President Patricia McGuire has been invited to join a distinguished panel of leaders to participate in a new online feature that the Washington Post launched this week called On Success. The new feature will profile people who have been successful in a variety of ways, will offer tips on achieving success, and will pose questions to the panel of leaders about different facets of success.
The feature was launched on Monday, November 2, with the first question, “How do you define success?” President McGuire’s response, “Happy in your own skin,” is reprinted below. The On Success feature will ask panelists different questions each week and can be accessed at WashingtonPost.com.
Q: How do you define success?
President McGuire: Happy in your own skin
America’s love affair with lists and rankings — “best” colleges, “most powerful” Washingtonians, “richest” Americans — reveals a widespread belief that success is all about money, prestige, celebrity, and, well, more money. So wrong! Some of the most successful people I know will never be boldface names in “Reliable Source” or driving Jags on K street or redecorating homes in Middleburg. Instead, the most successful people I know are happy in their own skin, confident in their abilities and choices, caring little for acclaim or possessions. For them, success means doing a great job each day, keeping promises, telling the truth and staying faithful to commitments even in tough times.
Being happy in your own skin means that you might make personal and career choices that differ from the expectations of others. When I was in my third year of law school, a friend asked me where I was going to work after graduation. I told him that I was going to work with a certain public interest group called Street Law, working with kids in the D.C. Public Schools, and he went wild. “Why are you going to do that?” he said with clear anger. “Why aren’t you going with a law firm? You’ll ruin your career. You’ll never amount to anything.”
That was 30 years ago. I think I’ve made a pretty good run of it, with opportunities for unusual and deeply satisfying work along the way. Success, for me, meant being open to those opportunities, not being so focused on one career path that I missed alternative routes. One mentor I had put it this way: “A good career is a series of well-managed coincidences.” Success often sneaks in the back door of coincidence, so leave it unlatched!