Understand that success is finding happiness rather than monetary gain. I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the world and live abroad. I’ve lived with individuals who were incredibly poor, even from a third-world standpoint. Yet, many of those individuals are just as happy as we are here in the most abundant society the world has ever known. I know too many professionals who earn fantastic incomes who are miserable.
Have you ever noticed how often we equate success with more? Whether that’s more products, more profits, more activities or more accomplishments, we buy into the belief that we have to do more to have more to be more. And that will sum up to success. And then along comes The Great Resignation. Where employees are signaling that the “more” that’s being offered — even more pay, more perks, and more PTO — isn’t summing up to success for them. We visited with leaders who are redefining what success means now. Their answers might surprise you.
As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Edson Barton.
Edson Barton is CEO of YouScience and founder of Precision Exams. As a 20-year EdTech veteran, he leads YouScience as it revolutionizes the personalization of career education — bridging the edtech and talent tech markets and solving critical education-to-workforce issues such as the skills gap and program equity and diversity. By providing students a more direct and tangible way to connect their education to their future careers, YouScience improves academic outcomes including high school graduation rates and post-secondary enrollment and completion rates.
Prior to leading YouScience and founding Precision Exams, Edson was the CEO and co-owner of ProCert Labs, a standards alignment and validation organization, and served as a senior director with Certiport where he oversaw client activities for Adobe, Autodesk, Intuit, and Microsoft, including worldwide publisher channels. Additionally, he was a sales vice president for Imergent and the executive director for Kids Voting Utah.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. We all have myths and misconceptions about success. What are some myths or misconceptions that you used to believe?
I think some of the largest misconceptions about success are that it’s the same for everybody and that one size fits all. Typically, our one version of success is financial or authoritative, or something similar. What I’ve found is that success is really a very individual thing, and the more we can help all individuals find their personal version of success, the better off we are, both as individuals and as a society.
How has your definition of success changed?
Success, for me, for a long time had to do with building organizations and my career. And while those are still important, my definition of success has expanded to be much more inclusive of personal things rather than just monetary things. Today, what brings happiness is a much better definition of success than monetary means or building a great company. The only time money and authority are really a success is if they bring happiness and fulfillment to one’s life, which they don’t do by themselves. They only bring the trappings of happiness and fulfillment. I think that’s been the biggest change in my definition of success over time.
The pandemic, in many ways, was a time of collective self-reflection. What changes do you believe we need to make as a society to access success post-pandemic?
How we define what success is and how we achieve it is one of the biggest things coming out of the pandemic. Especially during the post-pandemic where we’re seeing so many individuals resign from their jobs. It could be very positive or it could be a societal change that has little impact or even a negative impact in the long term.
As studies are coming out about the Great Resignation, we’re finding that most people are quitting because they weren’t finding happiness or fulfillment in their jobs. They had jobs for the sake of a job. Sometimes that’s necessary. But today, you can find meaningful work doing almost anything. By meaningful, I mean something that brings you satisfaction and a paycheck. And though we can’t all be artists or whatever we think we love, we can find a real job doing something we feel inherently good about, one that comes naturally, is satisfying and that provides a living for our families and ourselves.
Getting there will take focusing on helping individuals find out who they are, what they’re good at, and will be happy doing. It will take connecting that to their work as part of a fulfilling life, not as a substitute for it. That’s what YouScience does. We connect peoples’ aptitudes to their work. When we do that, happiness goes up, satisfaction with work goes up. People inherently do better. And that fuels growth and success for individuals, communities, and society as a whole.
What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic? We would love to hear a few of your stories or examples.
Some of the positives that came out of the pandemic include refocusing on family and personal satisfaction. We asked ourselves what would happen if society shut down? Could we still be happy with who we are and where we’re at? It has also forced us to focus on the skills and work realities needed to perpetuate an economic recovery that benefits everyone.
Pre-pandemic, the skills gap was widely talked about. Post-pandemic, the skills gap topic has exploded. We talk about it as the wage gap, but that’s really a skills gap. There are more jobs open in the US than there are skilled applicants. We haven’t done a good job as a society of helping people find and build skills properly.
The positive side of that is that we are refocusing on what skills are needed and asking if our education programs are set up to deliver those skills. We’re asking if we’re helping people find the right programs for them so they can benefit society at large.
I think that’s a reflection of a new-found need to help each other. The pandemic forced us to think more about ourselves, but about others as well. I know that so many of my personal family members, regardless of their own situations, came closer together. We helped each other more and supported each other. That happened throughout society as a whole too and is reflected in this re-examination of culture.
We’re all looking for answers about how to be successful now. Could you please share “5 Ways To Redefine Success Now?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
First is to understand that success is finding happiness rather than monetary gain. I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the world and live abroad. I’ve lived with individuals who were incredibly poor, even from a third-world standpoint. Yet, many of those individuals are just as happy as we are here in the most abundant society the world has ever known. I know too many professionals who earn fantastic incomes who are miserable.
