Friday, October 5, 2007

Measuring Success

In the Disney/Pixar film, Ratatouille, a rat named Remy overcomes the constraints that society and his family place on him and pursues his dream of becoming one of Paris’ greatest chefs. With the help of Linguini, a garbage boy who has the same dream, he learns how to be true to himself, and not only realizes his dream but also learns the truth about family and friendship.

The Utah Jazz player Derek Fisher walks away from his career of fame and fortune so he can focus on taking care of his 11-month-old daughter who has cancer in her left eye.

A young man who is bored with his life at Harvard University drops out and starts his own computer company known as Microsoft, which has become the billion dollar enterprise that links the Harvard drop out’s name, Bill Gates, with the epitome of wealth.

The city of New York has a significant decrease in crimes over a five-year period, creating a safer environment for its inhabitants.

What do all of these anecdotes have in common? They are all success stories. It is impossible to define success in only one way because it comes in many different forms. When most people think of success, they will most likely think of fame and fortune. Many might even point to Gates as the quintessential example of success. However, being successful is so much more than wealth and recognition. It’s the individual (or rat) working hard to overcome obstacles and realize a dream; it’s the individual who puts his career on hold to care for his child; it's the city that creates a safer environment for its people; and it’s the person who takes a chance and starts his own billion-dollar business. But success does not have to be as extreme as these cases. For example, cheering up a friend, providing company to the elderly in a nursing home, or just knowing that you you gave a specific task your all are also examples of success. Another example of success is someone who prepares for a job interview by researching the company and dressing the part, and then walks into that interview with confidence, making eye contact, maintaining good posture, selling him/herself, and leaving with a sense of accomplishment. As Chris Mauer, the sales coordinator for American Express, said: “Develop, apply, employ — develop yourself, apply yourself and get employed.” And when individuals do become employed, whether it’s at their dream job or not, it’s important to not stop building on their computer and communication skills, their leadership ability, and their knowledge of the company and industry. Improvements like these in one’s professional life are also a form of success. Another type of success that goes hand-in-hand with improving one’s personal and professional lives is accepting criticism with an open mind. When people listen to what others say and use criticism to better themselves, new opportunities will arise.

Yet, another form of success is realizing that no one can do anything alone. When individuals solicit the help of others, anything is possible. For example, when someone asks for help on a company project that he or she does not fully understand or when someone asks for an informational interview with a company employee in order to network, the road to success will be so much easier. Just look at Remy. He knew he couldn't achieve his dream by himself, so he teamed up with Linguini and acquired the life he knew he was meant to have.

Different companies and industries also have their own meanings of success. Retail stores measure success in terms of revenue earned, athletes in terms of games won, politicians in terms of votes obtained and teachers in terms of students inspired. However, according to Dr. Thomas Simonet, a Journalism professor here at Rider who was a newspaper reporter prior to his teaching career, the field of journalism is unique because individuals do not need to succeed at a high level in order to be successful. For journalists, just knowing that the information provided to the public is accurate means that they have achieved success. This information also doesn’t have to reach 30 million people in order to be considered successful. Simonet noted that even local papers that have a much smaller audience can be successful because they are still providing an indispensable service to the public. He also pointed out that a story does not need to be scandalous in order to be successful. “If you do small things well, you’re providing a service,” he said. “You don’t always have to be covering something controversial or sensational.”

Journalists also feel like they have succeeded when their stories are published. It is very satisfying when reporters see their bylines in the newspaper, according to Simonet. He said it is a powerful feeling when a journalist sees someone reading his or her paper or just sees it in someone’s hand walking down the street. These are moments that journalists savor.

However, newspapers are also a business, and just like any other business, the desire for money often blurs the true meaning of a company’s success. Simonet said that newspapers quickly lose sight of their definition of success because raising profits becomes the primary goal for many of them. According to him, money makes it difficult to be a journalist. But money also makes any occupation difficult since it redefines how an individual or a company measures success.

It is important for individuals to remain true to their own definitions of success. In a speech at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Gerald Boyd, managing editor of The New York Times, outlined three keys to success in journalism, one of them being staying true to yourself. The other two ways to achieve success are having a passion for what you do and maintaining balance in your life. All three of these sources of success can be applied to any occupation. First of all, if you are not happy with your current job, listen to your heart and take a chance at something new like Bill Gates did. You never know what success you could find elsewhere. Second, if you do not have a passion for what you do, you will most likely dislike your job and feel like you are unsuccessful. Lastly, if you focus too much your job, other aspects of your life will suffer. Boyd put it best when he said, “You must find things outside your job to make you whole.”

All of Boyd’s points are important. However, the last two are the most significant. Without happiness and people to share it with, life is meaningless. I remember interviewing a retiring teacher for a feature story assignment during my summer internship, and this is an interview I will never forget. The teacher, Ms. Brozik, was so energetic and had so much passion not only for her job but also for her life that I left the school only hoping that I could be as happy as she was. So I guess that in a way, her success was contagious. However, it is now up to me to strive to achieve the same happiness and success that she did. I also find it ironic that the people who are extremely wealthy are often the ones who are the loneliest and the unhappiest. This phenomenon affirms my beliefs that money does not always equal success and happiness — which is something that so many people believe — and that there are numerous ways to measure success.

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