Friday, September 22, 2006

How do you define success?

Update: In catching up with my RSS feeds, I ran into Kathy Sierra's post about success. I love Kathy Sierra. I think she says in this post exactly what I was trying to say above. That is, there appears to be only one track to "success," moving up (internally or externally). I think, however, that I'd be happier not moving up, but instead, being somehow acknowledged that I'm doing a kick-ass job. That might mean an increase in pay or taking away some of the icky crap I hate doing and replacing it with cool stuff I love doing. I'm moving in that direction, but now I have concrete ways of articulating this to people who can make that happen. Thanks, Kathy.

I'm struggling with this question right now in many areas of life. I feel pretty successful. I have a job I enjoy, a wonderful family, and my own house in a nice neighborhood. But in some ways, I don't feel successful. I haven't quite finished my Ph.D. and when I do, I'm probably not going to pursue a faculty career. If I do pursue a faculty career, it won't be tenure-track. It would be continuing non-tenure track or some such kind of position. And that feels "lesser" to me. I feel "lesser" as just a staff member, which is part of why I'm even holding the thought of full-time teaching in my head. But I think I'd just be exchanging one "lesser" with another.

Success in academia is usually defined in terms of publishing the right number of papers in the right journals. It's going to conferences and people have heard of you, read your work, or whatever. At some places, it might also be defined by teaching, with awards or good evaluations. But that's on the faculty side. What would success look like on the staff side, for someone in my position?

In some ways, I could pursue success in the same way. I could publish. I do go to conferences. I've presented at many. That feels successful. If I were in development, I might measure success in terms of how much money I bring in. In admissions, getting a good class every year or increasing enrollment. But I don't have any good measurements like that. I have personal measurements. I feel like I've accomplished a lot, contributed a lot to the institution, but kind of have nothing to show for it. I have no award, no merit raise, no tenure or promotion. And here, I have no opportunities to pursue those accolades. I must settle for the occasional pat on the back or glowing email. And those are fine, but I think I want more.

The problem is, I can't define that "more." What would more look like? A promotion? A raise? A new position? I'm not sure. I can't get Chaucer's Miller's Wife out of my head. What do women want? What does this woman want? And I think the Miller's Wife has a point. Authority would be a good thing. Maybe.

And yet, most of the time, I'm perfectly content. Maybe I'm just having a "the grass is greener" moment where other opportunities or changing things in my current situation looks better than the status quo. Maybe I'm just getting greedy.

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