Today was interesting. I was asked to come back to the rural community where we raised our girls to speak at a scholarship luncheon. The topic? “Success is in the Bag”. Fascinating subject. It was the first time I have spoken to teens in a long while. It might be longer ago than I think because last time, there were no cell phones to distract them. They could, however, slump down in their chairs and tune me out for a little nappy time. And as I recall, they did. So I was uncharacteristically nervous.

I shared with them that I hadn’t pictured myself in a tiny rural town after growing up where I did and spending four years  working in corporate America. I was beginning to climb the ladder of success there in a very favorable environment for advancement. We married young and somehow I found myself working instead of finishing college like I planned.

When we moved “home” in the early 70’s there were few opportunities for a woman without a degree in teaching or nursing so I had to invent a situation for myself using the skills I did have which were sewing, drawing and talking to complete strangers. Miraculously, I did succeed in my work and using those meager talents we created a business that spanned over 22 years. Many would say we achieved success. I call it doing what I could, with where I was, with what I had. It was the first time I really reached deep into myself and tried to become what I could be – and that was where my story began.

I pitched out to them, “what does success look like? Let’s check the dictionary”…“favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors- accomplishment of one’s goals” and “attainment of wealth, fame, honors, etc.” And most of us have been raised to believe that when we become successful, we will be happy.

I’m a writer and I love words (a lot) so I checked out the origin of the word success and found something interesting. It seems the word comes from the Latin word succedere which means “come close after”. Hmm, comes after what? This might be the key question- asking, “what comes before success”?

I’ve studied this subject almost obsessively for over 30 years. What makes people tick? Just what is the recipe for that “secret sauce” that makes some people overcome seemingly insurmountable circumstances and thrive, while others who look like they have everything “going on” just wither, crumble and fail? And I am still studying!

One of life’s biggest surprises is that we never reach success, it’s always a journey. I’ve also learned that happiness actually precedes success. We achieve the results we want faster and easier when we begin by finding what gives us joy. We’ve been fooled into living it backwards. Science is beginning to prove that happiness increases proportionately to finding our unique values and using them to guide our path. When we do, even the difficult times we all will experience can create great personal growth and meaning in our life.

I urged them to begin now to look for clues in themselves about what it is that brings them joy and satisfaction and then try to find ways they can use those interests and skills in their work. The activities that absorb them completely often reveal where their strengths and talents lie and can be a great way to chart a course to a meaningful career.

I challenged them to decide on the principles and values they want to be known for. I told them they have the power to change things and to be unafraid of making a ruckus! Our work is only one dimension of a whole life and should reflect the things we care about. I reminded them that in today’s world they might have anywhere from 12- 20 different jobs over their lifetime and in the process might just find their personal sweet spot.

I hope to see them aspiring to a career that can provide them with purpose and meaning so that at the end of the day they will have the distinct opportunity of making the world a better place and leaving a legacy through the service they provided. I encouraged them  to understand and embrace that those that do are the richest of all.

Failure is a part of the journey, I reminded them, and if used wisely, the best teacher we can ever have. Those who do much fail much, learn more and become better if they heed the lesson failure provides and keep going. Mistakes may be painful at the time but looking back they become what’s known as experience!

I feel great about this age group of young people. They have some amazing traits like an entrepreneurial spirit, great social consciences, a desire for life balance, a heart for doing good and for volunteering. One source calls them “the most connected, educated and sophisticated generation in history…. and that they not only represent the future but they are creating it.”

It was wonderful to be a part of their day. I found myself becoming very emotional as I sent them off by wishing them not only joy and success but a life that is filled with meaning, few regrets and the chance to leave a legacy that is lasting. As always, I drove away having received much more than I gave. Today I was re-energized, inspired and encouraged. Thanks, kids, you make my heart smile.

Betty Streff

Betty Streff began her career as a customer service representative for a large corporation in Omaha. Four years later she found herself to be a farm wife in a small rural community with limited opportunities for women. After a humbling self assessment, she listed her assets as talents for sketching, sewing, and the natural ability to strike up conversations with complete strangers. Using these and her optimistic nature, she began stitching up some bibs and pillows for a craft show, who wouldn't? Over the next 25 years she became a serial entrepreneur obsessed with studying faith, spirituality, leadership, motivation, and management as she developed her businesses. Betty has spent the last few years working in corporate America in the hospitality and manufacturing world and she continues to immerse herself in the study of what makes people tick. The explosive growth in the relatively recent science of positive psychology fascinates her. Betty devours everything she can find on the subject and is especially intrigued with people who thrive no matter the circumstances and in discovering ways that happiness and optimism can be learned. She is currently exploring ways of sharing and cultivating the exciting possibilities with both individuals and businesses. She and her husband Steve have been married 45 years and are blessed with 2 incredible daughters, 2 fantastic sons-in-law and 6 amazing grandchildren.