The second is to redefine what success is to you as an individual. The answer is by focusing on those aspects of who we are that make us unique and help us find success. The primary way to do that is to link someone’s aptitudes, or natural talents and abilities, to what they do for the rest of their life as a career. If we do that, we inherently have more satisfaction and that can’t help but increase the feeling of success.
The third way is to define success as doing something you find satisfaction in, regardless. If you enjoy what you do and find it satisfying instead of a struggle, you’re successful. I think of K12 educators. They’ve been underpaid for a long time. But so many educators find tremendous joy and fulfillment in what they do. On the flip side, many lawyers are miserable. They chose a job for money instead of satisfaction. As individuals, we need to rethink the proposition of success as something that brings us satisfaction every day! We also need to pay teachers more money.
The fourth way is to redefine which careers equal success. Too many high-paid professionals are miserable. There are a ton of news stories out there about engineers turned teachers. They weren’t bad engineers. They just discovered, belatedly, that they get more satisfaction from teaching. Many restaurant workers, teachers, and many others are happy doing what they do. They find joy in serving others. They find success. Success should be about personal satisfaction, not holding a certain career.
The last way really comes down to personal health and well-being, which is closely aligned with the others. So much of what we define as success is about climbing the corporate ladder. Study after study has shown that people in the rat race have negative health impacts. We really need to focus on a happier, better, more sustainable career and life. When we do the things we need to do along the way, we’ll find better health and well-being and true success.
How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?
Our lives would change dramatically. I’ve talked about the happiness factor, but we live in an age where studies on social and emotional well-being are rampant. Instead of those studies contradicting each other as many do, they’re building on each other. What this tells us is that we can move ourselves to a happier state and redefine our priorities, everything in our lives improves. Our health, our relationships, our work output.
Society at large starts to change. You see microcosms of this at companies that focus on culture and well-being. Those employers continue to be ranked — by employees — as the best employers around. They’ve studied the effects on families of happy workers and found it affects the worker’s whole family. The families are happier.
The next step is when pockets of this happen throughout a community, the community becomes stronger and happier and more fulfilled. That spreads further and even reduces societal tensions.
In other words, if we can make people happy in their careers, society as a whole starts to improve. To get there, we have to refocus on outcomes — career satisfaction through aptitude discovery that puts people in the right roles — instead of the process to get there, i.e. you simply have to go to school or college. If we do that, we help society as a whole — essentially from the ground up.
What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of our redefined success? And what advice would you offer about overcoming those obstacles?
The biggest obstacle to redefining success is our inability to shift our thinking and priorities and then scale the tools and mechanisms needed to help people find their true selves, their aptitudes, and link their aptitudes to their education pathways and their future careers. Without redefining success and having the right tools in the hands of the masses, we’ll continue to be unsuccessful. We may pay the bills, but we won’t really be happy.
We have to have funding too. Funding that focuses on outcomes rather than on processes. For example, doing education for the sake of education, which is what we do today, even in postsecondary education. Education should be funded to focus on the individual. Can we get you into the right pathway that helps you achieve personal success. And can we tie all of that together with a future career that makes you satisfied and happy throughout your life. Doing that can level the playing field across society. Education shifts from being about where you live or what your parents do to being about what you were born to do well and be happy doing. That has the potential for a massive societal shift.
We’ve seen that when companies focus on those issues, like YouScience, we produce results. Everytime. Right now, as an example, when we help students in high school focus and connect aptitudes to potential careers and to their education, graduation rates jump 13% on average. For at-risk students, those rates jump as much as 30%, just by making connections. That’s life changing.
Where do you go to look for inspiration and information about how to redefine success?
I read a huge number of books. A lot of the insights I gain there are invaluable. I like to read a variety of books to get a number of perspectives.
Even more than that, personally, I find tremendous benefit by associating with people who are older than I am. Their insights are invaluable. They’ve lived their lives. They’ve had tremendously varied experiences. They’ve gone through pains and sorrows and joys and successes. And their definitions of success almost always omit money and authority. They’re in a unique place to distill their experiences down to the most important factors.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she or they might just see this if we tag them.
Warren Bufett and Bill Gates. I believe they have tremendously valuable insights. I find both of them to be insightful about business, but also on what they’ve learned from the experiences they’ve gone through by seeing so many types of businesses and problems they’ve supported through their charities and other ways. I’d love to sit down and talk to them about the values that they now see as most important and the way they would spend their time differently today and what their greatest regrets and greatest fulfillments are.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can really follow the YouScience website. I put everything I have into this business, so I don’t do much personal evangelizing outside of building the business and enjoying watching our employees build an incredible company together.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.