May 24, 2011

The Definition of Success

When I was younger, to me, the word success meant only two things: fame and money. I worked hard my whole life to get into a good school and subsequently, into a good job. After getting the good job (at a big consulting firm), I started working long, long hours. At first, it didn't bug me too much. After all, I was used to working long hours into the evenings and weekends at school. Plus I got paid for overtime work, so I was making a good amount of money. But then it hit me. I was feeling disconnected from my friends and family. My life was all about work. What was the point of it all?

And that's when I had my epiphany. Work-life balance. Yes, the Holy Grail of the workforce. Work-life balance, like any "balance" is hard. Harder still in a society that expects employees to work long hours and to always have work on their minds. Harder still when I was single. Everyone assumed that because I didn't have a boyfriend, that I obviously had nothing better to do with my free time. And so I rebelled and took back my life. I still worked hard, but I worked reasonable hours. When I had to put in extra time, it was on my terms, and not on my employer's terms. Of course, working at a company where employees jump when asked "How high?" made my actions seem downright rebellious, and of course, my career suffered somewhat.

I have since left the stressful consulting job and moved into "industry", working at a place which respects work-life balance and the little surprises that come along with having a family. That's not to say that it's easy all the time, but they are way more tolerant than my former employer ever was.

Yet, in past years, I was still unhappy. I was unhappy that at my age, when most of my peers seem to be managers, senior managers, or even directors, I sit here a "lowly" developer (I put that in quotes because there is nothing lowly about a developer). I would get so angry when I found out about former classmates/co-workers who kept getting promoted to higher ranks whereas I seemed to be...stuck. And poor hubby would suffer through my anger and frustrations.

Looking back at all of this, I know that I was being completely childish. What's more, I'm the one who brought my current "career situation" upon myself. We all know that the employees who give their heart and souls to a company ultimately get promoted. I wasn't willing to do that, so how could I expect to be rewarded for my seeming lack of devotion. And then there's the other thing: did I really want to be a manager, senior manager, or director of anything? Deep down inside, I know that management is probably not the right fit for me. Yet, I feel conflicted because in high school, I was the star student. I won all of the awards. I was expected to go to a good school. I was expected to get a good job. I was expected to do well in life. Except, there's one little wee thing thing that I forgot. Most of those people either don't remember me, or even if they do, don't give a crap, because they have their own lives to worry about. So why was I sitting there, sweating about what others expected of me?

As a result, I have recently changed my attitude and focused on getting fulfilment out of my job without necessarily worrying if I was going to eventually make it up the management ranks. I stopped caring about my peers in those high-up ranks, because I know that for a lot of them, they've had to sacrifice many many things to get to where they are. Things that I'm just not willing to sacrifice. If that makes me a loser in their eyes, then so be it. And it probably explains why we're not really friends.

And so, I sit here now, laughing at my initial definition of success from all of those years ago. Back in the day, I aspired to be a company CEO. I aspired to do my MBA (which is really funny, because I hate anything business-related and find MBAs to be useless degrees). It seems so very superficial when I think that I used to view success in terms of fame and fortune. Success is about your interactions with your close friends and family. Success is having the privilege to be a parent and raise my daughter, giving her the tools she needs to develop into a lovely young lady. Success is having PK want me and need me because I'm the only one who can make it better. Success is having a wonderful husband who, for whatever reason, still puts up with my crap and still loves me anyway (seriously - thank you). Success is having a true partner in crime in every way, who helps to raise PK and doesn't just stand on the sidelines. Success is being able to live where we want and give PK what she needs. Success is having friends around, near and far, who stick around even though they know about my quirks.

I may not be super-rich, and I may not have a top job, but you know what? I don't care.

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