When I wore a younger man's clothes, the term success had so much meaning and connotation -- at the time, it meant being a highly paid, regularly applauded and selling lots of CDs as a professional rock star. Success was being a successful rock star, lauded and adored -- critically acclaimed. All the hard work and practice, lugging in equipment, playing dirtball bars and clubs -- well, that was just part of the ladder climb. But, I was also realistic and made certain plan B existed in the unlikely event I didn't become the next Bon Jovi.
Well, try as I might, plan A had to be abandoned. I failed.
But plan B was coming along just fine. I was a young reporter in the Greater Cleveland market working my way up in the journalism field. In a very short time, early in my career, I had the distinct pleasure (and luck) of working in professional television, radio and print. I was striving, so hard for that success. I craved it, wanted a fancy BMW and a big house. This elusive concept of success was always just in front of me and I was hungry and eager – unfortunately, like in the music field I was lacking something even more important – talent. I was never the 6 p.m. anchor, I never had a hit radio program. By the time I became the actual editor of the newspaper, it was a small town paper – I most certainly was not Perry White. At the ripe old age of 26, I’m the editor of a community newspaper. I failed.
But, the work I had done with both the rock and roll band in promotions, combined with the work I had done in journalism catapulted me into a whole new career field – wholly unexpected and something I actually never even thought of doing – and it changed my life. Of course, I’m talking about public relations. So, I set out to be successful. I worked for a professional sports team, I worked for a Fortune 50 company, I worked for a large agency. A bigger house, I actually did have my BMW (cute little black 300 series). I was learning, honing, perfecting my skills and my understanding. The drive was always there, the talent was getting sharper and the entrepreneurial spirit was starting to burn deeply in my soul. It was time to hang my own shingle.
Scary. Exciting. Owning a small business, any small business, is wrought with pits and pendulums – holes you can fall in and time you can’t win back. And, after 15 years, and lots of stories and subplots, I failed. You see, I’m not the largest PR firm. I’m not a millionaire. I don’t have minions.
Then, it hit me.
I’m not a failure. My definition of success was all wrong. Playing in a rock and roll band was a lot of fun, the best times with friends, and the occasional adoring blonde fan. It was fun to play music and even make a few bucks at it – playing rock star was a blast and an experience I’ll never forget.
Being a successful news reporter and editor didn’t mean I had to work for the Daily Planet or win a Pulitzer. I truly enjoyed the work. I love to write and had the opportunity to interview some genuinely amazing people and cover some incredible places and things. I learned so much and it propelled me to the next chapter in my young career.
The initial PR “gigs” were wonderful. I traveled the country with a NASCAR team and worked with some of the largest names in both business and professional sports. The Fortune 50 company taught me everything I never want to do for a career and the agency gig taught me exactly the type of agency and leader I never wanted to work for or become.
I traded my thoughts of having a fancy car to having a nice car that was paid off. I traded my wants of a big fancy house with a nice house that is paid off. You see, I was simply a hamster on a wheel chasing success so I could pay bills – and I decided that wasn’t success, it was more like indentured servitude. I no longer looked at success at working 40+ hours in the office and another 20 outside of it each week.
Success is not worrying that the half million dollar house “you own” still has $450K to go and your 50 years old. Success is not proving how great an employee you are because you work late. Success has become very simple. Work hard. Do right by people. Do some amazing things and enjoy them for what they are. Set goals, but don’t let the goals run you, let them guide your happiness. Love what you do, and you’ll never work another day in your life as the saying goes. Success is enjoying a cigar in the backyard with a nice bourbon at 4 p.m. because you can. Success is watching the flowers you planted bloom. Success is time with family and friends.
On no one’s headstone will it read: “Here lies Bob. He worked really hard.”
We all need to take stock of how we determine success because we’re becoming a neurotic nation – less happy. Because that, my friends, is success. Success is being happy and having control of that happiness – which we all do. Success is fun when you let it be.
Redefine success. You’ll be glad you did.