Defining Success: What is Your Motivation?

What is success? Is it a state of achieving a large enough number, in terms of annual income, to prompt friends and acquaintances to say, “wow, you’re really successful.” Is it owning the nicest car, the nicest house, or earning the most pretentious title on your business card?

Often times, in today’s world, it would seem that the answer to the above questions would be a simple “yes.” In contemporary times, it seems that the metrics utilized by society to judge the attainment of that ever so elusive concept of success seem to be objective: income levels, house and/or vehicle size, quality or cost, etc. When was the last time you heard someone say, “wow, that person is really successful-they smile more than anyone I know.”

Chances are, the smiling individual, if lacking expensive objective measures of success, would be viewed as nothing more than a happy idiot by those who do not lack those objective measures (possessions, titles, incomes, etc.).

But why isn’t happiness the ultimate measure of success? Is there anything more valuable than enjoying what you do with your day? Is there anything more important than being happy? Is there anything worse than dreading the day ahead, no matter how much money you will make during that day? Isn’t happiness what all those fancy possessions and titles are intended to facilitate in the first place? After all, what good does a fancy car do if its only function is to drive you to a job that you hate everyday? What good is that pretentious title on your business card if its only function is to pay for the car that drives you to the job that you hate and the nice house that you never see because you are always working?

Almost three years ago, I left a “successful” career in commercial real estate at home in California in order to take a month-long surf trip in Indonesia. That one-month was so good that it turned into two, then three, then four, until I simply decided that I wasn’t ready to come back. After two years of wandering around the world and surfing the world’s best waves, and funding it anyway that I could along the way-with freelance writing, construction work, farm work, wine sales, or whatever else I could do to earn a buck-I finally did return.

In general, old colleague’s applauded the unplanned sabbatical. They said things like “I’ve always wanted to do something like that,” or “I’ve always wished that I could do what you did, Evan.” However, when it came to interviewing for jobs upon my return, the idea of taking time off from a career in order to focus on happiness for a while made absolutely no sense to people.

“Why would you leave?” was a typical first interview question.

To which, I would answer, “I had what I viewed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go see the world, so I took it.”

“But why would you leave for so long?” was practically the uniform response, as if any trip lasting more than the allotted vacation time given by one’s employer is simply incomprehensible to career-driven individuals.

“Well, I was gone for so long because I had the opportunity to experience other cultures by living in the midst of them, pursue my passion of surfing amongst the world’s best waves, learn, grow as a person, and pretty much decimate my bucket list in the process.”

This is when blank stares and awkward silence would punctuate the conversation and a mystical, career-minded, circular logic would lead the interviewer to ask, “But why did you leave?”

“Well, I’ve always dreamed of surfing places like G-land, Jeffery’s Bay, Desert Point, and Western Australia since I was a kid. I had the opportunity to do that, plus a million other things I never even thought to dream of as I lived and traveled in those places.”

“But why did you leave?”

That mindset, which I have encountered over and over again, still perplexes me to no end. However, if you are reading this, you obviously are aware of something that is very important: the true definition of success. You are investigating a career in the surf industry because you love surfing, and you hope to make a living that is connected to that love. You are investigating a career in surfing because you understand that happiness is the most important thing in life. Giant houses, fancy titles on your business card, and pretentious cars obviously aren’t driving your career search, otherwise you would have signed up for the Wall Street Careers newsletter. You are looking to find a place where your passion is understood amongst your colleagues, and that sounds remarkably like a very big first step towards success.

Posted by: Evan Morgan, on April 8, 2014
Categories: Articles