Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Success Defined

Society certainly tends to categorize success in a certain manner.  By looking at someone, we can judge whether or not they are successful.  What kind of car are they driving?  How big is their house?  How nice is their hair/clothes/shoes?  What toys do they have for weekend recreation?  The man with a big house, cool sports car, a motorcycle and powerboat – well he’s obviously successful.  And the mom that seems to have it all together, who despite having several kids looks like she spends each morning with a personal trainer.  Her nails are done, not an ounce of tired can be seen on her face, and she's cruising in the Escalade to shop on the nice end of town for back-to-school clothing.  We can all agree she’s successful too.  The same goes for the career mom or dad that just seems to have it all.  But that’s rarely the full story.  The outward appearance of one’s life isn’t necessarily a reflection on what’s going on behind the scenes.  I don’t mean everyone who seemingly has it all is outright lying to you.  But success based on such superficiality or collection of expensive items is often a thin guise for a debt laden life full of stress and unhappiness.

Despite the dictionary's attempt to define "success", it remains a fairly subjective concept.  How success is defined is dependent upon the person, circumstances, time of life, etc.  Additionally, most would agree that success can typically be divided between two areas: financial and other.  While the definition of financial success may vary from person to person, it is at least measurable in net worth or some other form.  "Other" success is often wrapped up in career or academic achievement, or any number of ways one might consider themselves successful.  These two types of success, and more so, goals in which we seek to achieve success, drive how we spend most of our time in life (or at least it should!). 

Recently, I've discovered my goals have shifted based on how I have come to define success in my life.    I now consider some of my previous definitions of success to be fairly immature.  After getting it down in print, it becomes almost comical.  Here is how things have changed for me over the last few decades...

·         Grade School:  Success = Academic achievement, and that's about it.  There wasn't any consideration for financial success at this time.

                I remember how proud I was to get 100's on my weekly spelling test in 1st grade, and how sick my stomach would feel if I missed one.  I might have been a weird kid now that I think about it.     

·         High School:  Success = Getting straight A's and winning in varsity sports. 

                At this point I began to learn about a successful "adult" life too.  A plan was set in motion for my future.  Get good grades, go to a prestigious college, get a good career, save and invest money, then retire at age 65 as a millionaire.  Seemed like a pretty good plan.  Most people tend to agree.  At some point in their adult life they find themselves somewhere on this path seeking to accumulate as much wealth as possible to be enjoyed in their retired years.  That is, in the most basic form, the "American Dream."  Owning a home with brand new vehicles and perhaps a wife and children are all details within that same "dream".      

·         College: Success = Money = Fancy Car = Girls

                If I have money, I'll have a nice car.  And cars and money are pretty much all it takes to have my pick of the ladies.  This makes me laugh, because at the time I actually believed this magical formula for success and happiness.  I suppose this was a fairly shallow phase in my life.  Oh, and it's worth mentioning that the reason we seek out success is to be happy in the end.  That's key to everything we buy or do, isn't it? 

During this time I still held on to the idea of having a long career and investing wisely to one day be a millionaire.  This was now tied to the idea of pursuing a military career (minimum of 20 years for it to be considered a "career") and subsequent military retirement/pension. 

·         Early 20's:   My definition of success broadens.  Not only do I have the millionaire dream, but along with that is the (very novice) attempt at being a faithful servant of God.  I’d work to fulfill His plan for me, whatever that might be, while working to be rich.  And of course money isn’t everything, as I’d want to enjoy this money with a wonderful wife and children of my own.

·         As a family man: Raise up some God-fearing, respectable children.  Build up a strong marriage.  Seek to grown in my faith.  Financially, save enough money for kids’ college, have a paid off house, and continue on the path for military retirement.  Even the order in which I naturally formed these ideas of success help me see that money is taking a sidestep to things that may be more important in life.  But money is still right up there, as well as achieving millionaire status.  Which, by the way, is no bad thing.  In fact, even early in our marriage Mama and I had loose plans to pay cash for a sports car  at some point down the road (we had in mind the one pictured above).  I had forgotten about this silly idea until now.  Ironically, this would have been about the time we would have purchased it had our ideas of success not changed with time.

And here is where things start to get a little unusual.  Up until this point, everything seems pretty typical.
  • Early 30's: Success as a husband, father and servant remain well established as they were in the previous bullet point.  However, I discover the concept of Financial Independence / Early Retirement through "Mr. Money Mustache".  This drastically shifted my perspective on financial success, as well as how such success could enable me to be successful in other areas of life as well, namely spending more time with my family.  My goal soon became to achieve financial independence by age 41 (in other words, needing no job to support my family since I'll have enough money invested on which to live).  I would be successful financially if I met that goal.  

Over the past year things took another turn.  I'm not quite sure how it happened, but gradually the idea of working intensely while saving intensely for the next decade, so that I could then enjoy spending more time with my wife and kids became less and less appealing.  Especially when I considered the alternative - why not do it now?  Why not take this idea of early retirement and just do it now, instead of waiting a decade*.  It sure would be great to be home with my 3 year old, 1 year old, and upcoming newborn now, instead of trying to force my way into their lives "full-time" as they enter their teenage years.  If I really want to spend both quality and quantity time with my kids, now is my best opportunity.  Even better, I'll be able to be side by side with my wife in raising the children.  Instead of her managing the kids, diapers, tantrums, night wakings, feedings, doctor's appointments, food shopping, cooking, cleaning, pet stuff, laundry, my rotating shift sleep needs, and everything else that comes along with running a home on her own, we'll tackle each day as a team.  In theory, the more I am able to be home to handle all of these tasks with my wife, the more quality and quantity time we'll have together as well. 

In short, the best way I can achieve success at this point in my life is to spend as much time with my wife and children as possible.  I hope to make lasting impacts solidifying our relationships with each other as well and firmly laying the strongest foundation for my children that I can provide.  I hope to be successful in this, and there is no better time than now to make it happen.

*I'm not actually retiring - I don't have enough money!  Becoming a stay-at-home Dad is predicated upon having a well paying part time job (working a total 38 days per year), or burning through savings in a few short years before being forced back into full time employment.

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