Changing the Definition of Success

I believe it is time to change the definition of success in our workplaces and general North American culture.

There seems to be three definitions of success in assorted dictionaries:

  1. the accomplishment of one’s goals.

  2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

  3. a performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by attainment of honors.

In our workplaces and culture it seems to me that the prevailing view is that success is all about number 2 above – attainment of wealth and position (and I would add power).

Imagine the main question when you meet a new person...”what do you do for a living?”. Nine out of ten people (not empirical research just my guess!) will be far more impressed if the answer is neurosurgeon than if the answer is truck driver. Why? Because there is more money and status as a brain surgeon than there is as a truck driver.

But what if it’s a surgeon who is so stressed out that he’s on blood pressure medication and anti-depressants and is counting the days until retirement? What about a truck driver who loves what she’s doing, makes enough money to live comfortably and plans to work until the day she dies? Personally, I’d rather be the truck driver.

Sadly I have seen our society and workplace criticize those that do not strive for greater wealth, power and position. It is hard for some to understand people who are happy doing what they are doing and are not looking to move up the corporate ladder.

Many clients I’ve worked with want to implement professional and career development programs for their employees. The flaw often comes when the career development program focuses on grooming staff for promotion and succession planning to management positions. But not everyone wants to, or is capable of, being in a management position. Nor would an organization be sustainable if everyone wanted to be a leader. Too many generals and not enough soldiers, so to speak. Organizations need strong productive people at all levels, not just management.

I encourage my clients to look at career development as working with employees to find a position they enjoy, continue to develop skills and knowledge in and one where they make a substantial contribution to the organization. A satisfied employee is an engaged employee. And that to me is the definition of success for individuals and organizations.

Elizabeth Hill
Managing Partner


Posted Sep 6/19 by Pesce & Associates