Thursday, February 5, 2009

Measuring Success

Over the past few weeks, I've reconnected with several folks from my past on Facebook and Twitter. It's an interesting end to the story to see what my High School friends have experienced over the past 30 years. There's good news and bad news, happiness and sadness, and occasionally a sense of missed expectations i.e. "My life did not turn out as planned"

What should we expect from life, especially when we're 16 years old?

Some want fame.

Some want fortune.

Some want power.

Since High School I've discovered that life is much more subtle than that. Life is about finding your passion and committing every day to it.

In my case, I wake up every day and ask

"How can I make my wife and my daughter happy today?"

"How can I ensure patients will receive the best possible care through the use of the IT systems I oversee?"

"How can I experience some wonder of the natural world - something as simple as watching a plump squirrel meander through my back yard or feeling the wind on my face as I run through a local forest?"

If you're doing what you love to do, have the basics of food/clothing/shelter/health, and have people you care for/care about you, then you're successful.

My 16 year old daughter will apply to college next year.

Will I measure her success based on an application to Harvard, Stanford, or MIT? Will I only feel satisfied if she becomes a doctor, lawyer, or public figure? Will I demand that she marries into a family with wealth, power or fame?

The answer is simple - I've told her to find her passion and pursue it with gusto, becoming the best she can be at whatever brings her joy. That could mean Middlebury or Mass Bay (a local community college). It could mean Pharmacology or Farming. It could mean marrying a member of the Forbes 400 or a Forest Ranger with a great sense of humor.

We set expectations based on what we believe society defines as success. The problem with this is that society continuously changes the definition. When I was an Emergency Medicine Resident, ER was the most popular new series on television and society defined my intended career as glamorous. Then again, society also defined Wall Street as a highly desirable career. Society's expectations are ephemeral.

In my youth, I thought society defined success as the car you drive, the house you own, and the clothes you wear.

Today, I know that none of these things really matter.

Define your expectations as pursuing your passion and you'll not be writing "My life did not turn out as planned" 30 years from now. For me, life is filled with daily adventures and no particular expectation where I will end up, but the journey will be quite a ride.


johnplikethepope said...

My advice to a parent sending their kid off to college is to suggest to the young adult that they invest their time and effort so that some day, when they have a child looking up and asking, "What do you do?" you can give them an answer that will inspire them to fulfill their own dreams. Make a list of things to do this life, and do what you need to do to check them off.
I have seen patients in their final days looking back on their lives. No one ever said, "I wish I had a bigger house - or a better car." Whatever you do with your life had better be something you value, because that is key to maintaining your integrity whatever fate befalls you.

Bob Evans said...

Hi John--beautiful thoughts, and so relevant in today's frantic world where young people in particular are bombarded with images of mindless celebrities and the burning need to be glamorous and sexy and popular and cool and hip. Not much talk about happiness in those messages, though, and as you note, it is from our sense of purpose and happiness that real success is measured. My advice to my daughters (18 and 20) is to find a field they love and about which they feel passionate and to pursue that, regardless of the curmudgeonly limitations of conventional wisdom. Thanks for your inspiring thoughts, which I've just blogged about and linked to at All the best.

Jorge Rodriguez said...

Wow, I woke up this morning contemplating almost the same thing, how do I measure success? It is definitely refreshing to hear someone really get at the true measure of success. It's wonderful that your first question in the morning is: "How can I make my wife and my daughter happy today?" Success must really be a internally based measurement.

Unknown said...

John, that was so well said. Your daughter is fortunate to have a father who is successful by so many measures yet who takes the time to help her understand that a)some measures of success matter more than others (and not the obvious ones by society's standards) and b)it's important to pay attention to those because life is short and its easy to get distracted. Thanks for the great reminders!

Unknown said...

Boy do you echo my thoughts! However I know I don't live the way I always think. I am going to ponder this and make some changes. I forwarded your blog today to my daughters as I want them to understand that happiness is so much more than material things. Thank you and have a wonderful day!

Carl said...

I agree with much of your blog today and try to lead my life with little regrets. I also know that this is not the reality for many people. Finding your passion and bliss is secondary to many what are having trouble finding food or shelter. For some bliss comes in teaching children or low paying manual labor positions that do not always provide basic needs for their families and they struggle to make ends meet. For the fortunate few that are able to follow their passion, being thankful should be a mantra.

Lukas Zawilski said...
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Thom said...

Measuring success I often find depends on the scope of the "eye of the beholder". For instance, I find my personal assessment of success in competitive sports is quite different than "success in life".

The latter reminds me of an often quoted lyric:

"What is success ? by RW Emerson

to laugh often and much;

to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;

to earn the appreciation of honest critics

and endure the betrayal of false friends;

to appreciate beauty;

to find the best in others.

to leave the world a bit better,

whether by a healthy child,

a garden patch,

or a redeemed social condition;

to know even one life has breathed easier

because you have lived;

this is to have succeeded."

Your clarity of insight and energy deserves tremendous respect; even though some of us might not completely emulate some of your more extreme positions ;-)

TechRN said...

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Chinese proverb

Never stop journeying, no matter if you never leave your birthplace. My own life in 40 years has taken some circuitous routes, but without them, I wouldn't be the person I am today.

Great blog!

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