Recently I posed a serious question to my Facebook friends, asking them to define success. I confess that I had an ulterior motive, because I wanted to see how their responses would measure up against a theory that’s been rattling around inside my head for quite some time.
I only had a handful of takers, but the replies I received confirmed my suspicions. It turns out that my friends, the people I choose to engage with on social networks like Facebook, think a lot like I do. And how we think about success bears little relation to the various dictionaries I consulted. The dictionaries, without fail, cite external rewards such as wealth, prosperity, eminence, fame, and honors in their definitions. But my friends and I, we speak in far more personal terms of friendship, family, faith, and ideals.
It’s hard to look at this discrepancy in light of “corporate America” culture without pondering the disconnect between how we personally define success in our own lives and how the companies we work for define that same concept. If the tiny sample of friends who responded to my question is any accurate indication, we as individuals subjectively measure our success in terms of our relationships, the impact we have on the people and systems around us, and achieving our personal goals. Corporate success, on the other hand, is far more likely to be measured in quantifiable terms of dollars and metrics and market share, rather than people or community.
I’m not suggesting that this is necessarily a bad thing. Every company has a fiduciary responsibility to its stakeholders and its employees to operate efficiently. It would be impossible for any business to succeed for long, let alone innovate, if it is losing money, and sometimes that means making hard decisions for the bottom line. But I can’t help wondering if the drive to eke out a few more pennies, stay competitive, and grow their influence too often trumps what is really in the best interest of the populations that such organizations are in the business of serving. My perception, based on endless media stories of corporate earnings and stock performance, is that many companies are so focused on the numbers that they lose sight of their own mission.
As I have considered these ideas over the past week, I have realized that the blog post I initially set out to write on this subject has not materialized. I can’t decided if this should be a rant about corporate inhumanity, or a wistful longing for the time to treasure what’s important to me, or even an indictment of the media for pushing the perception that we are only successful it we aspire to more material things—more money, a better job, a bigger house, more accolades, more “stuff.”
And so there is no real conclusion to my musings here, merely observations that I’m still deciphering. But I promised a blog post to those who answered my initial Facebook question, and a blog post I have finally delivered. What I do know is that “success” is probably the wrong word for the concept I’m having trouble articulating. If I figure the rest of it out, you’ll all be the first to know. I promise. In the meantime, what does success look like to you?