Defining Success

It was finals week at Oakland University. The bitter-sweet time that means a break is around the corner, at the expense of the most work I will do all year. I was enjoying another average evening, sitting through my three-hour night class, trying to fight off the urge to fall asleep as I had been up studying the night before. The professor told us that at the halfway mark, professors from the entrepreneurship minor would be speaking to us about the program. This happens all of the time; teachers come in, hand out some fliers and basically advertise new classes.

At the halfway mark, a familiar face walked in. It was Wayne Blizman of the Mac-OU INC staff! Wayne explained what his class next semester would entail and encouraged everyone to take it. When he was finished, he introduced his colleague as Dr. Mark Simon, the head of the entrepreneurship minor. Dr. Simon told us we were having a pop quiz in which he would give us three business scenarios and we would have to pick the most successful.

  • When I was younger I started a business. I put all of my money into it. My parents put up their house as collateral. I was exhausted, working at least 80 hours a week.I didn’t necessarily love the work. However, eventually we sold it for a large chunk of change… Way more money than I needed at that age, or could have gotten with a regular job

I was no longer fighting the urge to sleep. I was hooked.

  • Later in life, I would work two months out of the year hosting canoe trips and then spend the rest of the year marketing those canoe trips. This was significantly less money than option one, but I wanted to do something I loved. I love canoeing.
  • I am now a teacher at OU, which I absolutely love. I have written a book and created a set of entrepreneurial tools that I now sell on the side. Selling these on the side makes me the least amount of money. However I like it, because now that I am getting older I could die any day.

The whole room laughed.

He told us it was time to vote, and we had to pick only one. I voted for number one, as numbers two and three likely would not have been possible without it. I was wrong, as was the rest of the class. I assumed he would use the tacky consolation-prize “you are all right!” approach. However I was surprised when he said “You all get a zero!” His reasoning was that success is not a place you go.  It is not measurable. Success is a state of mind. All three were equal, because they were what he wanted at the time.

Even though he didn’t love the work he was doing in scenario one, he wanted to prove he could “make it big,” and even though scenarios two and three made him less money, he is much happier doing the work. Thinking of success in this way makes success seem much more attainable. Success is not about the destination, it is about being happy throughout the journey. As long as I am happy with what I am doing, the pressure is off… That is, once finals are over.

For those of you interested in Dr. Simon’s book – The Balanced Entrepreneur

Dave Boni
Marketing and Communications Assistant
Macomb-OU INCubator

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