Discovering What Matters

for the week of July 23, 2001
by Rubel Shelly

Within a month of each other, I found a couple of studies that seem to be complementary. Both studies were about the meaning of success. More particularly still, both had to do with the relationship between success and money.

First came the results of the annual Randstad North American Employee Review. Some 2,600 interviews were conducted among people 18 to 65. It shows several interesting things that challenge common myths about today's worker.

For example, 81% of those age 55 or older said they were interested in trying new things; that certainly runs counter to the assumption that older workers are set in their ways. Some old dogs not only can but want to learn new tricks.

On the other end of the age spectrum, 77% of Gen-Xers workers in the 21 to 35 age range said they would like to find a company for which they could work for a long time; this goes against the grain of a common view that younger workers are job-hopping opportunists who care nothing about company loyalty.

The overwhelming majority of respondents made it clear that they did not equate success with dollars. In order, here are the things that characterize "true success" for those surveyed: being trusted to get the job done (90%), doing work you want to do and enjoy (84%), and having the power to make decisions that affect their work (81%).

It might be important for these still-at-work people to listen to some insights from retirees. Ralph Warner interviewed over 50 "contented retirees" for his Get a Life: You Don't Need a Million to Retire Well. He found no major correlation between life contentment and money. Finances came fifth behind health, being interested in life, enjoying friends, and having healthy family relationships.

You have tasks waiting today. And you'll want a paycheck for what you do. But remember what will matter most at the end of your day. Relationships that allow trust, opportunities that empower, and the autonomy that comes of good health and choices about one's own fate these are the factors in real success.

Here is the Bible's statement of what we are discovering 3,000 years after Solomon wrote it: "There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?" (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25).

A million bucks would be nice. But a life with meaning is worth much more.

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