In Career, Discussions, Discussions, Entrepreneurs, Life, Money, Salary, Wealth

What does “success” mean to you?

I had an excellent comment on my post: Do you ever feel guilty for being successful? from Stacking Pennies (a long-time favourite blogger of mine), and I also had a long Twitter conversation that made me think it would be a good post to write about.

NOTE: I DON’T WRITE CONTROVERSIAL POSTS FOR THE HELL OF IT

For the record, I don’t write posts I don’t believe in.

This trolling readers as a blogger to stir up the pot and get controversy started so that people come and yell at me, is not my goal and is kind of silly for a blogger to do just for the sake of page hits.

I genuinely believe what I am writing, but I will acknowledge and admit that I am a poor writer at times when I am not clear or detailed enough on what my position is.

So here it is!

GUILT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH FEELING BAD

The way I see it, guilt is something that has nothing to do with ‘feeling bad’ (for lack of a better term).

I’m going to get a bit technical here, so please be patient with my persnicketiness.

Here’s what Google says it is:

Guilty = You have actually done something wrong, and you should be paying for it.


(Hat tip to My Shiny Pennies for finding the perfect words in the comment.)

Feeling Privileged / Feeling Bad for being Lucky means:

You are aware you have been born in a First World country (most of my readers are from North America or Western Europe), and you feel bad about the opportunities you receive by way of race, gender, colour, sex, or age.

As far as I see it, I haven’t done anything wrong for having been born in the right time, and to the right parents, so I can’t call what I might feel as a person who has First World opportunities as “guilt”.

I don’t call that “guilt”.

Why should you be made to feel guilty for your circumstances in winning the birth lottery?

What’s my crime? Original sin?

With that logic, shouldn’t my parents be the ones “guilty” for having had me?

Even rich kids, deserve what they get, not by their merit of having worked hard to attain it, but more than they got lucky and were born to rich parents.

However they want to feel about such luck, is their personal demon to wrestle, but I have no guilt about my situation.

stock-photo-money-cash-coins-bills

THE NARROW VIEWS OF WHAT ‘SUCCESS’ MEANS

My idea of success is not necessarily that you make a lot of money.

That is the conventional idea of ‘success’, but there are plenty of people out there who make $45,000 a year as a bank teller and are considered to be successful by their parents and the people in their community.

Some parents are just thrilled their kids didn’t get into the drug culture they’re surrounded by in the low-income neighbourhoods they live in.

At the other extreme, there are people out there who make $100,000 a year or more and think that they’re not successful at all, and feel rather poor compared to those they know who make more money.

Just the other day, I was talking to someone I’ve known for a while, and he said:

“I only make money in the low six-figures, and I don’t get paid very well… not like you.”

Are you kidding me?!?!?!?

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?

My mouth dropped.

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I almost gave him a searing lecture but we weren’t alone, as his girlfriend and other friends were there.


6-figures is NOT A LOW SALARY.

Furthermore, I also only make money when I work, and seeing as I’ve been loafing around for a while now, my average salary is at $75,000, soon to drop this year even more if I don’t get a contract.

That kind of risk, is why I make good money on contracts when I can get them.

You have to really learn how to space out your earnings so that you don’t burn through the money before you get more work, and is the #2 reason why I like budgeting and tracking my expenses.

(#1 is because it’s fun. I really like seeing numbers and analyzing my spending.)

That kind of attitude that “low six-figures” is not a good salary, is total and utter bull.

I can’t even begin to tell you how wrong that is, even though you might be living in Toronto, one of the most expensive cities in Canada.

Then I realized something — he was comparing himself to me.

We aren’t even in the same position nor in the same industry, and even if we were, he’d have to quit his job, freelance, and wait on the bench for contracts like me — something which I am fairly sure he would not be able to do.

SUCCESS IS RELATIVE TO THOSE AROUND YOU

Surrounded by millionaire family members, earning $100,000 might make you feel downright poor.

Your success is relative to your friends and your family members around you.

That’s where the problem lies — the comparison of yourself to others.

There will always be someone worse off or better off than you.

How you choose to see it is up to you.

You can either say: I am so lucky! and be thrilled with your life, or moan about how you aren’t successful in comparison, which just depresses you and the people around you.

Success lies in you accepting YOUR situation and doing what YOU can about YOUR life.

When I graduated, I thought being a great success would be if I earned at least $50,000 as a starting salary out of school, and that I would reach $100,000 by the time I retired.

