Over the last year or so, I've found myself becoming increasingly interested in understanding what drives people to do the things that they do. From my friends, to my colleagues, to leaders in business, and professional athletes. I find myself fascinated by people's motivations.
And if you understand what motivates people, you ought to have a reasonable understanding of how they define success. In gaining an understanding of the different ways people define success, I've drawn two major conclusions:
- Society at large pushes an image of success that is destructive in nature
- The post-financial crisis generation has a much different idea of success than the generations before it
Here's what led me to believe this...
I think we can all agree that money plays a role in success, especially here on WSO. Let's face it, you don't pursue a career in finance if money doesn't matter to you. And money absolutely should factor into any equation used to define success. What disturbs me is that society at large pushes far too simple of an equation: Money = Success
Now, this may not be groundbreaking stuff. We're all well aware of how materialistic modern America is. We know just asdid, that advertisers "push cars and clothes" and "have us working jobs we hate, to buy shit we don't need."
But, I think the problem is deeper. I think that society at large has grown to worship wealth.
I find, too often, that people will vast amounts of wealth are assumed to be more successful than anyone else. That those who accumulate vast amounts of wealth are most qualified to be in leadership positions simply because they are highly skilled at making money, regardless of how they did it.
Listen to the rhetoric used by talking heads on TV and the radio - the fabled "Job Creator" is held above all others as a great beacon of hope for society. Mitt Romney is on record stating that he'd fill his White House cabinet with "more successful CEO types" if elected.
Now, to be clear, I don't begrudge anyone their wealth. Assuming they didn't do anything illegal or seriously unethical to get it, I celebrate those who are monetarily successful. What I take issue with is how quick people seem to make the leap that someone who makes a lot of money must be more qualified to lead or innately smarter than everyone else. Counter-intuitively, this attitude seems to have ratcheted up big time since the crisis hit.
In my view, this mindset cheapens the achievements of countless other people. I can guarantee that the scientists at CERN who found the Higgs Boson are not wealthy people. Yet, their discovery may play out as one of the biggest in the history of physics. On a smaller scale, there are scientists and engineers and teachers and a whole assortment of people who work hard and do great things in their chosen field of work.
This brings me to my second point - the post-financial crisis generation judges success far differently than the generations before it.
In speaking with my friends and colleagues, it is clear that they measure success differently. What they value is not the accumulation of wealth alone. What they really value is freedom. This means freedom from debt. It means freedom to pursue opportunities that most interest them as opposed to opportunities that they must pursue out of necessity.
We have seen first-hand how a singular focus on accumulating wealth can lead to disaster. How quickly it can be taken away by things completely out of your control. We've all worked under senior folks who make big money but can never leave their jobs because of their myriad financial obligations. Beach houses, private schools for their kids, their spouse's expensive shopping habit...To again reference one of my favorite movies, the things that they own ended up owning them.
I personally have seen my motivations change in the years since the crisis struck. Would I still like to make a bunch of money? Of course. Is it my sole focus? Absolutely not. If anything, I hope to accumulate wealth as a bi-product of pursuing my interests. To grow my assets, minimize my liabilities, and enjoy the journey.
I'm curious to see how fellow WSOers feel about this topic. Have you also seen your motivations change? Do you think there is a bifurcation between how the post-crisis generation and pre-crisis generations define success?