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Susan Hanson, Ph.D.

Susan Hanson, Ph.D.

Dr. Susan Hanson received her BA in Biology and Chemistry in 2001 from Luther College in Decorah, IA and her Ph.D. in Pharmacology from Vanderbilt University in 2005 under the direction of Dr. Vsevolod Gurevich. Sue continued as a postdoc in her graduate lab for a year to complete several ongoing projects. Her work focused on the structure-function relationship between arrestin proteins and several different signaling molecules including GPCRs, microtubules, and calmodulin. In 2006, Sue accepted a postdoc position in Dr. Cynthia Czajkowski's lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research, supported by an NRSA postdoctoral fellowship, focused on understanding the molecular mechanism of benzodiazepine interaction with the GABA-A receptor. During her postdoc at the UW-Madison, Sue had several opportunities to teach and began to shift focus towards teaching full-time. In the fall of 2009, she accepted a position as a Lecturer of Biology at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She currently teaches a two-semester Introductory Anatomy and Physiology course as well as Advanced Human Anatomy and Advanced Human Physiology. She was recently promoted to Senior Lecturer at Carroll.

Spotlight Conversation

Conducted, transcribed, and contributed by Kurt | May 2013

Could you describe yourself using just a few short tag lines? I would say first and foremost I'm very organized, borderline obsessive-compulsive, and very detailed oriented. And I care about making sure that things are right. So as an instructor I'm very cognizant of the fact that students like to have things a certain way.

Can you describe your responsibilities as a senior lecturer at a liberal arts college? I am charged with teaching several lecture sections and some labs during the semester. 80% of my time is supposed to be spent teaching and preparing for teaching. The other 20% of my time is expected to be what we call service and that is miscellaneous needs of the college or university. So for example my service is to coordinate the introductory anatomy and physiology lectures and labs. We have several sections of lectures each semester and almost twenty lab sections. My service to the college is to meet with the instructors weekly and coordinate content, and make sure that everybody knows what they're doing. Then I have other miscellaneous services that I do on some committees. Primarily my job is to teach, so each semester I teach three lecture sections. Right now I teach two of the introductory anatomy and physiology course, and one of the advanced, either, anatomy or physiology depending on the semester. And then I teach two labs along with that. As an instructor, as a non-tenured track person, we try to keep the contact hours, actual classroom hours per week, at about seventeen or eighteen. The remainder of my forty hour week is office hours and prepping and grading.

What does a typical day look like for you, if such a thing exists? I come in about nine o'clock or so, I have an hour commute, so it's a little bit unique I guess in that regard, so I get in about nine, and I would say that most faculty get in between eight and nine. My first class this last semester was at ten o'clock, so I would have about forty-five minutes or so to sit at my desk and make sure I knew what I was doing for that day in class, review my notes or check my e-mails and things like that from students. I taught two sections of introductory class, one at 10, one at 11 and then at noon I went and taught my advanced human physiology. So on some days of the week I would be done with teaching for the day and then I would have typically a couple office hours after that. That time would be filled with either students coming to see me with questions or grading things or answering e-mails or maybe I have some meetings with other faculty or something like that. Otherwise, other days of the week I would have a three hour lab in the afternoon. So two days out of the five I had a lab in the afternoon instead. And then on Wednesday- our schedule is a little bit funny, we have four days of class- and then on Wednesday I didn’t have any classes. So Wednesday was either filled with meetings or some days I didn’t even have to go to campus because I could do my grading or whatever prep I had to do from home. There is some flexibility there, but you have to teach your classes when the classes are running. So your flexibility may not be quite as much as when you are a postdoc and you can schedule a dentist appointment for the middle of the day and come back and work later into the night.

In your current position do you have any choice in the courses you get to teach? I'm charged with doing anatomy and physiology, primarily. They are going to get us into teaching more general education courses. We re-arranged our Gen. Ed. program, and they want more faculty teaching in that. So it might be that every other year, or every other semester, I would teach a Gen. Ed. course. But I was hired to do anatomy and physiology so I will be doing that until I convince them otherwise I guess. But I do have some say in what times I teach and stuff like that. So that's nice. Because there are so many sections I can do that, although other classes are not always like that.

Who or what inspired you to pursue higher education and go on and earn your doctorate? I guess it's part of my personality. I was, as a high school student and as a college student, I was an athlete and I always wanted to be the best at everything. I was a decent athlete. I never won any championships or anything, but it was the same in academia. I always had to get good grades and I always knew that I was going to get the highest degree in my field, whatever that was going to be. As an undergraduate I always thought that I was going to be an M.D. because that's the only thing I knew about. When I was in college and I actually got experience in that realm, I realized that I wasn't really good with it in terms of patient contact. And that's why they have you do things like that, like volunteer. I volunteered and realized that this is not my strength. So then I tried some research internships. I did some summer internships and I really liked working in the lab. I had some good mentors in the summertime, really intelligent people.

