Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What is Success?

I gave a talk last week to the Delaware ILEAD group (I'll be posting that talk next week - probably) and part of my talk was about how to be successful. I only had an hour to talk, so I couldn't expound at length on what I mean by "successful." But that's what a blog is for, right?

My thoughts on this are kind of messy, due in part to the fact that external success doesn't always lead to feeling successful. For now, the best way to explain how I think of success is to share that clip from City Slickers. Each person, each project, really needs a separate definition of success. The important part is to think long and hard about why you're doing a thing so you'll know what success looks like.
I think the hardest thing for most people is that they think their success has to look like other people's successes. Sometimes they will, like earning a graduate degree or finding a parking space near the door. For others, it will be highly individualized. I knew my graphic novel collection at a former workplace was successful when I saw senior faculty members, and even emeritus faculty, checking those books out. I knew that this blog was successful when I started seeing library science graduate programs in the Traffic Sources section of my blog stats.

A particularly tricky part of defining success is that people tend to get frustrated when it doesn't happen immediately. I've had twelve years since getting my MLIS to transform small career successes into bigger ones. I've had 2.5 years of being a library director with small successes leading to bigger ones. This process of watching my small successes turn into larger successes is so important to me, and so central to keeping myself motivated, that I've made it a part of my workflow. I regularly document all of my small successes and map them onto larger successes (and I have it in my Google Drive so I have immediate access to it no matter where I am).

There's also the fact that success has an internal measure. We are all so busy comparing ourselves to others. Even if those other people have very similar circumstances to ours, we can't know everything that goes into another project. Timing and people's moods and the small breeze from a butterfly's wings in Bangladesh can all make a difference. Or, in the words of one of my writing partners, "The fleeting and contingent recognition of success is not an accurate representation of the awesome [stuff] your readers are accomplishing."

Finally, and this cannot be stated enough, there's always a little bit of luck involved in success - especially the big flashy successes that get both external recognition and give you an internal sense of accomplishment. This blog, my other publications, my conference presentations, and even my job title all get high marks for recognition and accomplishment. They are also, all, a result of being in the right place at the right time.*

So, how do you define success? Have I made you think differently about it?

*Your mileage may vary, especially when one takes privilege or lack thereof into account.

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