How Do You Define Success?
Updated: Jan 3
Over the past several years, I have had the good fortune to make many new friends in the town I live in. Being so far from my homeland, the first years here were quite difficult and I experienced what it felt like to be lonely. I mean lonely at a level I hope I never feel again. I suppose it was natural, that as I began to make friends most of them were what the Germans call “Ausländer” (foreigners), some use the term expatriate (often shortened to expat), a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than their native country.
In my early years here, the community I began to form were mostly from English speaking countries; U.S., England, Canada, South Africa (mostly because of my lack of German language skills) and over time many of these people have come to be very close friends.
A group of my English-speaking friends meet regularly on Monday nights to mostly discuss what is going on a work, what is going on with our families, we take some time to solve the problems of the world (which we do a pretty good job of) and most importantly, it is an opportunity for us to tell each other how great we are. In Germany, they call this type of gathering, a Stammtisch; which literally translates to “regular table” (a regular gathering of a group of people often at the same location). In the winter, our regular spot is a restaurant on the main street of our town and in the summer months, we take our gathering outside to a street café or beer garden. The cast of characters are Tim – England, Sean – Rhode Island USA, sometimes Kevin – England and Seml – Austria (he speaks great English).
In that we gather regularly at the same location, we become acquainted with the waitstaff. At our winter spot, most of the staff are college students, working while they are attending University. These kids (I call them kids, as most of them are younger than my children) are at an early point in their adulthood, defining their plans for their careers and life and seemingly enjoy chatting with us while they are working.
Many of the guys that work at our winter spot have earned nicknames, mostly coined by Tim. There is Sparky; he got his name because when he first started working at this place, he seemed to be hopping around like a happy puppy. There is Frosty; he got his name because he knows I like ice and he loads my glass full with ice until it is overflowing (side note: a lot of ice or any at all is not common in Germany, as they do not want to pay for ice, they are paying for the beverage in the glass). There is Gunter, who is from Vietnam and well he got his name because he lives in Germany and needed a German name and there is Truthahn; which is the German word for Turkey and of course he is Turkish. All in good fun.
As we have come to know these guys, many of them take the opportunity to hone their English skills when they speak to us and inquire why we are in Germany, do we miss our homeland, what do we do for work and the like. They even ask for advice on the education and career path.
On one recent evening, Red Mickey (we call him that, because there are two Mickey’s working there and he is the one with reddish-brown hair) asked Tim and me, how do we define success? Almost in unison, Tim and I answered, “quality of life”. We went on to explain each of our definitions of the quality of life; good family relationships, children who are happy in life, our life in this little Bavarian town, great friendships, being able to enjoy our personal passions (Tim = cars, Cecil = music) and just general well-being and happiness. This may have actually shocked Mickey a bit, as I am sure he expected a different answer from us.
I have thought about this question several times in the last days, mostly because I know 25 years ago my answer would go something like this; a happy healthy family, money, a big house, a cool car, money, a great job, another cool car, and money. My only regret is that it took me so long to figure this out, as I chased those things for a long time. Perhaps my life would have been much different if my definition of success in years past was not defined by things or my annual earning. Maybe things would have been a bit easier if my definition of success was what it is today.
So, what is your definition of success? It is a great question and one worth thinking about.