Years ago I participated in some research on how women define success, and ever since I've been aware of how my views of what success is, seem to be shifting and changing. When I started getting asked "are you winning?" instead of "how's it going?" at work, it prompted me to think, properly, about how I'll know I'm winning.
Don't worry, I know that's not what my co-workers are really asking, but I've rolled all my thoughts up into one handy-dandy recording, below. And for those who said you'd rather read than listen, the transcript appears below (it's not verbatim, apparently I go off script a wee bit).
Comment below and let me know if you know what winning means for you.
I’ve noticed a trend at work recently – colleagues are asking one another “are you winning?” as a replacement for “how are you going?” or “how are you?”. The first time someone asked me this question, I was slightly thrown. Obviously, the social convention is to say something like “oh yeah, you know, busy busy!” but since I’ve been spending some time thinking about how we define success it was a little weird to hear.
How do you know you’re winning (should someone ask you that question and really want to know the answer)? Life is not a game, and so we all get to decide what constitutes a goal and what is a penalty – subject to some socially mandated parameters. And I don’t mean, society says much money is success, I mean, society says committing homicide is a penalty. Real absolutes, you guys, not relativities and inventions.
Some of us will never question ourselves on what we mean by winning – those people either know inherently, or they just don’t care. But for a chunk of humans in developed countries, this question is becoming more important and, I think, for younger people the idea of success is being redefined. Are you really winning if you have a serious job that brings you power and money, but you’re stressed and a real jerk to your family? I think very few people I know would define that as a win. With increasingly casual workplaces, we understand better than before what impact work is having on our colleagues’ lives, and so the glamour of the high powered job is somewhat eroded.
I’m in my 30s, which is a pretty critical phase in both my life and my career. It’s a good time to question my beliefs about what I want to achieve, and to develop a really clear idea of what a successful life will look like for me, so I have a clear path to follow. And so, I share with you my idea of what a winning life will look like for me.
It boils down to three themes: stability, relationships, engagement. I think if I can find the balance of those three things, I’ll be satisfied with how my life turned out.
Stability is really about security, but I prefer to say stability because it suggests a solid foundation instead of huge locked gates. Stability is about having enough money to eat well, to have somewhere safe and warm to live, to know that if something crops up for me or a loved one, I have it covered. It’s the antithesis of my uni days where I’d live off a dollar for a week and have nothing put away. It doesn’t mean owning a small mansion in a fancy suburb, or even owning a shiny new car. I don’t think a five bedroom house with sea views will make me any happier than my dollhouse apartment currently does (in fact, I bet that house has a garden and I am not about that gardening life). However, having a plan to have enough money to holiday abroad frequently once I’m retired does make me happy. Not having to worry about money, especially when I can no longer earn it, sounds like an A+ way to define winning. Stability is my baseline for success in that sphere.
Relationships is the most important part of my definition of winning. There’s no point in having financial stability if you’re sitting in that safe and warm home with nobody to talk to! Because I am currently unwed, a state of affairs that may continue indefinitely, and without child, a state of affairs that better continue indefinitely since I’m an unlikely candidate to be the next vessel of our Lord’s choosing, my existing family and my lovely friends are critical to making sure I have social times.
Obviously, though, there are relationships and then there are relationships. I think I’m winning when my relationships are honest, close and loving. I need friends (and I count family members in this group) who have matured, and who can disagree or constructively criticise and not have a falling out. I need friends who will ask questions when they see me to find out what’s up, because I really just want to talk about you. I go into a hedgehog-like denial ball when I’m really not okay, and I need friends who can read the room and work out that my rant about some dickhead is actually a rant about how tired and unhappy I am (and then point that out gently – denial ball, you guys). Friends with similar values to mine, who work hard and try to grow and want to be a positive influence, are the kinds of friends I value the most. Friends with babies are also highly important, so watch me as I make friends through the generations to ensure an ongoing supply of snuggles. Friends with kids who I’ve watched grow, and who in turn will become my friends, are amazing. Keep making me new friends, existing friends. It’s the best.
Finally, engagement. Ohhh my god I hate being bored. I don’t mind being not-busy – I love a good Sunday afternoon couch session with a book and a patch of sunshine – but I hate feeling underpowered. I’ve talked about this before, in my first recording about trying something new, and I think new things will be a feature of my entire life. I need something in the mix that keeps me really engaged, gives me an opportunity to meet new people and go to new places, and makes me think about new things (or old things in a new way). At the moment, this blog is the major part of that feature of my life, but with a casual 60 years to go, it’s entirely likely that it will shift and change. At work, learning how to be a great manager is the most interesting and engaging part of what I’m doing – not because the rest is boring, but because the people are so interesting. Plus, it’s fair to say I’m still on a learning curve with leadership, and of all the things I do I think it’s the one that has the most capacity to teach me new interesting things and to challenge me, for the longest time.
So, that’s me, figuring out what I think will really matter to me in 10, 20 or 60 years. In fact, it’s all stuff I have now, so I guess the answer to that question is yes, I am winning. And I love that I know that now – that regardless of how shit a particular day might be, or how horribly someone might behave, ultimately I have the things I care about, and I have the tools I need to keep them and grow them. Plus, let’s be real, the pressure’s really off on the “buy a mini mansion” front, which is great news while the housing market is so spicy.
How about you? Have you stopped to take stock and figure out if you’re winning, and if you have, how do you measure success? I’d love to know, so join me in the comments.