by Rebecca O'Dwyer
I was talking to a gentleman at a party on the weekend who has just retired from a 35 year stint in a government agency. He worked his way up the ranks and, when I asked him if he enjoyed his job, he replied ‘I did to begin with but, by the time I left, it had become stressful, and totally unsatisfying.’ When probed, he explained that he had become bored with the repetitive nature of the role and that new projects just didn’t hold any interest for him as they once used to. My Father was party to the conversation, a retired farmer who left school at 15 to join the family business and officially retires this week – aged 72.
I shared with our new friend, light-heartedly, that I enjoyed variety in my working life and had already had a number of different careers, and I was still in my fourth decade! My Father was so irritated, he literally couldn’t stand there and listen to me sharing an overview of my chequered work history to date, and walked away from the discussion – but not before showing me his anger and judgement.
The rate I changed jobs was a standing joke at my Parents dinner parties when I was in my early twenties, and they still constantly tell me about their friends children and how successful they are. “So and so’s daughter is a real high-flyer, you know, she has just been flown to America with her job, first class, all expenses paid . . . John and Jane’s children are ALL successful . . . .” followed by a lengthy session of them trying to remember their exact job titles and which corporate giant they work for. In fact, they had been doing this in the car on the way to the party that night, but the episode with Dad later in the evening was totally different. I have never before seen so clearly how ashamed he is of my seeming inability to hold down a professional job.
It seems we are born with a desire to please our parents. As young children, if we displease them and they reject us from the family it becomes a life and death situation because we rely on them for our every need – we are hard-wired for survival. This fear of disappointing our parents can continue into adulthood.
This particular experience left me wondering what defines success and if it can be a case of generational and cultural difference.
When my Father grew up, success was partly defined by your commitment to stay in a job, and it was expected that you would choose a vocation and stay in this role, preferably with the same company, for your entire working life. This, in addition to remaining solvent and owning your own home, seemed to form the main part of being successful. If you were a very high earner, or had an impressive job title, you were VERY successful.
I haven’t even come close to fulfilling his criteria but, interestingly, I actually feel very successful. I am entrepreneurial and earn my living from a few different income sources; I really enjoy everything that I do and feel that my work is of benefit in our world; I feel very abundant in all areas of my life even though others may not be impressed by my home or the car I drive; I married a man I love fiercely and we have a great relationship; and, I have a wonderful group of supportive friends around me.
I also feel that all the different jobs I’ve had and everything I have learnt over the years has made me the person I am today – there are no mistakes. I didn’t fail in any of my careers, I simply moved on to something that suited me better, because life is a journey of discovery.
It seems to me that there are many different definitions for ‘success’ and the important thing is that we define it for ourselves and live by that. What do you want from your life? How does success look and feel for YOU? Get really clear that your desires are actually yours, rather than goals that your parents wanted for you, because otherwise you may just try all your life to achieve their version of success and find that it leaves you cold . . . . .