years of age and you are looking back over 60 years of adulthood. Maybe four or five years were spent in college or other kinds of training. That means you've spent some 55 years in a profession or a job. You've been working to maintain living essentials such as food and shelter; you've been working to provide yourself and your family with some 'extras' like vacations and certain material goods; you've been working to set aside a 'nest egg' that hopefully will cover your old-age requirements.

In looking down those long years, were you hoping:
-to be surrounded by loving family and friends?
-to still have your health?
-to find satisfaction in the fact that along your journey you shared your time and resources with others?

Or, in your efforts to claim 'success' do you now find yourself:
-alone, having alienated friends and family in your scramble
-sick, because you ignored rest, relaxation, a healthful diet, mild exercise and the company of loved ones
-frustrated, because that 'success' still eludes you
-empty, because 'success' is, in and of itself, nothing. It is merely a word.

Maybe...just maybe...the definition of success can be changed to mean a life well lived.