Naturally I've spent a lot of time thinking about career success in the last five or six years, in part because I look after my own, but also on behalf of the people that I work with. It's super important. The strange thing is that I'm not sure that success in day jobs is necessarily the kind that we value the most.
This thought came when a friend of mine (an Internet community friend, no less), was somewhat surprised at the long running success of his radio show for kids and parents that he does in Austin on a non-profit station, and syndicated nationally (is it syndication when it's non-profit?). A little record label has come out of it as well, and a whole lot of good times with his delightful kids. He's an attorney by day with some pretty serious academic credentials, but I don't know him for that.
Similarly, I wandered into coaching volleyball, and after a dozen or so seasons, with mostly middling teams, I consider it to be one of my greatest achievements. None of "my" kids, grownups now, have any idea what I do for a living. A lot of people only know me for building a couple of niche community web sites that have been bringing people together now for nearly two decades. I don't know if that's an achievement, but I do know it definitely matters to a lot of people. They don't know what I do for a living either.
Why is this interesting? Because sometimes the most successful things we do were accidental. I didn't go to college thinking, "I'm gonna coach moody teenagers and build some web sites!" (Shit, the first web site wasn't even a thing until a few days before I started college, and I didn't see one until my senior year. Ugh, I'm old.) But if I were hit by a bus tomorrow, those are the things by which most who know anything about me would gauge my success. Also, ironic to this story, radio was the first thing I did professionally in search of success, and despite some rapid and early success, it was a terrible business to work in.
This is normal to me, but the interaction today reminded me of accidental success. Our professional success mostly only matters to us, and maybe the people we work with at any given time, but I don't think it's the success that people really pay attention to. I wonder if this realization frustrates Type-A overachievers. I see people kill themselves for professional success, but why not enjoy the success that comes from simpler things like volunteering, hobby activities and participating in amateur sports? Heck, even parenting is an achievement, even if we never feel like we're successful at it.