Generation X vs. Millennials Definitions of Success

Success. It’s a word we hear all the time. Professors, parents, peers, and even we stress the need to be successful but what does does it even mean to succeed? My dream is to be an elementary school teacher, telling people that generates mixed reactions. Some people seem genuinely interested, others clearly disapprove. Those who frown upon my career choice often tell me the same thing, “you won’t make any money.” Does money dictate success? If I don’t own the nicest cars and clothes does that make me a failure? Clearly, I have a lot of questions so I asked people from both Generation X (born between 1965-1984) and Millennials (born between 1984-2004) to attempt to define success and gain an understanding of how the definition has evolved.

Below are a few definitions I received from Millennials as well as whether or not they believe there is a correlation between money and success:

  1. “Success is getting as close as you can to your true potential, while having a balanced life. There’s a range that I believe is a correlation with success like if I hit a certain point [financially] I’ll be like ‘Okay I made it.’” -Katelyn A.
  2. “When you are content with your life and can stop working. And Yes, when you don’t have to worry about paying bills then you are successful ” -Robby F.
  3. “When somebody meets/exceeds their expectations.”-Jeff K.

Each of these people interpreted success as having emotional fulfillment, yet when they answered if there was a correlation between success and money they all said yes. Meanwhile when discussing what it means to be successful with adults they gave me the following definitions:

  1. “Success in life is about having the financial resources to make choices.The ability to make a choice as opposed to being forced into a situation provides the opportunities for business and personal success. Money is just a way of keeping score. How much I have isn’t important until it limits my choices.” -Jim C.
  2. “I felt successful when I stayed home and raised my family and I feel successful having my own business and making a financial contribution to my family. Both have been very rewarding.” -Leigh C.
  3. “My personal definition of success is achieving or conquering the goals you set for yourself. I do not always believe that there are always monetary ties to success. I do believe that there is a correlation between wealth and success. I often think of missionaries or those that volunteer are very fulfilled and successful.” -Tracy L.

All of the adults claimed that there wasn’t a direct correlation between money and success, they all seemed to believe that having wealth was just an added bonus. I believe that the difference between our two generations is that youths are deeply embedded in a world driven by materialism and consumerism. People our age place such high importance on the objects they have rather than reaping emotional rewards that the world has to offer. I appreciated the way most people described success, but the idea that you have to have money to be successful turns me off.

Through my peers and the adults around me I was able to develop my own beliefs on what it means to succeed. I define success as reaching your potential while benefiting others.” I think it’s important that whatever makes you happy benefits the community around you and you find a way to gain emotional wealth. People driven by money are missing out on having true fulfillment and achieving their potential. I overall believe that you can reach success on a minimal salary, because as long as you are working towards your goals while being a productive member of society.