by Fred W. Tanner
In today’s society many baby boomers are searching for something that is illusive and difficult to obtain.
They search long and hard to not only find it, but to feel the satisfaction that finding it may bring. This search takes them on a journey through life that has a profound effect on their relationships with others as well as their overall happiness and well being. What they are searching for is Success. How Do We Create Our Definition of Success?
The baby boomer generation’s definition of success began forming at an early age. As children they watched their fathers and mothers work hard to achieve success through home ownership, a good paying job and the obtainment of material possessions. Some moved to bigger houses and their parents purchased more expensive cars as spendable income increased.
At Christmas time they may have found that the presents got more expensive and numerous as well. In receiving all of these things many found that their working parents spent less time with them as children. Now they know that time is what they most cherished.
Some baby boomers grew up in a family where their parents worked hard but never seemed to have anything. The house was small and the car was always old and in the mechanics shop. Material possessions were never abundant. Children raised in this type of situation may have formed their definition of success from other successful people, society and the media. Not having the trappings of success made them more determined to achieve it in their adult life. They were going to be “more successful than their parents.” In the final analysis were they?
As a baby boomer I followed my parents’ example after high school and attended college hoping it would lead to a good career. Like many I found that it was difficult to land that perfect job after graduation and I became frustrated that success was still out of reach. After a period of job moves searching for that “perfect position” I reached the pinnacle stage of my career. Like my friends I worked to purchase the biggest house, nicer cars, better clothes and other material possessions to validate my success. Each year the debt levels increased that required a higher salary. The additional debt caused me to feel “handcuffed” to my job. In our north Dallas neighborhood there were many of my neighbors that purchased expensive homes but did not have the money for furniture. They created an illusion of success on the outside of their stately two story homes. If success was the accumulation of material things were these people successful? Almost everything they owned of value was actually owned by the credit card companies and the mortgage holder. What price were they really paying for success?
How Do We Evaluate Success?
There comes a time in everyone’s life when one starts evaluating his or her success. Part of the evaluation is spent looking at the sacrifices made along the way and what is there to show for all the effort, blood, sweat and tears. In essence what was the price for success in tangible and intangible terms? An example might be the many moves a family had to go through for the father/mother to get the promotions and higher salaries. The impact on children frequently changing schools and making new friends. Stresses caused by increased responsibility with each new position and the effect that stress had on the family’s happiness. Once the evaluation is completed many individuals question the value of “success” even if material possessions and the money is abundant. Some realize that the price paid to reach success was too high. They yearn for the happiness, true fulfillment and peace of mind they never had.
Did I Ever Achieve Success?
I am one that followed the course of success established by my parents. As a baby boomer societal influences also had an impact on my definition and striving for success. I climbed the career ladder knowing that when I reached the top I would achieve success and fulfillment. I found out I was wrong.
A comment that my supportive and loving wife of 23 years made to me several years ago during my hectic corporate days really made me think about what I was doing. One beautiful evening while walking the dog she said “ Fred, you know we were the happiest when we first started out. You didn’t make much money. We had that rental house, the old furniture and the old car.” Another comment made by my oldest son when he was 16 was “dad when I grow up I don’t want to be like you, you don’t like your job and you never seem happy.” When you receive this kind of input you know something about your path to success isn’t quite right. I have also learned that many children of baby boomers are not defining success the same way my generation did.
I Finally Found Success
I gathered up the courage and gave up the high paying corporate job in north Dallas. We moved to a small Colorado town for a year of college teaching. I remember the reactions I received from family and coworkers. My wife and children were ready for adventure but my mother thought I was going through a mid life crisis. I was jumping off the “success train” established by her generation. Colleagues at work either thought I was crazy or were actually envious of my new life change.
One corporate officer said that he wished that he could do something like I did, but he was afraid his wife and children would be upset to give up the big house and all of the possessions. I’m sorry to say that I think he is still searching for success. I quickly found that giving up the corporate politics and business suits was easy. So was the two-hour daily commute to my office in north Dallas.
In Colorado I walked across the street to work and wore sport shirts, khaki pants and hiking boots. Currently I am living with my family in a small college town in the North Georgia Mountains. I work at home. My wife is a schoolteacher. I have reached success at 46. I only wish I could have reached it sooner.
My New Perspective on Success
What I now realize is that success does not have to be a lengthy journey. Unfortunately most of us have to learn this by going through life striving for career achievement and paying the price. True success is based on how we view things relating to our life and career. Success does not mean obtaining material possessions or career status. I learned from friends we met in Colorado that some people with little money are successful. We had college teaching friends that did not have a great deal of money but enjoyed simple things like making biscotti, buying a good bottle of wine, listening to jazz at the coffee shop or exploring the mountains. They had more than I ever had when I was using society’s definition of success.
True success is genuine satisfaction, happiness and contentment with yourself and the world around you. Truly enjoying life, family, friends, work, hobbies and all that life has to offer.
I invite you to find it and enjoy it.
Fred W. Tanner, M.A. operates Cedar House Inn & Yurts, an eco friendly bed and breakfast inn, in Dahlonega, GA. For info visit http://www.georgiamountaininn.com