Defining Success: It’s All About Perspective

by Brad McNally, Head Editor, INALJ Ohio

Defining Success

bradmcnallyThere is something funny about the word successful – it is completely subjective. It is something everyone wants in life, but getting there is a source of a lot of frustration for many people. For some people, success is about having the most physical things: a nice house, a fancy car, etc. For others, it is more about emotional things: being a good spouse and parent, for example.

I once had a professor explain her definition of success to me when I was an undergraduate student. She explained that she earned her PhD at the same time as a very close friend. They both started out at mid-level positions in different universities on opposite sides of the country. While my professor stuck it out there for a while, then came to the university I was attending to a higher level position but at a much smaller institution. Her friend, on the other hand, moved from position to position, each time moving to a bigger institution but a similar level position. At this point, he had taken an assistant professorship at an Ivy League school, while she was a department head at a small public university in Ohio. One might say that he was more successful because of the institution he worked for, others would argue that she was because she was in a more senior position. That is the thing about success – it all depends on your perspective. To show the parallel in the library field, working for a prestigious institution as a library assistant might be right for some people, and running a very small library on an island of 300 people might be right for others. It is about defining success for yourself.

At any point during a job search, it is important to evaluate what you feel success is. Take some time to think about what is really important to you. First off, it is a good idea because you need to have a plan as you move forward. It gives your search direction and will help keep you motivated. For example, For example, I know librarians whom are in the field solely for the public service aspect. For them, working directly with the public is more important than moving into a higher management position.

Second, it is likely to come up in one way or another at the interview stage. While they might not ask you directly what your idea of success is, they may ask you for your aspirations in the next five years, for example. Having thought about this beforehand, it is much easier to answer while sitting in front of a panel of people.

Another important thing to remember is that success doesn’t always come as just part of the career choices you make. There are many aspects of life that can lead you down the path to success. Be sure you’re walking down the path you’ve chosen, not one meant for someone else.