Defining Success for Our Kids

Defining Success for Our Kids

Success. How do you know you’re successful? By whose standard do we measure success?

Good questions, right? Good questions that rarely seem to get asked. Rather, we seem to rely on one standard definition. Fall in line and work toward that goal.

That’s what happened to me. I graduated from high school and started down the path to success. Success as defined by my parents’ generation. College, career, retirement. 

Then, part way through my journey, things started to change. Pensions started to disappear. Then, benefits, like insurance, began to drive employment decisions. The social contract — between employer and employee — was eroding. 

As with any erosion, it wasn’t noticeable at first. Then one day, there was a disaster, and suddenly we started to realize what had been happening.

Those ahead of me on the path to success started to delay retirement. Perhaps they lacked a reliable pension. Or, perhaps they needed to stay employed just to stay insured. The why doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the proverbial road to success was suddenly all jammed up. 

Opportunities to advance weren’t as plentiful. People in my generation weren’t able to hit the standard career milestones like the generation before. And then, college savings for our kids, or healthy retirement accounts for ourselves, were harder and harder to afford.

For the generation behind me, there were even bigger changes. So, home ownership was delayed. Marriages and families occurred later in life. As the story goes, Millennials just keep falling further and further behind.

So, they hustle and grind. They work more than one job. But, yet have a reputation for a poor work ethic. They cut expenses, like cable. Yet get criticized for spending too much on coffee and avocado toast.  Why this dichotomy?

We’re still using a definition of success written by the Baby Boomers. We’re judging young Gen Xers, Millennials, and now Generation Z, by a standard that was set over half a century ago.

Sure, at the height of the manufacturing age, success could look like a two-car, two-income household, with an ever-increasing amount of square footage. Each acquisition outward proof of success. 

Despite the changes in the employer-employee relationship. Despite the changes in the overall economy. We still measure success by this standard.

The end result is an overwhelming sense of falling short, of not being good enough. Just work a bit harder. Keep looking for that perfect job. Then, there would be enough to save for retirement, pay for kids’ college, and still have a house with a yard.

While these stories are being written, another story is overlooked. The story of those who have ceased defining success in that way.

They’ve moved away from that standard definition. They’ve realized that there is no one-sized model. Success is being defined on an individual level. 

Success is owning your own job security. It’s having confidence to not be dependent on an employer. To know that your career path need not be linear. It can zig and zag. 

Success is not defined by some outside judgment. It’s defined by an internal sense of value. It’s the amount of time you have to spend with your family. Your ability to pursue creative endeavors. The meaningfulness of the life you lead away from work.

With this new definition of success, the frustration and anxiety of falling short starts to melt away. What really matters — your health, family, and friends — take priority. They’re no longer something you put aside. Waiting until you “make it."

Who’s writing this new story. It’s a cohort that seems to evade being defined by a generation. Rather, they’re defined by their commitment to this new measure of success. They collaborate, sharing ideas with each other as well as complete strangers. It’s not about getting ahead at all costs. It’s about helping others find what they’ve found — a sense of calm and engagement. Calmness at work, and heightened engagement at home.

Here are just a few of them: Tim Ferriss, Chase Jarvis, Jason Fried, DHH, Brené Brown, Danielle LaPorte, and Marie Forleo.

Check them out. Then, look around. You’ll start to see others. Listen and read what they have to say. You’ll start to realize that by changing how we define success, we change how we see our work and our world. Rather than failure, you’ll feel fulfillment. Rather than anxiousness, you’ll feel peace.

We can’t hamper our kids with an outdated definition of success. We have to acknowledge and accept that the world has changed. It continues to change. And, how we define success in this changing world will impact how we see these changes.

With an updated definition of success, the changes seem like opportunities. Opportunities to thrive. On our own terms. No longer being cogs, fully dependent on employers. But, humans. Humans with minds that want to be calmed, and hearts that want to be engaged.

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