Friday, October 21, 2011

What Success Looks Like

As an engineer, I am more than used to being asked or asking during a project definition meeting "What does success look like?"  The point of this question is always the same: to visualize the desired result or end state.  Only recently did I realize that the question, "What does success look like?" can be used to define where we've been, show where we are, and point to where we're going in life as well as work.

When I was nineteen, success looked like a new 1965 Impala, 300 horse with 4 speed, posi-traction, heavy-duty suspension and push-button AM radio, maroon in color.  I dreamed of that car for months before it became mine, but I achieved that vision and have pictures to prove it.

When I was twenty-one, success looked like the girl of my dreams, dressed in white, coming down the aisle to meet me and join her hand and life to mine.  We have pictures to prove that too!

At twenty-two, success was a certificate from the DC apprenticeship council proclaiming me a Journeyman Scientific Instrument Maker, and also a letter of acceptance to Middle Tennessee State University.

Three years later, success was a sheepskin documenting a degree in physics and gold bars and crossed cannon marking me as a 2d Lieutenant of Field Artillery.  Eighteen months after that, success was a pair of Army Aviator Wings.

In Vietnam, success was marked by colorful ribbons, impressive scars, and a flight home in the cabin rather than the cargo bay of the freedom bird.  Although I didn't realize it at the time, that particular success was also marked by friendships that continue to this day, and I have reunion photos to prove it.

Success at Walter Reed was a current flight physical and orders to flying duty when I checked out nearly nine months after I arrived.

Since then, there have been many other pictures of success -- pictures of people, places, and events, pictures of family times and children growing into adults.  One of the latest -- one of my favorites -- is posted above.  It shows me, my wife, and our four children, all of whom have grown to become (reasonably) responsible and productive adult members of society.

On the right, the photo depicts my older son, a writer and minister of the Gospel who just performed the wedding ceremony for his sister and her groom.  I stand next to him, justifiably proud.  One day, he will be privileged to stand in my place.

Our youngest is the bride in the picture.  She is a social worker who works with the homeless, attempting to impart life-skills that will permit them to have and hold onto the home they so desperately need.

My wife, beaming with happiness, is next.  We've been on this journey together for a long time and much of the success is hers.  It has not always been easy, but we did things together and, from the look of the picture, managed to do a lot of things right.

Our older daughter, the matron of honor, is next.  She is a teacher of special needs children and the mother of two grandsons, known affectionately as "Thing 1" and "Thing 2".

Finally, you see my younger son, straight and tall, a Naval Officer and career Navy, himself the father of two.  He too will someday stand proudly in my place.

The point of all this is not to brag about my family or myself (well, that too!) but to demonstrate that success has features that can be seen.  Before achievement, success is a vision and a promise. But when achieved, success can be proven with hard evidence.

So, what does success look like to you?  And, how will you prove it?