We all have metrics for personal success.
These are metrics we develop internally over time, and in most cases they’re predicated on what our society values: money, happiness, family, accomplishment, etc.
One of my prime metrics, gleaned from my parents and other influences I’ve been exposed to over the years, revolves around treating people well and leaving places and individuals better than I found them. Another of mine, which I find to be quite common in people who are drawn to entrepreneurship, is the desire to create valuable things.
Frequently tethered to that latter drive is the desire to profit from the value that one creates, which makes sense. The economic system most people around the world have been born into takes for granted that the creation of value should be rewarded, because we’re all better off when there’s more of it in the world. Unless there’s some major change in the way things operate (which is possible, at some point), this seems like a legitimate tit-for-tat.
That said, the pursuit of this metric, that of the value-creator, is a somewhat treacherous one. Not because it’s inherently negative in any way, but because the drive to create can become conflated with the drive to profit.
Take a poll of entrepreneurs around the world, and I’m willing to bet that at least half of them are in it for the money and prestige, not for the thrill of creation. This isn’t a value-judgement — to each their own — but it’s worth noting. We’re all responsible for cultivating lifestyles that suit our needs, and if money and professional respect are truly what will make a person happy, then more power to them.
That’s actually where I was at, mentally, for many years: on a path toward profit. This was before I realized that more digits in my bank account didn’t actually fill me with anything that could be mistaken for happiness. Satisfaction of a job well done, sometimes, and maybe a certain gratification that I could afford the luxuries that had once been out of reach. But happiness was still something I was convinced I would find after the next project completed, after the next networking event, after the next big check deposited.
I pushed away from that and started traveling full-time, not because I was sure that I would find anything different out in the world, but because I was pretty sure I would at least gain a different perspective on things. The life I was living wasn’t bad, it wasn’t even mediocre, but it was predictable. Secure. I found, a little more each day, that I knew what was coming next. I was able to see what lurked behind every corner and I knew where I would stand next year, in five years, in ten.
Even a beautiful view can lose its luster when you realize you’ll be looking at it every day for the rest of your life.
My metrics have changed wildly in the interim. Many of them I’m still struggling to accurately quantify, or even describe.
The main metric I’ve been focusing on for about a year now can be roughly described as the “That seems interesting, let’s try it” metric. To achieve success according to this measurement, I take action any time I learn or discover something interesting, pursuing further information about it, reading a book or watching a documentary, maybe learning some skills associated with it. There are many subsets of human knowledge that I’ve been curious about for ages, and I’m determined to pull those from the shelf, dust them off, and see what they’re all about.
Like most gauges of success, this one doesn’t have an end point; no final goals that can be completed. It’s a journey without a destination, which is kind of wonderful, because that means it can’t ever end. It will no doubt fork into many other paths along the way, and its up to me to choose how long to walk this one, and when to step off onto another that leads in another direction I want to explore.
The things we do are often only as good as the things we hope to accomplish by doing them.
Make sure the metrics you’re using to measure your actions are well-aligned with your priorities, beliefs, and ambitions.
This essay was originally published in my newsletter.