Success - One Size Does Not Fit All

I'm pretty sure I'm not blazing any new trails here, but it took me a while to get to the point of recognizing that success is a highly subjective, highly negotiable definition. Let's rewind twenty-plus years ago.  Just one year after graduating college, I was adrift.  I had majored in English Lit, and had worked for a brief time as a journalist at a  newspaper in a small community of south-central Michigan. I learned pretty quickly that working for a daily wasn't my thing. Anybody who goes into journalism dreams of being the next syndicated columnist like Mitch Albom or Mike Royko.  Columnists have the ability, and are paid handsomely, to write creative editorial pieces a few times a week.  Most journalists don't.  Most journalists chase facts and stories, rushing to meet deadlines to get the next edition out. That's the nature of the business, and if you want to become a columnist, you'll pay a lot of dues over many years, and you will most likely never get the cushy life of a columnist.

The shrinking market for newspapers, and for news outlets in general, has reduced those odds even further. Unless you absolutely love - and I mean LOVE (like, the kind of love that's enough to  make you put little hearts over your letter "i's") - being a reporter enough to fight over a career path that's in a tailspin due to the web and news aggregators, you might want to consider something with more of a future. This also holds true for photographers and news editors.

I digress. I decided to go back to school to get my MBA, which I did.  I spent two years going full-time for my graduate degree in business. There's a very common theme that was (and still is) furthered. It was about that magic goal - management!

Sure, management means things like critical thinking, process improvement, project management, optimization, and all that jazz. But it also means something else - it means moving your career up the ladder, increasing your paycheck, adding direct reports, and shooting for the job that gets the big office with the huge picture windows, and all the related perks.

When I graduated with my MBA, I was just as focused on the ladder piece as I was on the technical piece. You think that just because you've got that fancy-foo degree, the money and the other stuff will follow.

Most young people are nothing if not naive.  They don't ask questions necessarily from a position of wisdom.  They ask from a position of their education and to what they've been exposed.  I was no exception.

As I continued on my career, I learned more about the reality of the workplace, and what was involved beyond the nuts and bolts. (Very) Hard work. Entrepreneurship. Dedication. Interpersonal skills. Politics. Timing. Passion.

I've met, worked with, and gone to school with several folks who did a much more thorough job at climbing the corporate ladder. Some people are made of the "right stuff" that catapult them higher.  I applaud these individuals for throwing themselves behind their careers to make the most they can out of them.

I've also seen a lot of people who are astonishingly miserable in their work. They may have enjoyed the work when they started or along the way, but lost the passion. They may have sacrificed family time so that they could stay at the office to attempt completing more work than they could possibly handle.  They may have been great at the technical aspects of their job, but hated becoming a manager - graduate school didn't really spend to much time spelling out that being a manager not only involves getting the most out of your team, it involves being their coach, their mentor, their role model, their support system - only to be tied into the position because they've scaled up their life financially in such a way that they need the additional money that being a manager affords.  They may just hate their work but it's what they know how to do, and they need the paycheck.  Hello, Rolaids.

Side note: I believe a good manager of people deserves the additional hazard pay they receive.  It's a bitch trying to get your own work done while trying to get the folks below you to be their best and to believe in you.  On the other hand, a bad manager of people is incredibly harmful to the organization and can be a morale-sucker at best, destructive at worst.

Success is immensely personal.  I know people who have become full-time parents to find raising their children and managing their household to be the most rewarding experience they've had.  I have friends who have started their own business and enjoy the freedom of being their own boss.  And, I know people who haven't yet figured out their personal formula to success other than finding work they enjoy - I place myself in that category.

Random Thoughts:

  • I'm a huge fan of the Coen Brothers movie the Big Lebowski.  The movie's a mystery story in the vein of Raymond Chandler, featuring Jeff Bridges as "The Dude" a slacker who just wants his rug back.  The movie has spawned a subculture which includes conventions, merchandise, and a (pseudo-)religious movement called Dudeism.  I've been ordained as a Dudeist Priest- and you can too!  I can't speak to whether your state will allow me to legally officiate weddings, but it's free. And boy, do I like free. Become a Dudeist Priest at

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. He is a Human Resources professional and staffing expert with almost two decades of in-house corporate HR and staffing firm experience, and is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Certified Professional Career Coach (CPCC).

Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at, or via the website,