Were your internships at Luther College or were they summer programs through other universities? So I did my undergrad at Luther, but did one summer internship at the University of Iowa, and then I did my other one at Mayo Clinic. The one at Mayo Clinic was in pharmacology and I was really interested in that because I was a biology and chemistry major, so I liked sort of the crossroads or whatever you want to call it, the overlap between biology and chemistry and thought pharmacology was perfect for that. So that's why I went with pharmacology and all I did was basically look up the top pharmacology programs in the country and say where should I go and that's what I did and went off and I got my Ph.D. And it worked out I guess.

When you chose the lab you worked in for your Ph.D., were you thinking about what experiences you were going to gain that would help you in the next step of your career, or was it mostly because you had an interest in pharmacology and it was a pharmacology lab? I would say the latter. I had no aspirations or expectations in terms of what I would be doing after my Ph.D. I guess I was ignorant in that regard. I just was living in the moment. So I did three rotations in three different labs and I chose my lab based on personality fit and based on good science. I wanted to be successful- it goes back to that, where was I going to be more successful- so I picked my lab based on that. I got really lucky in that regard because our lab collaborated with a lot of people. It put me into contact with a lot of different people and gave me a wide range of experience. I was working with mice and then all the way down to the molecular level, making mutations and things like that. So it was a really neat experience. I was doing tissue culture with cells, and working with molecules, and mice.

It is really interesting when you can follow research questions from the molecular level up to the whole organism and you can definitely learn a lot. Exactly. And my mentor was not afraid to collaborate with other people who knew more than him about certain things. Oh, say we don't know anything about EPR or some sort of technique, well we’re not going to do that ourselves, we are going to find the best person in the country who does that and work with them.

We avoid doing that sometimes in academia. We want to be able to accomplish it all on our own. But that is definitely the more efficient and the smarter way to do it. Exactly, and it fit my personality very well. This sort of goes with our conversation: my mentor, he was totally research oriented. He was really pushing me to become a PI like him. You know, like most PIs because that is what they like to do. And he thought I would be really good at. You start to think about these things towards the end of your Ph.D. and I never really thought I was going to run my own lab. I just didn't have the interest in that. I thought it would be too stressful and I didn't think I had good enough ideas in terms of creativity and writing grants. The next step is to go do a postdoc and say, “I'm going to try a different field and this is going to be fun”. So that is what I did. Plus my husband was going back to law school so we knew we were coming to Madison. It was the logical thing for me to do, to work at the University. I actually applied to several industry jobs in Madison, but I didn’t get any responses from them.

When you came to Madison you were still doing really productive research with Dr. Czajkowski, but at some point you must've come to the decision that you were going to be done with research. Do you recall and can you share the moment when you realized it was time to make a transition away from the lab bench and into the classroom? I don't know if there was an exact moment, like I said I guess I always kind of knew in the back of my mind I didn't want to be a PI. When I started with the postdoc I was thinking to myself, “I'm going to be here for a while,” and I wanted to be. My goal was to publish some papers there and to learn something, obviously. Then thinking about what was my next step, knowing that I didn't really want to be PI, then I started exploring, “Well what else do people with PhD's do?” And the logical next thought is they teach, so I always thought about that. Then I went to a career day and there were lots of people there, they had people from industry and academia, patent lawyers, editors, and all this stuff. So I went to that thinking I need to get some ideas here because I'm not really inspired at this moment. That was actually really helpful because I ruled out some things and realized that I needed to get some more experience in teaching. Well first of all deciding if I want to do teaching or not. How are you going to know if you want to do that? You have to get some practice. So my next step after that was to get myself some practice. Initially I was going to throw my name into the pool of people who teach at the community college. They always have a running pool, you know, every semester they might call you, so I was going to do that. I happened to mention it to Dr. Czajkowski and she said, “No, no, no, you don't want to do that. There are plenty of people around here that you can work with and teach with.” And one of them was Kevin Strang, he teaches the physiology course. It was absolutely fabulous because they teach that course during the summer, so it is a little bit lower key and it is condensed. He offered that I teach one out of the four units they have, so it was two weeks worth of teaching. So it wasn’t like I was going to screw up an entire course and it wasn't too long so I wasn't going to miss a bunch of time in the lab and Cindy was okay with it. I put so much time into preparing, I was so nervous. The first time I taught it was almost excruciating because I was so nervous and I had to practice. I was doing it like I was giving a talk and I knew that wasn't flowing right. I was trying to memorize stuff and I felt the more I practiced it the better I would be. It was insane. I was practicing in my garage with a whiteboard. I would kind of pretend teach. It just wasn't working. This isn't natural. This isn’t how it's supposed to be. But you know I did it the once and I thought well I feel like it's okay and if I just got more practice it might flow better, and they actually let me do it a couple more summers.

