Define Success

March 22, 2007

I am thinking about baseball again.  No surprise since it dominates our days in the spring. 

I recently had an interesting conversation with a colleague.  I explained that we were happily letting our son stay in the middle of the pack with baseball.  We opted out of special professional coaching even though our son shows some talent under his rough seven year old exterior.  He didn’t understand, really, he simply could not fathom we would encourage, in his words, for our child not to succeed.   We clearly do not see it that way.  Our son enjoys baseball, he plays enough to have a good time but not enough to feel overburdened.  He practices when he wants too, which is usually all spring before he moves on to golf in the summer and tossing the football in the fall.  By the end of the spring season he has had enough baseball.   He is done.   He is happy.  He may not be the best kid on the field but we don’t care, he is having fun.  When he wins we act like the Yankees took the World Series.  

Because he loves it so much, we have never had a problem getting him to meet his committment to team practices and games.  It is the extra practice beyond the 3 a week that I have qualms with.  Sure it would significantly improve his game but right now, playing with the neighborhood friends, practicing the piano, walking the dog, riding his bike and just hanging out significantly improve his life.

Does my colleague have a point?  Are we intentionally keeping our son second best?   If you define success and “the best” in typical American standards then I suppose the answer is yes.

Don’t get me wrong, we don’t actively push him into playing poorly.  We simply don’t strive to be “the best”.  We have a net in our back yard, we have a “swing trainer”.  We have a huge bag of balls and any time our son wants to play catch, hit balls or practice – we encourage him and help him.  We simply do not make baseball his or our life.

This conversation has been mulling in my mind for a few days because it clearly is about far more than baseball but more a metephore for life.

What does success mean?  The simple fact of the matter is that my colleague and I define success differently. My colleague is extremely competitive and he defines success in achieving the best you can and being the best you can at anything you do.   I define success in manner of happiness not in how much you achieve.  To me there is little difference in striving to be better and striving to own more stuff.   More is more, no matter what you are talking about, and we enjoy just being enough.  We don’t have to be the best.  What happens when you work and work and work to achieve the best or to be the best…. what then?  Is life richer because you know you can hit a baseball farther than any other kid?  Is life richer because you know more than anyone else?  If what you are doing is good enough and you are happy, what is the problem?   Is a sanitation worker less successful than an attorney?  What if the sanitation worker was happy and the attorney is not?  Who is successful then?

I don’t discourage working hard to do something well.  You should always do things well.  I simply challenge the notion of being the best to be successful. 

I work in a very personally competitive field.  It is a field of appearances, influence, and power.  It is no surprise that this same colleague (he really is a good friend) has often sent me information about new job openings that pay far more than my current position.  It baffles him why I remain.   I remain because money and the typical definition of success don’t mean anything to me.   I choose to stay in my position because it gives me the one thing that, to me, defines success – happiness.   I do challenging, interesting work.  I am able to work from home approximately 80% of my time and I work far fewer hours than most of my colleagues because my company cannot pay me more. 

I don’t argue with people like my colleague about why my way is better.  I don’t know if it is although recently studies have shown that Americans are the most unhappy people in the world despite our first nation status, despite our ability to buy anything we want whenever we want, and despite our “success”. 

I will continue to encourage my son to play well and most importantly – ENJOY playing when he is out on the baseball field and to keep baseball in perspective of life, remembering that there are other equally important enjoyments.  He has an out clause.  When he stops enjoying it, he can stop playing.  Until that time, I will avoid the coach when time to sign up for professional coaching sessions at the local baseball camp and stop telling my colleagues about my son’s baseball program. They already think I am weird, why make it any worse?  Fortunately, this particular colleague likes me well enough  – we are really good friends as well as colleagues – who just happen to have different life views…..and that is okay.

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