As a wee lad growing up in the 80’s, “success” was pretty clear:

  • Watch TV
  • Play video games
  • Listen to whatever music my parents do
  • Eat more sugar
  • Become an astronaut
  • Pretend to be sick to avoid school
  • Avoid gross girls
  • What the heck is the internet?

As a teenage man in the 90’s, “success” got a little more confusing:

  • Watch more TV
  • Play more video games
  • Find a genre of music I identify with
  • Acquire an automobile & cruise around in it
  • Find true love, ideally several times
  • Avoid anything that remotely looks like work
  • Pretend to be healthy so people like me
  • Talk to as many pretty girls as possible
  • What the heck is AOL?

As a pseudo-man in the 00’s, “success” was maybe not even an option:

  • TV sucks and is a huge waste of time
  • Video games suck, and take too long
  • Music is just samples of samples of samples
  • Automobiles are fun until someone steals them
  • Love is out there, but I need to love myself first
  • Perform odd jobs until something clicks
  • Pretend to be happy to convince myself it’s true
  • Avoid all girls because they are crazy, but try to “fix” them anyways because I’m a moron
  • That internet thing sure is neat

As a child in an adult body in the 10’s, “success” seems almost about right:

  • What’s TV again?
  • Independent video games are pretty sweet
  • Turn down whatever that is and get off my lawn
  • Love means never having to say “step away from the computer”
  • My job is translating the experiences and visions of my life into software
  • Pretend to like vegetables because I’ve avoided them my whole life
  • Make up for the suffering women experience from lifetimes of having man-boys like me call them gross & crazy back when I was young & ignorant
  • Help make the Internet be the best it can be

Today, right now, I define “success” as follows:

  • Use television to relax, educate, and procrastinate on purpose
  • Use video games to supplement my aging imagination
  • Use music to drown-out my wandering ADD-afflicted mind
  • Use love to fuel solutions to life’s problems
  • Use my job to improve the quality of relationships in peoples lives
  • Use the culmination of my career experience to build great things (like BuddyPress, bbPress, GlotPress, WordPress, & Flox to name a few)
  • Stop pretending and take action – if it’s not actionable, appreciate the experience and take notes
  • Appreciate my wife in a unique way each day, and make babies
  • Be compassionate and considerate above all else

When it comes to defining success, us Generation X’ers have had it pretty easy compared to our surrounding generations. Previous generations were pressured to get married, buy houses, go to college, not be gay, not be fat, not be themselves. More recent generations are pressured to be the best at everything or risk not standing out, scolded for always being captivated by the world that us previous generations have created for them, judged for not comprehending “just how easy they have it”, and shunned for expecting more return from less investment.

Fortunately, none of these stereotypes are really all that accurate or inaccurate, and no one needs to allow them to define what success means in their own lives. Some days, for some people, just getting out of bed is a huge success. Maybe finding fresh water for your family is today’s success. The spectrum of success ranges from mundane to monumental, but it’s important to identify what it is before making any decisions, especially if success means making a decision that may impact others.

In my community, in my career, in my life, I see many successes go uncelebrated, and I think that over a long enough timeline it has a hugely negative impact on how people perceive the world around themselves.

  • The village I live in is a stereotypical bedroom community, largely populated by retirees and blue-collar laborers. As such, things move slowly and people quickly forget the positive changes happening around them.
  • When it comes to software development, it’s unlikely anyone understands what you do the way you do, even the people you work the most closely with. Taking time to appreciate little wins, tiny fixes, and monumentally insignificant details makes success practically define itself as you go.
  • Personally, sometimes I forget to reward myself with tolerance, patience, and adequate time to enjoy something that isn’t accidental work – like upgrading the bathroom, painting the walls, or playing any video game where grinding through levels is the reward for grinding through levels.

Maybe this is already obvious to everyone but me, but it’s important to define what success means in each area of your life, every day. If you don’t, you risk drifting aimlessly waiting for success to happen to you instead of making it happen for yourself.