Things didn’t quite turn out the way I had imagined, but they are better than I could have hoped.

My own view of success is I am able to do what I want, when I want, and I am able to live comfortably and happily on my irregular income.

My success is the free time I enjoy, and the ability to cover my bills without having to work 12 months in a year.

Working about 3 months out of the year, would easily pay for my living expenses for a whole year.

If I dropped my expenses even more, I could cut that down to only needing a contract for 2 months or less.

(But I enjoy spending money too much. It’s true.)

SUCCESS MEANS SOMETHING DIFFERENT TO EVERYONE

Frankly, I consider my mother to be a greater success than I will ever achieve in my lifetime.

She only recently started making a lot of money in the past 15 years, but her success lies in having moved up from devastating poverty into a middle-class life.

Her success would have been equally as great, if she had just ended up working in an office, filing papers and doing those sorts of things for $50,000 a year, rather than the job she has now at $95,000 a year.

…and she’s doing her dream job to boot, which is something the majority of people can’t claim to do.

Even if I had just ended up working in some office my entire life, my mother would have been just as proud and thrilled at my ‘success’.

Money makes no difference to her because her view of success is the following:

  • Didn’t end up as a drug addict — considering their very hands-off approach and the kids I went to school with, this is kind of a miracle
  • Didn’t end up pregnant before 16, foregoing my education — Again, if you knew the kids I knew..
  • Didn’t end up in a gang — See above.
  • Am not addicted to anything except macarons 😉
  • Am healthy and happy
  • Make an income that can sustain my lifestyle
  • Am able to sustain myself for the rest of my life without help or handouts

That’s pretty much it.

stock-photo-money-gandhi-bills-cash

The money is just a bonus for her, but she wasn’t ever focused on that.

I know other people with similar stories.

A girl I know had parents who worked at physical labour jobs (cleaning rooms, factories), and didn’t even encourage their kids to go to college.

They didn’t want her to go, because they didn’t have the money to pay for her and her brothers.

She and her brothers ended up getting full-ride scholarships and went for free, but even after they got the best educations in the best schools, her parents didn’t see the point of it all until they all got good jobs, earning in a year, what their parents could earn in 10 years.

They had just kind of figured she and her brothers would work in a GOOD job, which would be at a bank as a teller, or in an office, and that was the best they could achieve.

Even better, would be if they became farmers, so they could eat the fruits of their labour and survive in case the economy ever tanked.

It was only 5 years later into their careers when other parents (aunts, uncles, cousins) around them started saying how successful their kids were and how proud they must be of them, that they realized their kids had attained a level of success that they hadn’t imagined.

SUCCESS IS NOT ONLY BASED ON HOW MUCH YOU HAVE OR WHAT YOU EARN

Success is not black and white to me, and I don’t want anyone to ever think that I consider net worth or income to be the ONLY barometer of success.

Success could be something like making enough money to cover your lifestyle and save for retirement, in addition to ALSO doing what you love.

Those greedy investment bankers who screwed the economy made lots of money… but are they successful?

Sure, if you only look a their income.

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But otherwise, not at all.

I don’t think they’re truly happy people because they aren’t successful as ethical, contributing members to society.

Or take a look at Warren Buffett. He is considered extremely successful by our society’s standards because he’s one of the richest guys in the world, in addition to being very generous (he plans on giving all his money away)… but if we take away the money, was he successful as a parent?

They say his kids never warmed up to him as a father, and all accounts point to his children not caring that their dad is a billionaire (he’s giving it all away anyway), but more that they never connected to him or knew him at a deeper level.

Now take someone who travels around the world, working odd jobs (or helping people in Third World countries) and living a very nomadic life, is successful to me, even if they only $500 in their bank account.


They’re doing what they love, they aren’t hurting anyone, and they’re contributing to everyone around them in some way (they’re rich in experiences!).

SO WHAT DOES SUCCESS MEAN TO YOU?


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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K (savings rate = 85%). I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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16 Comments

  1. SP

    Been meaning to come back and comment on this – it popped up in my reader during crazy season when I was MIA in the blog world. First, sorry for accusing you of troll-baiting, that really was not necessary. 🙂 I just had a hard time understanding what you were saying and why you were saying it and where you were coming from. This post is much more relatable to me.

    Second… I might just write a whole post on this, because I’m back in the blogging mood lately. I really agree with your statement about how you choose to view it is up to you, and I am definitely of the “I’m so lucky!” point of view.

