11 November 2008

Personal vs. professional success

Though these don't have to be mutually exclusive victories, it does seem that one tends to dominate (and not necessarily by choice). I guess time forces us to prioritize. It's like time and money, where people tend to have one or the other but not usually both. How much money is enough? How much time does one need in order to enjoy said amount of money? What constitutes personal success? Professional success? What does 'success' mean to you? How will you know you've achieved it?

Curious to see what Professor Internet would say, I googled it. There was a lot of mushy and expensive self-help stuff to wade through, but there were also some interesting pieces. Here is The Hindu's advice. Another article referred to Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs, which seems to provide a good starting place.
When you work with college students, this is always a helpful reminder for balance. Exercise and sleep are always the first to go when students get busy, and when you're young, it's easy to not notice the effects of an all-nighter (or two or three) for a while. You may think you've got it all under control, but your friends notice you become unusually cranky. (Cough, cough. Not that I was guilty of this. Cough, cough.)
This chart also reminds me of my correctional facility students. When I proposed community service, their initial reaction was expletive, expletive, when did anyone ever help me out, why should I do anything for anyone else, etc. Given most of their family stories, I could definitely see why they felt bitter. They hadn't had many of their basic needs met; why help others? It's like the oxygen masks on a plane: you're supposed to put yours on first, because if you pass out, you surely won't be of any use to anyone else.
On the other hand, community service could be just the thing many of the incarcerated teens needed to get a little perspective. Many felt, even as seventeen-year-olds, that it was 'too late' for them-- but for the kids, all right. (They were no longer kids, they felt, because of what they'd been through.) We created the Community Peace Project, in which they brainstormed for ideas that would really help their neighborhoods and then sent these letters to the media and government officials. Of the 40+ letters we sent, three wrote back. But I still considered it a success because, for a brief moment, they were all excited, open and hopeful.
I guess my lesson learned today was that even thinking about the difference between personal and professional success is a luxury. And maybe if we give everyone their basic needs, people will want to be altruistic in order for their lives to have meaning. Or at least, if people get to fulfill their potential as a (insert dream vocation), we all benefit.
I was very ambitious when I was younger, and I've mellowed with age. Now, my idea of success is simply raising a good family and enjoying time with them. If I get to be a bestselling author and award-winning screenwriter, terrific. If not, and I become a full-time mom or go back to teaching, I'm okay with that, too. I'm learning to go with the flow more often now-- do your best work, put it out there, hope people like it and let go. I've decided what matters most to me are people, especially the people I love, so if I had to choose, I'd tell my twenty-year-old self yammering on about professional success to stuff it and take personal success, which I define as a loving, productive family.

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