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Are you Successful?

5 June 2013

± minute read

    Are you Successful?
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I mean really successful? What does it mean? How do you define success and how do you measure it? Is succeeding the same as winning? Success at the dawn of time probably meant survival, but times have changed and so have people. Generational differences mean people value different things, which impacts how they define success and what motivates them.

“Managing multigenerational workforces is an art in itself. Young workers want to make a quick impact, the middle generation needs to believe in the mission, and older employees don’t like ambivalence. Your move.”

(McNulty, 2006)

The following table is an excerpt from a larger study of the difference between generations. I’ve focused on two areas namely the ‘attainment of success’ and ‘career success’ as two enlightening differentiators between the generations. Success Now some might say that this ‘generational stuff’ is just socially acceptable stereotyping… a politically correct rationale offered for immature behaviour; others may see the differences as real, but linked more to life phases than generations. Whatever your viewpoint, it is useful to be mindful of the different ideas about success and how these impact the work environment. When thinking on success, we often refer to sports, perhaps because it is the quintessential field of competition, of clear and immediate winning and losing. But is it always that clear? Extremely successful people, at the height of their careers, have fallen very far, very hard, and very publically. We need only look to the press for examples: Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Hansie Cronje. This list, unfortunately, is not exhaustive. Are these just examples of men with poor judgement, missing that integrity which is so often talked about? Were they ever truly successful – does cheating take it all away? Joseph Heller, in Playboy magazine in 1975 said "Success and failure are both difficult to endure. Along with success come drugs, divorce, fornication, bullying, travel, meditation, medication, depression, neurosis and suicide. With failure comes failure." With humour people often say ‘He who dies with the most toys wins’, but Andrew Carnegie always said ‘The man who dies rich, dies disgraced’. Carnegie amassed a fortune, and then gave it away. He preached the obligation of the wealthy to return their money to the societies where they made it. I think part of success is being truly content with what you have, and not always striving to accumulate more wealth or assets. Sometimes enough must be enough. According to Daniel Kahneman: “Money can't buy happiness -- but lack of it can certainly make you progressively miserable” (Kahneman, 2010). His research has shown that below an income of $60,000 a year, for Americans, people are unhappy, and they get progressively unhappier the poorer they get. Above that, we get an absolutely flat line. So money does not buy you experiential happiness, but lack of money certainly buys you misery. He goes on to argue that experience is essentially divided into the "experiencing self" and the "remembering self," Kahnemen suggests that happiness is essentially an act of deftly balancing the two. It is a fascinating subject, but beyond the scope of this particular blog. John Wooden, affectionately known as Coach, led UCLA to record wins that are still unmatched in the world of basketball. Throughout his long life, he shared the values and life lessons he passed to his players, emphasizing success that’s about much more than winning. His well-known and well-loved definition of success was: "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming." He contended that “You can lose when you outscore somebody in a game. And you can win when you’re outscored.” He said that after every game you should be able to hold your head up high, that someone who doesn’t know the outcome of the game, should not be able to tell by your actions whom outscored whom. The score of a game should be the by-product and not an end in itself. In closing, I challenge you to rethink your own personal definition of success. It has the power to reframe how you see the world and your role in it – and may very well impact on your perceived level of ‘experienced’ and ‘remembered’ happiness, wellbeing and success. Kathy Knott is a Director at JvR Psychometrics. You can contact her at kathy@jvrafrica.co.za


1. Retrieved May 24, 2013, from http://www.wordwizard.com/phpbb3/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=14643 2. Retrieved May 24, 2013, from http://www.ted.com/speakers/john_wooden.html 3. Retrieved May 24, 2013, from http://www.un.org/staffdevelopment/pdf/Designing%20Recruitment, %20Selection%20&%20Talent%20Management%20Model%20tailored%20to%20meet%20UNJSPF's %20Business%20Development%20Needs.pdf 4. McNulty, Eric J. (2006) Can you manage different generations? Harvard Business School “Working Knowledge” Newsletter – April 17, 2006”. Retrieved May 24, 2013, from http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/5297.html 5. Merrill, Sam. (1993). Playboy Interview: Joseph Heller, June 1975. In Adam J. Sorkin (Ed.), Conversations with Joseph Heller (pp. 144, 146-148, 150, 152-153, 156-157, 159, 162-164, 166-167, 170, 172-176). Mississippi: University Press. 6. Nasaw, David (2007). Andrew Carnegie. Penguin. 7. Retrieved May 24, 2013 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/04/daniel-kahneman-nobel-pri_n_601236.html

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