When I was a Junior in college, I was on a path to graduate from college debt-free and with a marketable career in business and technology. I had a great job at a fine dining restaurant in downtown Dallas. I had a group of friends that I hung out with regularly. I was growing intellectually, socially, financially.
But that wasn’t enough.
I began telling myself that I was missing out on the college experience. I had never lived in a dorm, because frankly my parents couldn’t afford to give me that experience. Instead I lived at home with a very low cost of living that helped. I never stayed up all night partying and having the fun, free life that you see in movies.
And so I decided to have a “successful” college life, I quit my job, maxed out my student loans, and moved into a dorm for my senior year.
During the next fourteen months I had a lot of fun. I hung out with interesting people, was in walking distance to most of my life, and expanded my mind through books and interesting classes. Based on the terms I had set out for myself, the year was a success.
I’ll be honest with you though: I spent many years paying off the tens of thousands of dollars I borrowed in that fourteen month period. The years of debt repayment that followed brought home an important truth:
What felt like success for those fourteen months was really failure masquerading as success.
When success is real it flows to all areas of life, not just on the area that has the focus. It also flows into the future, not just the present.
When financial success turns a healthy, compatible, and loving marriage into a hate-fest, that’s failure masquerading as success.
When success at work turns colleagues from respect and honor to anger and disdain, that’s failure masquerading as success.
When success in marriage creates isolated, ignored children, that’s failure masquerading as success.
When success on my project this quarter leads to years of rework and confusion, that’s failure masquerading as success.
I believe success does have tradeoffs. There are failures that always accompany success: having dinner with your family might mean someone else who doesn’t need to do that will get ahead instead of you.
But I don’t believe that a wise definition of success has holistic collateral damage. I believe a life of peace and balance is possible. Anything else quickly becomes failure masquerading as success.