    No, I don’t feel guilty, nor do I even “feel bad” (which is what I interpreted feeling guilty to mean in your first post). Neither do I feel proud or especially deserving or too “I’ve worked hard and earned it!” I just feel incredibly grateful and happy.

    In short, success to me means being happy and being able to support myself, and having the freedom to make choices that further my happiness.

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      Hahah! Thanks 🙂

      YES! PLEASE WRITE MORE POSTS.. I love your blog, and you simply don’t write enough to satisfy my SP-craving.

      I’m looking forward to you expounding on success 😀

      Reply
  2. Ben@ThisHealthyBudget

    Defining “success” for yourself is vital. Like a lot of people, my parents’ perception of success was clouded by fear that I wouldn’t be able to support myself and my family on anything less than six figures. That we could make a life with both my wife and I working in the non-profit world was foreign to them because they lived such a high-spending lifestyle. I love them and they’re starting to see that we’re going to be fine and choose to do things a little differently than them, but far too many parents these days are frightening their kids into thinking they need to become a doctor or a lawyer or an investment banker or else they’re going to end up homeless.

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      I think I’ll try this with my kids when they’re old enough to understand what success means. Just as long as they understand they are their own critics, they will follow what they think is right.

      I do not want my kids to think they have to be investment bankers to succeed in life. I actually loathe that profession, and refused to even apply for it while in business school even though they were throwing money and big salaries at us (especially girls with a knack for numbers).

      Reply
  3. MakintheBacon

    Being a pf blogger (I think I tend to fluctuate between lifestyle blogger and pf blogger though), I can’t help think that success and making a lot of money are related. However it is only to a certain degree. I consider having a job you enjoy doing and are satisfied with as being successful, regardless of what you make. Being able to save, spend and splurge (hahahaa) at the same time is a sign of being successful. Taking on challenges, accomplishing things, stepping outside your comfort zone, basically living a meaningful life is what success means to me.

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      PF bloggers are narrow in that our view is to only talk about debt, saving and money…. which is why I think it’s important as PF bloggers that we also step back and tell people that it isn’t all about money. Having the knowledge of personal finance and money management is VERY important but it is just one area of your life you have to manage.

      Reply
  4. Ree Klein

    For the first half of my adult life I struggled with trying proving myself, part of that included how much I earned. No degree, middle-class family and a very smart father all combined to make me want to prove myself and gain the pride of my parents.

    I had my priorities all messed up and it wasn’t until the six-figure income started flowing in that I realized it wasn’t about the money. Now, I have my head on straight and I don’t really need anyone else’s approval to feel smart, successful and wealthy.

    Because being wealthy is so personal, as you point out, it can mean different things to different people. For me it’s having the freedom to do what I want when I want. I’m well on my way to achieving that, but it no longer is based on what I think others define as wealthy.

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      Your own approval of yourself matters more than what other people think. Perhaps that’s why I see some wealthy people who struggle to show off to others as braggarts but in the same vein, those with just as much money (or stuff), can be humble and not at all like that in personality because they are at peace with their wealth and don’t do it for others.

      Reply
  5. cj

    Recently, I have been able to look in the mirror and like the person I saw in every way, not just physical appearance. That is success to me. I work hard enough on myself to like myself. Making enough money is part of that, but it is certainly not everything. It simply enhances what is already there. Great post, M!

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      If you aren’t happy with who you are, money doesn’t change anything.

      Reply
  6. eemusings

    I certainly felt the weight of privilege while travelling through SE Asia. Like it or not, I was born into much more fortunate circumstances than many people (and likewise, others have been born into even more fortunate ones above me). That doesn’t have to determine your entire life trajectory, but it certainly plays a role.

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      Ditto. I felt the weight of being born into the right family at the right time and so on. It definitely opened my eyes even more than before.

      Reply
  7. Dear Debt

    Success to me is paying off my debt, making enough money to accomplish my dreams and not worry. That would be about $50k in salary for me, which I am nowhere near, but is a goal of mine. It also means being creative, being happy, compassionate and helping others.

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      So challenges, goals and being a good citizen? I hear that.

      Reply
  8. Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde)

    I might feel guilty if I was born into wealth, but every success I’ve had has been built by me, so I usually am more proud than guilty! I feel like everyone has a chance to make their own success in life.

    Reply
    1. saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      Even if you were born into wealth, doing something with that wealth can give you great pride.

      Reply

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