Defining Success

Recently I wrote a very short blog about our Dancing for the Arts show back in November.  By all accounts it was a huge success, you may read the entire newspaper article here.  We are already planning for season 2 and looking forward to the next challenge.  Noelle Rhodes Scott, Arts Council president and CEO stated, “It exceeded our expectations on all levels. People came together to perform, to organize and to be part of the audience. I think we were all surprised at what a fun, entertaining and big event it was – community at its finest.”

It may seem strange that I titled this post as “Defining Success”, because according to the DFTA participants, organizers, dancers and audience, we put out a product that ‘exceeded expectations’. This week I was reminded of how relative some things can be, depending on the perception of different individuals.  I was fortunate to have two very different conversations on this topic with two separate groups of people.  Both conversations happened on the same day, and within hours of each other.  Both groups know that I worked for a bank for 26 years, taking a chance to pursue my dream of being a full-time studio owner and professional dancer.

The first group of people were corporate lifers.  These are people who never plan on doing anything other than working in a mid-sized to very large corporate entity.  I was visiting with a friend at my previous place of employment.  I had not seen him physically in over a year, though we do talk quite a bit by phone.  We had decided to have lunch at his work site, which has a little cafeteria.  As we sat catching up, we saw other people who I use to work with and they dropped by to say hello and see how I had been doing.

One particular group that dropped by to say hello contained several department heads.  They inquired, in a rather joking manner, if I was having much success in my new endeavor.  I summarized some of my accomplishments for them including the DFTA show.  Most were not very impressed, but this did not really surprise me.  One asked me about the number of employees that we had and was surprised to discover that I handled much of the work load personally.  They asked if I was planning to franchise, and I replied that it was not in my immediate business plan.  If I had asked this group if they would consider me successful, I am positive they would have stated a resounding “no”.  One has to realize that their understanding of the word “success” is related to how much power they are able to wield and maintain, money they can claim to make and influence they have within a large corporation.

The second group of people were small business owners.  Though they operate in the Insurance industry, I would consider them to be peers due to our company sizes being about the same.  After visiting with my friend at the bank, I had dropped by my Insurance agent’s office to renew my policy for the New Year.  As we stood chatting, one of her agents dropped in and started exclaiming my celebrity status, saying she did not know I had videos on YouTube.  She had discovered them while looking up some information on me.  She was very excited about this and had been watching them over the last few days.  I told her about the DFTA show, giving the same summarized details provided to the first group.  She immediately wanted to buy a DVD of the show so she could show her family and friends and talked about coming out to some of our events this next year.  One has to realize that her understanding of the word “success” is related to unexpectedly seeing a viral video of someone you know, my company having high Google search result matches and she realizing that I am using my talents to the betterment of myself and my community.

I would like to wrap up by asking a very simple question:  How do you define success?  Some define it in a similar way that you do.  Others may define it in an entirely different way.  The key thing to realize is that just because someone else defines it differently does not mean your success is not valid.  Never let someone else define success for you.

Feel free to leave your comments below.

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