Is Your View of Success Wide Enough?


If you had asked me about my life goals as a teenager, I would’ve said two things: coach Little League and play golf. If I was honest, all I wanted to do was afford a country club membership when I was older. And, by older, I meant around 36 or 37. Besides avoiding the stress of striving for a big achievement and making my parents proud of me, I chose to pursue a career in finance because I was pretty confident that it was a sure path to getting my own locker near the Men’s Grille. Unfortunately for my dreams, I got off the finance track before I graduated from college and pursued a career in the human impact sector. 

It would’ve really helped if I had known that research shows that people who focus on their own success feel more anxious and depressed and experience less life satisfaction

(Perhaps you ought to read that again.) 

Said differently, people who spend their mental energy reflecting on and examining their success (especially compared to their peers) experience less gratitude, joy, and quality of life. 

Ironically, those people will probably win on some level. They will probably have more external rewards—higher grades, income, and credentials. But, they’re more likely to suffer from internal rewards—connection, life satisfaction, and purpose. 

  • Students with an extrinsic value system will achieve more but also learn less.
  • Employees pursuing material rewards will work longer hours but experience more burnout and less job satisfaction. (Tim Kasser, Materialistic Values and Goals, 2015)

Quick caveat: it’s too easy to blame social media. Our kids get their dashboard for success primarily at home. 

Out in the world, whether it’s at school or on social media, the primary message communicated through those environments prioritizes external, materialistic values: “Get more, earn more, accomplish more—and then you will be satisfied.” It’s a tale as old as time. However, kids need to know they matter beyond their success stats, and parents need to level-set their kids' understanding of success. 

What do you find yourself asking about and focusing on when you talk to your kids?

  1. Their grades, athletic performance, or dance/music competitions.
  2. Their personal interests, curiosities, and friendships.

Now, more importantly, what would your kids say?

25% of college-aged kids “feel like their parents love them more when they are successful, and no matter how high they reached, the bar would just get higher. It was never enough.” (Jennifer Wallace, Never Enough, 2019)

So here’s the question: Is your definition of success wide enough to include the intrinsics? I bet it is, or else you wouldn’t read anything I write.

But have your kids picked up on that? Have you unintentionally over- or under-indexed communicating your intrinsic values to them—not just in words but also in your actions and priorities?

  1. My advice (to myself) is this: don’t wait until they ask me about my values system. Tell them. Assume they said this out loud: “Mom/Dad, why do you do what you do? What’s most important to you and to our family?” And then start talking. 
  2. Secondly, intentionally celebrate the intrinsics more often. Ask them questions about their interests and make extra effort to make small talk with their friends. 

You know there’s more to life than achievement, accolades, and backyard renovations. But you’ve learned that through trial and error. Your kids need to learn it from you—early and often. 

P.S. I’m not quite at the Country Club membership level yet (almost 44), but I’ve coached more teams than I can count and have memories with my kids forever. Now I know it’s a zero-sum game: either play golf on the weekends or coach my kid’s teams. I can’t do both. 


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For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.  

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