What Does Success Mean? What Definition Works for You?

Sometimes the simplest questions create the best conversations.

What does success mean? What definition are you using? How is that definition working for you?

After a hectic summer teaching English and directing a private high school English program in Vietnam, I’ve been asking myself these questions quite a bit. I learned many lessons, deepened a close friendship with two old friends, met many fine English teachers, and enjoyed working and living in a rapidly developing nation. I discovered new places, ate new dishes, and saw new sights. That sounds like success.

From a professional English teaching perspective, I also made some significant curriculum changes, adding more student-centered activities and oral presentations. Further, I oversaw the creation of a new, tailored version of Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations for Vietnamese English Language Learners. From the resume perspective, the summer certainly was successful. The bank account shows progress. Success right?

Yet there were several disappointments and setbacks both inside and outside the private school and EFL classrooms too. “Stunning” became an adjective of choice, and often as an expression of exasperation. The everyday restriction of information and huge income disparities continually discomforted me. I experienced culture shock for weeks, and often felt dislocated and ill at ease. I didn’t exactly feel successful. Or at least, this success didn’t feel so comfortable. As George Bernard Shaw noted, “Success covers a multitude of blunders.”

Therefore, I’ve been reflecting on the meaning of career success, and having some wonderful conversations with friends and fellow English and ESL teachers. Do you know the website TED.com? I often go there for ideas – and sometimes classroom materials for advanced ESL students.

Today, this lecture on developing a kinder, gentler definition of success from a TED conference by Alain de Botton commanded my attention. With wit and humor, the philosophical author critiqued the contemporary obsession with career success.

Personally, I found Botton’s words and reflections refreshing and helpful. You might too. Listen for yourself, and found out!

http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_a_kinder_gentler_philosophy_of_success.html

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A kinder, gentler definition of success

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