Why You Should Reconsider the Idea of Success

What is Your Idea of Success?

The forces of competition and change that threaten business and industry also threaten individuals and their careers. If you don’t stay ahead of the curve, you’ll be blindsided by change. “Inaction is especially risky in a changing world that demands adaptation,” says Reid Hoffman.[1]

If it’s no longer likely or even possible to spend forty years at one company, staying put is also a risk. It’s time to be smarter about risk by diversifying your options and redefining success in the context of life instead of a specific job.

Now, “succeeding…doesn’t mean finding a job. It means creating a more aligned, better-balanced life, and finding satisfying work that helps achieve your vision of professional and personal success.”[2] Don’t settle for the life you’ve been given; prepare for the life you want.

What Is Success?

People have different measures of success, but there is a movement away from the traditional measures of money and power.

Emma Sherrard Matthew, former Global CEO and now Executive Chairman of Quintessentially, a luxury lifestyle membership, has had a ringside seat watching her ultra-wealthy clients navigate their work and lives. She noticed that time was the greatest luxury they were seeking. “Seeing all these incredible people, I noticed a trend. They have made an absolute fortune and they couldn’t spend it because they have no time.”[3]

This resolution led her to craft her own portfolio career. This doyenne of luxury living now defines success by working with the people she likes, paying it forward by mentoring startups, and having time to spend with her young children. She has redefined success, for now, on her terms and laid the groundwork to be agile as she goes forward and as her priorities change.

Another Example

Dan Wen Wei, a famous musician in China, was my next-door neighbor at the top of a fifth-floor walk-up back when we were starting our careers in New York City. Dan is now at the top of his game professionally and likewise has found that time is wealth. After being a concert pianist in New York City, he returned to China where he is currently at a conservatory. There is a long waiting list for his teaching expertise, and he can pick and choose his students. In fact, he has to be choosy due to the high demand. He is often approached by celebrities or billionaires hoping to have him teach lessons to their children. His reply is, “I’ll only work with those who want to do this professionally and full-time.”

Success for him is the opportunity to do what he loves, with people who share his passion and commitment.

Role Models for the Next Generation

We are still in an era of time-worn expectations about success. I told my daughter recently that she didn’t have to get good grades, that it’s more important to learn in a way that fits her best, paying attention to her strengths. The way she makes friends, interacts with her teacher, and understands and manages expectations has equal impact.

She asked me, “What should I do in my life?”

“You’re twelve,” I replied. “It doesn’t matter right now.”

“What if I decide that the one thing I want to do in my life requires really good grades?”

I mumbled an anaemic return argument but quickly realized she had the upper hand.

Kids today are very competitive. They’re apprehensive about getting into good schools; they’re in tutorial studies to gain every extra advantage. Ironically, it’s much the same as the external pressure adults put on themselves. If all you’ve ever done is chase whatever seems to be right at the time without understanding your values and your talents, that method may get you a great first job but rarely is it the sole ingredient to a meaningful life.

Feeling like you’re only able to succeed on your current path, unable to do anything beyond your existing industry, company, position, and skills is a brittle definition of success.

You can move away from prizing external validation, such as salary or titles, create new ways to evaluate success. Finally, move toward valuing progress that reflects your unique values and priorities.

Adapted from Future Proof.

If you are curious about what the future-proof success is, you can read here.


[1] Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, The Start-up of You.

[2] Diane Mulcahy, The Gig Economy: The Complete Guide to Getting Better Work, Taking More Time Off, and Financing the Life You Want (New York: AMACOM, 2016).

[3] Emma Sherrard Matthew (success) interviewed by Diana Wu David of Future Proof, September 10, 2018.