Whether we are conditioned to believe, or whether it is innately within us, the desire for success can be strong but not uniform in humans.
Of course, the rub is, the definition of success is a slippery thing, both changing over time and reflecting life circumstances.
I have learned a few things regarding the pursuit of success from being in business for over 30 years.
In my early twenties, I did several jobs, mostly what you could call piece work. That is jobs where the faster you were, the more money you got paid, as remuneration was based on your output. These jobs included shearing sheep and planting and pruning forestry trees. It might be a little bit of a stretch to say I was in business, but occasionally, I employed someone.
This type of employment allowed us to buy a house and a small block of land, and while not wealthy, we were doing okay. We had a healthy family and our own home, surely a sign of success?
Even though we were doing okay, by my mid-late twenties, I felt I needed a change. When Nicola’s parents offered us the opportunity to become involved in River Valley, we took it. At first, I managed River Valley, and a short while later, Nicola and I bought the business from her parents.
There was no doubt now that we were in business.
How Did We Measure Success at That Point of Time?
We bought the business of River Valley when New Zealand was still amidst a major recession that followed Rogernomics’ economic “reforms” and the sharemarket crash of 1987. Interest rates were over 20%. The business model that River Valley had initially been set up on – catering to groups, often the social clubs of various firms who wanted to go white water rafting, was failing. Unemployment was high, and there was little light on the horizon. It was tough.
Success was easy to define in those days, the early 1990s. Success was simple. If we could get the business to survive and not go broke, then that was success. But how long could that viewpoint last?
The Next Twenty Years
Over the next twenty years, we had our highs and lows. We were the classic case of a struggling undercapitalised business. We were, as the saying goes, “pulling ourselves up by our own bootlaces”. We borrowed money, sometimes too much, but eventually paid it all back. We developed the Lodge, worked hard, sometimes played too hard, but as far as measuring success was concerned, if we thought about it at all, it was still centred around surviving and succeeding financially.
However, even then, there were signs that this narrow definition of success was not enough.
The Triple Bottom Line
In 1994, author and entrepreneur John Elkington popularised the triple bottom line concept. Or, in other words, measuring business success under the headings, “people, planet, profit”. While aware of and interested in this, it would be a stretch to say that we actively sought to measure our success under these slogans. It would be true to say, however, that becoming aware of these concepts started to colour how we looked at the business and how we thought about success.
The 20 Teens and New Thoughts About Success
As per the previous decade, River Valley still had its ups and downs. But by the mid-teens, we were making steady, if unspectacular profits. Financially I think you could say we were a success, but the feeling that this was not enough increasingly grew stronger, but what was and is success, is, other than financial, as always, hard to articulate.
Over time I had become increasingly dissatisfied with how we measured our success. Other than surviving as a business, a simple financial measurement of success now seemed inadequate. Once your attention does not always need to be on survival, you are freer to look at a broader picture.
This broader picture encompasses elements that once upon a time may have seemed peripheral, but on reflection can now be seen to be critical. What is the point in having a financially successful business if all around you is falling into chaos? What is the point if the business that you have worked at for decades does not bring LIFE?
I now believe a business to be successful must bring LIFE. What we are talking about here is not sustainability – the doing of least harm – instead, it is about being regenerative. It is about building wellth as in well being, about positive environmental outcomes, and contributing to happy, healthy communities. And yes, we still need to make a profit, but when we focus on fostering LIFE as a measure of success, now in the morning that is worth getting out of bed for.