Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.


Happy in your own skin

Q: How do you define success?

America's love affair with lists and rankings --- "best" colleges, "most powerful" Washingtonians, "richest" Americans --- reveals a widespread belief that success is all about money, prestige, celebrity, and, well, more money.  So wrong!  Some of the most successful people I know will never be boldface names in "Reliable Source" or driving Jags on K street or redecorating homes in Middleburg.

Instead, the most successful people I know are happy in their own skin, confident in their abilities and choices, caring little for acclaim or possessions.  For them, success means doing a great job each day, keeping promises, telling the truth and staying faithful to commitments even in tough times.

Being happy in your own skin means that you might make personal and career choices that differ from the expectations of others. When I was in my third year of law school, a friend asked me where I was going to work after graduation. I told him that I was going to work with a certain public interest group called Street Law, working with kids in the D.C. Public Schools, and he went wild. "Why are you going to do that?" he said with clear anger. "Why aren't you going with a law firm?  You'll ruin your career. You'll never amount to anything." 

That was 30 years ago. I think I've made a pretty good run of it, with opportunities for unusual and deeply satisfying work along the way.  Success, for me, meant being open to those opportunities, not being so focused on one career path that I missed alternative routes. One mentor I had put it this way:  "A good career is a series of well-managed coincidences."  Success often sneaks in the back door of coincidence, so leave it unlatched!

By Patricia McGuire  |  November 2, 2009; 12:07 PM ET  | Category:  Defining success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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