Were you getting feedback during this time? Kevin was there, and also the other instructors Drew Lokuta and Beth Altschafl, who teach it on a regular basis, were there- not the whole time, they were in an out- but they provided feedback that was very helpful: Oh you should do this or take this approach, don't tell this to the students, or do it this way. Very, very helpful for someone who has never done that before; rather than just staring out into the crowd and having them love you or hate you and not know. But yet you have someone in the crowd who has done it for the last 10 years and they can go, “Oh, that didn't go so well” or “Try this next time instead.” I feel like I got the benefit of a lot of free advice. They didn't have to do that, is the point. I mean they didn't have to spend their time to sit there and listen to me do it, and they did, and those kinds of people are being really nice. They cared about developing me as an instructor and it is because of that I felt like, okay, I don't have to just run away and hide because this day didn't go so well. It is sort of like, “Well, I'm just starting off so things are not going to be perfect.”

Do you still use any of them as a mentor today or continue to get feedback for your teaching? When I first started at Carroll University I would e-mail them now and then with comments or stories or whatever. I've shared materials with them and they have shared materials with me, which is really nice. I feel like it's really open and it's not like, “I developed this so you can't take it with you.” It's always like, “Oh sure what do you need?”, so it's really nice.

Did you get any feedback from your postdoctoral advisor or from your family about the decision that you had made to pursue a career in teaching? Were people really supportive? Were people wondering if you are being too decisive too soon or if you should keep your options open? I think for a lot of postdocs the reaction that you're going to get from those around adds a little more pressure to the decision. What was your situation like with the people in your life? I started teaching when I had been in Cindy’s lab for a full year and I knew that I wanted to stay in Cindy's lab longer. I had just gotten an NRSA Fellowship, and I was excited about my research project so I wasn't going anywhere. So my thought was this teaching was really fun, I really enjoyed putting together the lectures and all that stuff, but I wanted to stay doing my research and my thought was well, I will just keep doing the teaching on the side. So once a year I would do it in the summertime. That way Cindy was fine with it because it wasn't like I was doing that teaching every month or something, it was once a year. She was very supportive, you know, this is what you're interested in and you should get experience in that. I really appreciated that because not all mentors actually let their postdocs do that. It might have helped that I had my own funding, but some mentors would say, “No, you have to do that on your own time.” She always was encouraging me. She thought I was going to be a PI. Quite frankly I have an excellent publication record and so when anybody looks at my resume they go, “Oh my goodness, no doubt she could succeed as a PI,” and I just kept telling them, “No, you don't get it.” I know myself and I know that I'm not that person and I know that I wouldn't be a good PI. To me it was about knowing myself and I knew that it would be a really hard conversation to have with Cindy and a really hard conversation to have with my Ph.D. advisor because he was the same way. I thought he would look down on me if I took a teaching job, you know, because I would be quote-unquote wasting my potential or something like that. My family's reaction was, “I can't see you as a teacher.” I think they had a hard time visualizing me doing that and they just kind of chuckled to themselves and they thought that was interesting. And that didn't bother me at all because I didn't know if they could really picture me in the lab either.

I think what is great is that you were able to recognize in yourself what you are more suited for and what you wanted to do. That is a huge first step in pursuing a career. Exactly and I think that is where a lot of people run into problems. Everybody needs to realize that they have to be happy with what they do. You don't want to spend the next forty years of your life in a job that you don't want to go to every day. I liked my job as a postdoc. I liked the atmosphere. I liked the people I worked with. I liked the research. But I knew that I would get bored with that. That is just my personality; every three or four or five years I have to do something different. So I knew that I would have to leave that at some point and I was finding that I really enjoyed preparing these lectures more than I enjoyed going and doing my experiments on frog oocytes and electrophysiology. So I felt like I've been there done that and I want try something else. So it was a hard conversation to have with Cindy, but she was supportive. I guess she was probably surprised, but she was very supportive, which helped, and I was dreading the fact that I would have to tell my Ph.D. advisor, but he happily wrote a letter of recommendation. He recognized that if this is what you want to do, this is your life and it's not his life. So I hope on that end the advisors recognize that not everybody wants to do their job and that people have other strengths. So I think people should feel like they need to do what makes them happy. Maybe you’ll decide that down the road that is not what you want to do your whole life and then you can find something else, but I think people need to care less about what other people think and care more about what they want to do. I feel like it was a big step for me because, like I said, I'm a very competitive person and to be the biggest and the best would mean that I would go work in industry and make the big bucks or be a PI or something like that, and I don't do that and that part was hard for me, but you know what, I'm a lot happier in my job.

