What Does “Success” Look Like?

This entry is being written in reaction to another survey response. Your content suggestions are appreciated, so keep them coming! The specific question was, “What does ‘success’ look like, anyway?” I will give you my answers to this, friends, but as with many things, your answers may vary.

What success is not (for me)

Can we all agree that most of us didn’t get into technical writing to become “rich?” I certainly didn’t set out to become fabulously wealthy by writing papers, proposals, training materials, or marketing materials. And while I have had some unusual gigs in my career, I can assure you that “glamour” or “fame” are not typical aspects of the technical writer’s career.

I mention these only because they are the typical markers of “success” in the United States. If you care about those markers to judge your own success, you might want to consider another line of work.

What success is (again, for me)

I sought out technical writing in my late 20s/early 30s because I wanted to work in the space business, and after a couple years I realized that I would not be making a contribution to that enterprise as an engineer.

How does that translate into success?

The work matches my interests: Why did I want to be a technical writer? I liked a particular industry or work content.

The work matches my skill set: I realized that while I was fascinated by human spaceflight, I was not particularly excited by the tasks required to make a technical contribution. I can write well, happily and often, with the only training being the details of the content. I can barely handle trigonometry, physics, chemistry, and many of the other subjects that require equations to make sense on a functional level. More to the point, while I could struggle with the math if I beat my head against the wall for several hours, I certainly wasn’t happy doing it.

Technical writing, for me, was a joyful convergence of my interests and abilities.

Am I doing work that interests me? Most of the time, yes.

Am I doing work that aligns with my personal values and aspirations? Yes.

Are my working hours compatible with my outside interests? Yes.

Am I getting paid well enough to support the lifestyle I’d like to have (apartment; working vehicle; ability to pay the bills, buy books, beverages, a Disney Annual Pass, and take a vacation every now and then)? Yes. That’s success for me.

What does success look like for you?

Americans are a work-focused lot, I know that. “What do you do?” is a very American question or greeting. It’s not meant to be impolite. A friend pointed out to me recently that Queen Elizabeth II had a different question she would ask, “How do you occupy your time?” or words to that point.

So if your career is not your priority, what is? And does whatever you do to pay the bills support you in your ability to pursue your priority? Along similar lines, what are your values, and does your work or life allow you to act according to those values?

If your priorities, values, and manner of living are in alignment, that would seem to me to be a fine definition of success. Money or fame might come or not. If you’re seeking such things, you can find them, even if you are a technical writer.

Live well!

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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