Dear Merriam-Webster, 105,000 people signed a petition and started a movement. People from all walks of life - CEOs, athletes, plumbers, celebrities, dancers, academics, high school dropouts, rich, poor, children, parents, and more – however you define them, all agree that the current definition of success could use some work. It’s not easy to ignore 105,000 people. Even the White House – an institution that is constantly bombarded with requests – has a policy of responding to any petition that receives more than 100,000 signatures. But, we haven’t heard from you, Merriam-Webster, and we’d really like to.
In 2014, Strayer University set out to discover what Americans really think about success. After we conducted a survey, we found out that 90 percent of the American public believes that success is more about happiness than power, money, or fame. We kept asking people to define success throughout the following year. We asked children what they wanted in life and found that they valued their friendships and happiness over fame and fortune. We elicited feedback from some of the most respected business leaders in the country and they told us having a purpose and self-fulfillment is what makes them successful. We talked to athletes and celebrities and found that their versions of success weren’t much different. These sentiments, though, are quite different than Merriam-Webster’s current definition of success: The fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.
We began to wonder what kind of effect this definition had on people. We asked people to rate their own success. It was hard – watching these individuals grow despondent and defeated as they judged themselves as unsuccessful in terms of money and prestige. But then we asked people in their lives to rate their success instead. And, as they watched their loved ones enter the room holding up their ratings, their faces lit up. They were beaming. Their pride was restored. Success without happiness isn’t success at all. Defining success means listening to people – all of them. And when you ask them about their greatest aspirations and most valued achievements they always mention their friends or their family. They talk about what’s truly important in their lives not about monetary or material gains.
We set out to redefine success and, ironically, we were successful by your definition. We have won the respect of 105,000 people and countless media mentions have made sure that we’re famous for it. We started to change the conversation around what it means to be successful. But we’re not happy. And while this is not a requirement for your definition, Merriam-Webster, happiness is important to us. Success, to us, is simple: Happiness derived from good relationships, and achieving personal goals. This is the definition that we proposed and 105,000 people stand with us. 105,000 people declare that the way we define success is important. 105,000 people want success to be a reflection of America’s values.
If you’re reading this and you, too, believe that the way we define success is worth standing up for, sign the petition, and share this letter on social media. And to you, Merriam-Webster, we implore you: listen closely to the voices of people who want to be more than your definition of success. Read the comments and watch the videos. Stand with us and let’s make it official. Help make us successful… by our definition.