Defining success on your own terms means being true to yourself and who you are.
I had the opportunity to hear First Lady Michelle Obama speak at Oregon State’s commencement ceremony when my son graduated last month. Her presence certainly added to the excitement, and emotion, of the day.
In developing and delivering her message Mrs. Obama reflected on her own life experiences, mistakes, and memories. She encouraged all of you in the graduating class of 2012, above all, to define success on your own terms.
Success, she said, is not about being impressive; it’s about being inspired. It’s about leading a rich life, no matter how much money you have.
Her message resonates with every one of us who pursue our careers and dreams, at any age. No matter what struggles you endure, focus on what you have, not on what you are missing.
The First Lady talked about being raised in a poor family, with very little in the way of material wealth. But what they did have was a loving family, a caring community, and the support and encouragement of others. What they had was people who believed in them.
With little in terms of material wealth, her family cultivated in her an appreciation of having all the things that money can’t buy. And they focused on that.
Define success on your own terms.
Early in her career, both she and her brother Craig (currently the men’s basketball coach at Oregon State) were college graduates doing big corporate jobs. By many standards they were deemed successful. But neither of them felt particularly fulfilled.
The work of writing corporate legal memos in a big high-rise soon lost its luster for her. She realized that she wasn’t happy doing that work and decided to pursue a career that leveraged her gifts, and gave her life more meaning. And yes, everyone thought she was crazy to do so.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, don’t leave behind unfinished business with those you love. Don’t just tell them you love them; show them.
Mrs. Obama talked about losing her Dad while in her mid-twenties. A heart-wrenching loss that still brings its emotional impact to the surface. When her father died she had no regrets about their relationship.
She had always taken the chance to say, “I love you.” More so, she had always taken the time to show him. Their relationship was an affirmation of their mutual affection. No regrets.
Friending someone on Facebook doesn’t count, she admonished. Relationships must be attended to and nurtured every day. It reminds me of the old saying “love is a verb.”
The true measure of success, Mrs. Obama said, is what you do when life knocks you to the ground.
You will encounter success, and you will face adversity. It’s easy to be loving life when thing are going your way. Success can sometimes feel easy.
But life will challenge you. And when it tests you most, you’ll have a choice in that moment of challenge to respond. What you do with those moments – how you respond – is what defines you. You can feel victimized, angry or defeated. Or, you can focus on the gifts you have and the opportunity before you.
Wishing you a life that is rich in all the things that matter.
What are the key messages that resonate with you from graduation season? Share your key ideas and leave a comment below!