Creative Juice: Stop Mistaking Success for Self-Worth

July 21, 2014

You know, we might have been wrong in how we pegged the millennial generation.

It’s now a known cliche that every generation complains about young people, calling them selfish, rude, lazy, and all the other adjectives that otherwise illustrate how young folks don’t measure up.

I’m on the front edge of the millennial generation, and from what I can see, there is certainly a lot of ambition. There is a lot of passion and energy to not just live or survive, but to do great work. In many ways, people today are just as driven and ambitious as people have always been.

You might know that last week, Elaine Stritch passed away at age 89. She was about as far from a “millennial” as anyone can be, from a completely different generation. She spent her life on the stage and screen with her brassy, even caustic sense of humor. Of course, people my age probably only know her from 30 Rock. 

Sure, Stritch had plenty of struggles and none of them were ever hidden. But by any measure, she had a very long and successful career, something that would make any young millennial happy to dream about.

Yet, at the end of her life, when she could look back on all of her achievements and all of the laughs and ovations she received, she did not think much of it. She loved her work, but her success never made her feel secure. Her stage work never gave her any self esteem. She was eternally tied to her work. But at the end of her life, she seemed to know something that many of us do not: that success is not nearly what we imagine it to be.

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When we are old and looking back on our lives, I wonder if we will fondly reminisce about the hours we spent trying to be successful. I wonder if we will realize that there is more to our lives than making our names known and our careers great. I wonder if we will realize that our security and self-worth is not necessarily defined by our success.