What is success? I was having this discussion with someone at work recently and we had completely conflicting views on it. He is a young, keen, obviously very ambitious young man, and sees the word success in very simple terms. It is going up the ladder, winning the race. If he doesn’t become a finance director and earn as much as his father (A finance director) then he will be sorely disappointed.
There is nothing wrong with this, in fact I was very much the same at his age. My father was a successful director, he retired early on an excellent pension and is enjoying his life more than ever. But I am not him.
In the modern corporate world we live in it’s very easy to have a “he who dies with the most toys wins” attitude I think. Especially when you are young and moderately successful. I was a taxation consultant in my 20’s for one of the 3 biggest accountancy firms in the world. I passed my exams, got pay rises, and helped very rich people get very much richer. I don’t have a problem with that, it’s a legitimate job within the law and those who can take advantage of it should have no moral qualms, neither should those who help them. Although to round out that feeling, I do think that those who are rich enough to arrange their affairs to pay less tax should also choose to philanthropise in some way to share a bit of their success. Politics over….
The thing is, I slowly became less and less fulfilled. As I rose through the ranks, I actually became less happy. Why? I think that looking back there are two main reasons. One is the simple stress of the job. When you are dealing with millions of pounds of someone elses money there is a lot of pressure on your to get it right. Fighting the Inland Revenue is also quite stressful, you need to really know your stuff and be able to quote legislation as if it was your scripture of choice. Long hours and constant brain drain take their toll. The other thing was the people. It’s a hard thing to explain, but I realised that I didn’t want to become the sort of person that you need to be in order to be successful in that world. Ruthless. Money-centric. Grey. Bland. As I grew up a bit (As us males tend to do towards the end of their 20’s) I came to realise that none of these things are something that I wont to work towards, even if they come with substantial monetary reward.
As it happened, I had the decision made for me, in the wake of 9/11 I was made redundant along with about 100 others in the UK. This gave me the time to think and to realise that I really wasn’t happy. I was very depressed and ended up moving back in with my parents for a while, and whilst there I started a new job at the bottom of the ladder, processing orders for a telecoms firm. I loved it. Suddenly I felt free. I was earning about half what I was before, but I was starting down the right path. I found that with the lack of stress and pressure my depression improved. I made friends, all of whom seemed much the same, happy and carefree and enjoying life.
So to get back to the original point, success has a completely different meaning for me now. Success is navigating life. Success is being involved in life. Success is being a good step-father and partner. Success is doing a good job at work without constantly thinking of where I should be going next. Success is writing several times a week, either here or just for my own pleasure. Success is knowing people read and enjoy my poetry, whether they pay for it through my getting published, or not it doesn’t matter.
Success is life, lived.