Do small business owners strive to live satisfying lives or successful lives? Are the two mutually exclusive?


This is an interesting question and one I have been pondering, not only now as a small business owner, but one I had been asking myself when I worked in the corporate world as well. I believe that you can be satisfied and successful. The key to having both is identifying what defines being satisfied and define being successful. Once you define your view, which is difficult, to begin with, then you most likely need to ignore what you see in society and social media, both try to define what a successful and satisfying life should look like.

I found an article in the Washington Informer dating back to 2014 and the headlines was:

Small-Business Owners Satisfied, but Fewer Feel Successful

The article was a short one and distilled the thought that there is a paradox and not uncommon to feel one but not the other. And if you fast forward to 2019, an SMB Survey reveals that:

Despite many complaints, it seems that small business owners are one of the most satisfied of all social classes.

Less than 1% of business owners report being truly unhappy with their current economic positions. This is much smaller than the vast majority of other social classes

  • 57% reported their job satisfaction levels as high
  • 7% as extremely high
  • 36% as moderate
  • < 1% as low
  • < 1% as extremely low

  • Note: Bear in mind that the total percentages might be slightly above or below the 100% mark, due to rounding of the survey results.

various planner styles

Keys To Success

No matter how you define success; there are 4 elements are essential to achieving success.

  1. Positive self-concept
  2. Clearly defined goals
  3. Hard work
  4. A willingess to take risks

Keys To Satisfaction

I found it harder to find an easy way to describe the keys to satisfaction, however, I think that Anjali Rajput has a fairly comprehensive list within her article at Medium.

  1. You yourself come first. Know your passions and interests
  2. Don't run for success, it will automatically come when you enjoy your work
  3. Materialistic things are merely social status don't run after them
  4. Enjoy the process to obtain success
  5. Try to build a good character rather than a big resume
  6. Personal development should never be ignored in any job
  7. Love your passion and keep working on them along with job or work life. If you don't have any passion then find one.

Successful and Satisfied

I think at this point we can fairly easily agree that success in one area does not mean that you are satisfied. According to  Issues I Face Magazine, psychologists and psychiatrists are seeing that you need to develop the total person, physically, psychologically, and spiritually to produce real satisfaction.

The questions we need to ask ourselves; what actionable things do we need to help us live both a successful and satisfying life? I came up with the list below of questions that I need to answer:

  • Define success – is it a specific $ amount in my bank account? Is it a specific # of clients?
    • Do I mean success overall meaning in both my personal life and professional life?
  • Define satisfaction – is it more happiness or contentment than unhappiness or discontent
  • Am I making time to take care of myself mentally (this includes emotionally), physically and spiritually

To help me work through this exercise I listened to a podcast from The Living Experiment, specifically, episode 45 (54 minutes long) which aired on July 4, 2017. The questions below are taken directly from the show notes, I found them very helpful as I am working through the process of defining what would help me feel like I am living a satisfied and successful life.

  • Do you really need to “go big or go home?”
  • Why our society’s definition of success often presents barriers to satisfaction, and how to overcome those obstacles
  • The importance of connection with others, the pursuit of a higher purpose, and goals built on our personal values
  • How our fear of disapproval and uncertainty keeps us stuck
  • Noticing and expanding on the little things that make us feel good
  • The lure of “The Hustle” — and how not to get hustled yourself
  • The value of questioning the notion that the harder we work, the more we’ll achieve

I don’t have all the answers right now but I do feel like I am on the right track and am making progress in structuring my life so that I feel both satisfied and successful. One thing that I am realizing is that this idea of being satisfied and successful is building on my Happiness Project from 2019, there is a similar concept; ebbs and flows. I realized that with the Happiness Project, it is impossible to be happy all the time. However, I found that I was successful because; I felt my baseline level of happiness was higher.

Scales, satisfaction success

What that means is that I was more likely to see the bright side of something or more easily brush off a set back. There is a certain ebb and flow to my level of happiness. As I question what I need to feel successful and what I need to feel satisfied, I must acknowledge that I do not live in utopia there will be times that I cannot be successful and satisfied at the same time, I need to roll with the ebbs and flows of life. You really cannot have it all, all the time.

As I leave this post what I am taking away: my goal is for most of my life to be able to say that I feel successful and satisfied, more often than I feel unsuccessful and unsatisfied. It is important to acknowledge that if you look at (hopefully short) periods of your life there are times when you need to sacrifice either your success or satisfaction in the short term so that when when you reflect on the whole length of your life the overall is balanced.

Have you defined what success and satisfaction mean to you? Do you think that success and satisfaction are mutually exclusive or can you have both? Do you value one over the other? Leave your comments on my Facebook page.

NOTE: I am not being paid for my mentions of people, articles, products, or books I used above nor do I receive referral compensation. The links I provide are for your convenience only.

DISCLAIMER: This advice is general in nature and not to be taken as personal professional advice. This blog does not provide legal advice if you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.

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Categories: Business