So who is a success, anyway?

Wikimedia, Matthew Yohe

Wikimedia, Matthew Yohe

Our common cultural measure is out of whack.

By Roy Harryman
Principal, Roy Harryman Marketing Communications

I want to be cautious with this opinion, since all family relationships are complex and I wasn't there. However, there has to be at least some truth in what Lisa Brennan-Jobs shares about her famous father Steve.

"This is the first time Brennan-Jobs has written in depth about her father, who initially denied paternity and refused to pay child-support payments to her mother, Chrisann Brennan," reports Business Insider.

In her retelling, Jobs once told his daughter, "You're not getting anything. You understand? Nothing. You're getting nothing." She added that her father had not been "generous with money, or food, or words."

In our broken society, this is – unfortunately – fairly common. Dads are often AWOL emotionally, financially and physically. There, but by the grace of God, go I.

However, what makes Jobs’ case different is the common conception that he was a superhuman, tech-savvy, genius, hipster, savior of the world. If there is a definition of success, then Steve Jobs is it. In this manner of thinking, Jobs borders on the divine.

The problem with this adulation is that it takes too narrow a view of achievement. It's a common workplace sentiment that if you're good at your job, then you're a success – period. You may be sexually harassing your staff (think #metoo), beating your wife and cheating on your taxes. But doggone it, you invented a microchip that's going to speed up the Tesla. So let's have a party, you incredible piece of humanity! (BTW: No one is suggesting Jobs did these things; I list them here only for examples.)

There are two issues here:

  • Can we truly call someone like that successful? A common mantra in business is that people are our most important resources. Well, if we really believe that, we won't treat them like inanimate objects. Or worse.

  • This model insists that workplace success can exist in a vacuum with a strict wall of separation between home life, relational conduct and personal moral convictions. This is bologna.

As we know from #metoo, who we are (our personal character) is ultimately far more important than what we do (what we get paid for). We can try to keep the two apart, but who we are we eventually catch up with what we do. And when it does, colliding worlds make for a spectacular, career-ending supernova (for exhibit A see Weinstein, Lauer, Rose, etc.).

So should we hold back at work? Phone it in? Absolutely not. I want excellence in what I do and in those with whom I work. But excellence shouldn't begin and end at work.

It should begin at home.

Roy Harryman is the principal of Roy Harryman Marketing Communications, a firm helping small businesses and non-profits to reach their "suspects", prospects and customers. He strives for a balanced view of success, but admits to being a work in progress.