How do you measure success? Is it a monetary thing? Your net worth maybe? If you’re using that as your basis of defining success, what is your finish line? When do you fold your arms and say, that’s it, I’m successful enough now? I have won the race.
I’ve been asking these questions for years, pretty much since I started my working life in 1989. There was a time during my corporate days working for a bank when I suppose I could have called myself financially successful. I owned my own home, I drove a nice car, had a retirement fund and I had nice food to eat in the house. But there was always somebody a few strides ahead of me, with a better car, a bigger house, fancier food. What was holding me back from being as successful as they were? I perceived myself as being smarter than them, so why were they ahead of me in this race? Why was I lagging behind? Must I run faster to catch them up?
When my Mom died unexpectedly in Y2K it brought the value of life and the measure of success into sharp focus for me. She was only 52 years old when she passed away in her sleep. She was here one day and the next she was gone, without warning, for good. How could I spend the rest of my days chasing a promotion that may never come and may not even bring me happiness if it did? What if I also died suddenly? I left the cushy job at the bank less than a year later.
Towards the end of my banking career I had stopped caring about those things I had been chasing. I remember this one time at a work function I was talking to this bright-eyed young lady who worked for one of the consulting firms we were using. She was asking me really probing questions about how to get into banking and make it to the level of success I apparently enjoyed (in reality I was in specialised head office middle management, nothing more). I was flattered, but I think my answer stunned her a bit. I said to her “Nothing I do in the bank interests me in the slightest. I do as little as possible for as much reward as I can. Working here is nothing more to me than a means to an end.” I went on to tell her that I would rather be at home watching television with my family than sitting in the office after sundown trying to impress my bosses with my work ethic. She didn’t stay engrossed in the conversation for much longer after that.
Financial success is not a driving factor for me anymore because there is no bar set for this. If you choose this path to measure your life’s worth you will never know if you are successful, because there will always be the next rung on the corporate ladder to ascend to (or the next possession to upgrade to). And while you are ascending these rungs, you tend to forget that you are running out of time in this life. You spend so much effort and energy climbing the corporate ladder that you seldom stop to enjoy the view from where you are. Most of your days are spent climbing upwards (usually looking at the ass climbing just above yours). How can this be a good choice for measuring your level of success in life when you have no time available to enjoy the rewards of your labour?
The past 17 years since Mom died haven’t been easy for me financially, but they have been immensely enlightening. I don’t own my own home anymore, I don’t have a retirement fund, or a fancy car. My net worth is effectively zero. I won’t pass on anything of monetary value to my sons and I think I’m OK with all that. Right now I’m on the cusp of 50, only a couple of years short of where my Mom was when she passed away. In this time I have come to appreciate some simple truths in life, which hopefully will have much greater value than money for not only my sons, but anyone else who takes the time to read my ramblings. Here’s how I measure a successful life with a ruler:
Imagine for a minute that you have just died and you go into the afterlife to meet the great architect Himself. If together you were to count all the days of your life as markings on a ruler, where the left most mark denotes the point at which you became a self-sufficient adult and the right most mark the point at which your life ended, how many of the marks between those two points can be counted as easy, care-free days and how many can be counted as hard, ladder climbing days? The true measure of your success in life is the subtraction between those two factors. If you had more hard days than easy days I think it’s safe to say that your life was not as successful as you thought it would be. But if your easy days outweighed your hard days, congratulations, you found the true measure of what a successful life is.
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