Measuring Success

Measuring success

When it comes to your own life, how do you measure success? Is it the amount of money you earn? The kind of car you have? How big your TV is? Is it how attractive your partner is? What school your children go to? Is it the impact of your work, or your contribution to your community? Is it serving your country, or is it challenging others to think differently?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. I heard that a person who went to the same secondary school as me made a lot of money selling drugs, invested it all in property while prices were low, and sold up when prices went back to normal. This person, supposedly a millionaire now, ‘retired’, went clean, and now spends their days travelling. Is that success?

Another person I know graduated from university around the same time I did but struggled to find work. They eventually found employment through an agency doing data entry. It was meant to be a stop-gap, a way of saving money and moving on to better things. They’ve been there six years this month. Is that success?

Bob Dylan once said:

“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”

I like this definition. It speaks to me. It’s simple and is similar to that other quote about success that goes suggests finding something you love doing, and getting paid for it, means never having to work another day in your life. Except Dylan’s quote is less preachy.

I think a lot of people get caught up in the vicious cycle of sacrificing their dreams and aspirations because of circumstances dictating that they need money to survive – hey, bills aren’t going to pay themselves. In other words, many people are still going to bed at night unfulfilled. That risk/reward paradigm is finely balanced and you have to make that call; follow your heart or do what your brain tells you is logical and stick with what you’ve got, but remember if you want to get a ‘Six’ you have to at least roll the die.

“Professionalism just means you get paid for it, not that you’re any good at it, necessarily”

When I was filming my first documentary, The Future of News, I bumped into Jon Desborough just after he finished his segment on Sky News. He said that “professionalism just means you get paid for it, not that you’re any good at it.” At the time, the context was around the rise of user-generated content during the digital news revolution, but that quote can be applied here as well. If you’re passionate about something and you want to do it, to have it as a part of your life, you don’t need it to be your job. Want to write more? Create a blog in your spare time and start there. Always wanted to be a computer programmer? There are free courses and resources online that can teach you the basics. You have the power, especially in this day and age, to make a meaningful change in your life and to hopefully fill your day doing things you want to do. Volunteer on projects covering issues you are passionate about or maybe do some part time work or get work experience in a field you would like to work in.

When it comes to achieving your goals, you can’t just set an end point and say “Yup, that’s where I need to be.” That’s just going to end in frustration, not success. Humans need a feeling of progression. What you need to do, in order to be more successful, is to set yourself smaller, more achievable goals that will work towards your final target. Consistently hitting smaller targets is easier than waiting a huge amount of time to hit one huge target.

Don’t wait either. Why do tomorrow what you can do today. You want to make a change and be more successful. You want to go to bed, as Dylan would say, having done what you wanted to do. So postponing until tomorrow is almost an admission of defeat; you don’t really want that opportunity, if you did you’d be organising it right now. Right? Remember, start small. Do some research, find out who to contact, what you need to, find which days you have some spare time on and work from there.

Seeing as it’s National Poetry Day, I thought I would end on this poem from Emily Dickinson which suggests that in order to understand true success, you need to have also experienced failure so you can understand the difference.

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory

As he defeated–dying–
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

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