That’s a loaded question for three simple words, right?
The only way to get started is to come up with a definition of success. A couple of days ago, Joe from Retire by 40, asked, “What Does Success Mean to You?”
That question indirectly leads us to a definition of success. You are going to have to create a definition for yourself. Maybe you must be a banker to be fulfilled in life. While that may work for a sitcom, chances are your definition of success is much deeper.
Is Money the Measure of Success?
This is a blog about money… it’s in the name. And most discussions of success are going to lead back to money. After all, in the impeccable wisdom of Liz Phair:
It’s nice to be liked
But it’s better by far to get paid
I know that most of the friends that I have
Don’t really see it that way
But if you can give ’em each one wish
How much do you want to bet?
They’d which success for themselves and their friends
And that would include lots of money
I would surely include lots of money
You’ve got to have sh**loads of M-O-N-E-why, money
As you might be able to tell, Ms. Phair values money as a great sign of success. However, I think we can agree that it isn’t the only sign of success.
Most people would consider Saint Teresa of Calcutta as very successful, but money wasn’t a part of that success. Additionally, we have all heard the stories of lottery winners who have been unhappy. Joe made the great point that the richest person in the world failed at marriage.
Joe did what I would have done. He made a spreadsheet of the qualities that he considered important to success. Hopefully he doesn’t mind that I share it here, because it makes it easier to see where I’m going with this:
In his article, Joe then goes through each one and gives a little explanation about why it’s important and why he gave it the score he did. He chose to score each of them equally on a scale of 1 to 10 and average them out.
I (obviously) loved the idea or I wouldn’t be writing about it today. However, I thought I could make a couple of improvements. I love to tinker, especially with spreadsheets.
The first thing I did was take notice that some things are related. Joe has money, material things, and experiences all listed. If money is high (which it is for him) he can trade some for material things. The reason he doesn’t is that he doesn’t value a lot of material things as high as he does his freedom, another item on his list.*
I’ve started to do some mind mapping recently and I’d group some of these related items together. There’s a Four Burners Theory that says you have to split your efforts across family, friends, work, and health. It’s almost impossible for everyone to have enough gas to have all of them on full power.
blatantly steal borrow Joe’s list and put the items in some categories. It’s not perfect, because I’d rather get your thoughts on this draft and evolve it. (That’s a hint to please leave a comment.) I also decided to allot 100 points among all the categories. The categories with more points are more important to me.
For example, Ebenezer Scrooge might have 90 points in the money category… and he might award himself an 85 for his success in getting money. In this system, he will have likely rated himself a great success. Saint Teresa would likely have put most her points in the philanthropy and spirituality categories and rate herself as a great success.
Here’s what mine looks like:
The first thing you might notice is that my 1 to 100 scale only goes to 70. That’s because I’ve reserved the last 30 points for relationships, family and friends. I’ve decided to keep those private.
One important thing to keep in mind is that the numbers are very subjective. I just went with my gut and quickly filled up a 100 possible points. Then I spent 30 seconds thinking about whether I valued one thing more or less. In fact, I did this so quickly that just before publishing, I realized that I left health completely out of the spreadsheet. (It would have been an average 50% score.)
In the future, I may value material things less, but I bumped it up to an even number so that I could give myself half the points. In hindsight, the overall money category is worth the same amount as relationships (30 points), which needs some adjusting in a future draft.
Lazy Man’s Success Breakdown
We have a very nice house and some nice things. However, I’m inherently frugal. I don’t mind Dollar Tree utensils for cooking. I’m very happy to wear an old Patriots sweatshirt from 1993 most of the time. We do have a fancy OLED TV and a luxury SUV. We also have a futon from Wal-Mart and our bedroom furniture is what I got after graduating college.
We have plenty of good experiences which includes our trips to Aruba and Disney World. We live on an island that is 5 minutes from the beach. Our kids get (mostly) the best education money can buy.
We are doing well with our finances. I hope to update this old article this summer, but we should have $200,000 a year in retirement income after my wife’s pension, rental properties, investments, social security, and some hobbies that make money.
Joe included his engineering career and his blogging career. I’ll do the same and throw in my dog sitting career. I wasn’t the best software engineer, but I had some big accomplishments I can be proud of. In 13 years of blogging, I’ve managed 12 million page views and have been nominated for a Lifetime Achievement Plutus Award. I haven’t been featured in Rockstar Finance and I am still Susan Lucci/Ash Ketchum when it comes to winning a Plutus Award.
This is life on the blogger roller coaster.
I didn’t know what to call this category of fame, power, and legacy, so “others’ view” was my best attempt. I don’t care to much for fame and only a little bit about power. I care more about legacy.
I rated myself highly on legacy for things that have mostly flown under the radar. They are the things that show up in the 12 million page views and that Lifetime Achievement nomination. I’d like to write more about this someday, but I’m a little humble. Also, I don’t want it to trigger too much fame.
I gave myself a 3 of 5 when it comes to philanthropy. Some would look at money that I’ve donated and say that 3 is generous. However, I’ve devoted thousands of hours to helping people not get tied up into pyramid schemes and other scams.
I need to work on spirituality. It should be a larger in both possible points and awarded points.
I was perhaps generous in giving myself a 6 in contentment. It’s something that I actively have to work on.
Finally, I gave myself a freedom score of 6 of 8. Maybe freedom should have more possible points, but it shares some of the Money’s points. The score of 6 is based on our financial situation and ability to work from home in a variety of different ways. It’s not going to be perfect because it’s not like we can just pick up and go to France on a moment’s notice. It’s hard to be truly free when you are raising a 5 and 6 year old.
So I scored 45 of the 70 points. That’s nearly 65%… a solid D grade. Part of the reason it isn’t higher is that I didn’t believe in giving myself a perfect score, as there’s always someone else doing it better. So realistically it is 45 of 59 (I did give myself perfect fame) which is more of a C.
If I go buy a few nice things, win a Plutus award, and meditate my way to higher contentment, I should be able to pull of a solid B.
Now I’m off to go look at my old, very popular how to be successful article and see how I can make it better.
* I may be projecting my thoughts about Joe, but it’s my interpretation after reading his blog for a long time. While I could be wrong, we can still move on as if it were true for the purposes of the exercise.