I had a conversation the other day that really stuck–and continues to stick–with me. It was with my teenage son, who, aside from having grown a foot taller in the past few months (it’s like someone poured Miracle-Gro on him or something), is starting to seriously think about where he’s headed in life and where he’s going to find his place in the world. These are heady topics for kids his age and having someone to act as a moral compass could be helpful. Along those lines, I’m hopeful he’ll soon start to see me as someone who not only wants to help him find his path, but who actually can.
We had a few hours of windshield time together and eventually, the conversation turned to business. He wanted to know how much money I made and how that salary compared to other types of occupations. He wanted to know how I got started, and whether it was better to be self-employed than to have a “traditional” job. It was pretty obvious that he was imagining his future and was, typical of young people, looking for something that would swaddle him in riches. I asked him why he thought making a lot of money would make him happy.
He struggled to find an answer for me. The best he could come up with was “to buy stuff”. At that point, I started to seriously doubt my parenting abilities, and words failed. There’s nothing wrong with being able to “buy stuff”, but the old adage that “money can’t buy happiness” is absolutely true. Here’s what I wish I had said:
If you think success will make you happy, you have it backwards. Being happy will mean you’re a success.
The advice I’d like to give my son is to stop worrying about what you’ll earn and start paying attention to what makes you happy. Generally speaking the things that make us happiest, at least from a work perspective, are those things for which we have natural talent or ability. Many of us have a natural blind spot for self examination, and he’s no different, but his strengths are crystal clear to others. He’s confident, he’s funny and people like him because he has a quick wit, a great smile, and he is obviously good to his very core. If you met him, you’d like him; there’s no doubt in my mind of that. Perhaps his best traits are his stalwart defense of loyalty and justice. He’s the kind of person who holds his friends together, and protects them.
While I don’t know exactly how these strengths map onto a career choice, I know they are his key. It’s what he is effortlessly excellent at, and I believe that – no matter what he does – he’ll be happier and more successful if these natural strengths are employed and put to good use.
If he is able to use these strengths in his work and in his life, he will be happy and will, therefore, be successful.
That conversation led me to think about Happy Grasshopper’s customers. Many of them tell us they are good writers (and I believe them), but they know it’s not their natural strength. That’s our strength. It makes sense for them to hire us, because by doing the things we’re best at, we provide them with the time to be in front of more customers. It makes them happy, and it makes us happy too. They’re successful, we’re successful. And that makes us all VERY happy.