It sounds like you had great advisors. I don’t know about all of the advice they gave you, but just the fact that they genuinely had your best interest in mind when you came to them is a huge step in the right direction for any mentor-mentee relationship. If it wasn’t for Cindy allowing me to teach like that, I would not have gotten that experience. Who knows what I would’ve done. Maybe I would have done moonlighting at a community college to get my experience, but maybe not. I don’t know. I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate that and she has been very good with other students and postdocs in her lab about “you know what, you have to do what is best for you”. It may not be what is best for her and her lab, and the number of publications that her lab is going to crank out, because I spent two weeks teaching instead of doing experiments, but I am glad that she realizes that in the end it is about people being happy because if they’re sitting in the lab or sitting at the bench unhappy they are not going to be productive either.

Once you had some teaching experience, how did you approach your job hunt to find a position? I was restricted by geography because my husband had a job in the area and I knew that I would have to find a job that was within driving distance. So I guess in a way that made it easier for me, I mean it restricted me somewhat, but it was easier because I didn't have to do a lot of searching and a lot of weighing the options. I just sort of said well I have to look at Wisconsin and I knew where the Wisconsin schools were and I could Google maps how far it was going to take me to drive and I eliminated anything that was too far. I didn't have it in my mind that I was going to leave Cindy's lab at a certain time. Like I said I had this fellowship and I had one more year on the fellowship, so I could've stayed on no problem, but I also knew that because I was restricted by geography that if an opening came that I needed to really consider doing it because a perfect opening doesn't happen every year. The opening came up in May of 2009 and I decided actually to apply for it more for practice because it was a significant distance from my home. It was a 75 minute drive and, you know, I'm thinking I'm probably not going to take this job because it is so far away, but it is going to be good practice. I encourage anyone to do that just for practice. I mean practice in terms of preparing application materials. I had to write a teaching philosophy. I had to get letters of recommendation. I had to write a cover letter and get my CV together. I mean that was all really good practice. And I had applied to another place actually as well and that was an absolute disaster. I'm quite embarrassed about it now, but thinking back I wouldn't have wanted that job anyway and it actually was good that I practiced on that one because then the second interview was the one with Carroll and that one went much better. I think the problem with the phone interview the first time was I went online and I looked at what kind of questions are they going to ask you in the phone interview, make sure you prepare your answers, and all this stuff. I spent quite a bit of time typing out answers to what I thought were going to be their questions. Then what happened was they would ask me a question that was sort of similar to something I had down and I was trying to read my answer and it was just totally awful. I was distracted during the phone interview and it was awful and I wouldn't have asked me to come for a campus interview either, but the experience was really enlightening in terms of- oh my gosh- this is what the interview is really like. The next time it happened I found a quiet place and I didn't prepare answers ahead of time, I just said, “You know, this is common sense stuff. Just answer honestly and you can't go wrong. Don't try to be something that you're not.” That one went pretty well and they asked me for an on-campus interview. Actually, I do best when I think I'm not going to get something or take the job and so I wasn't nervous at all because I thought the whole time in the interview I'm not going to take this job, I just can't do this, it's too soon, I still have stuff to do in Cindy's lab, which helped because I was totally relaxed, because I didn't have to take the job. Then they offered it to me and I thought, “Oh dear God, now have to think about this,” and the choice was, you know, I really do enjoy the teaching a lot more than research and when will another opportunity like this come along? So I took it and I don't regret it at all. It was really hard the first semester, it was so much work, it was the most amount of work I've ever done in my whole life, but now it's what it should be. I think anybody who's taking a teaching job will tell you the first semester or the first year is awful because you don't have anything prepared.

Now that you've been a lecturer for a few years, what would you say are the three things you like most about your career? I really like interactions I have with students. Some of my classes are really large but in labs I get to know my students, their personalities, what they want to be when they grow up, and things like that. It is exciting to connect with people who are impressionable and that you can have an impact on their lives and give them ideas about where they can go that they might never have thought of. So I like that aspect. I really do like science and I love to learn and I think that being an instructor is a fabulous way to experience that. I am constantly reading things and trying to make things better and kids are constantly asking questions. It's just interesting to me; the science is interesting. I have taught the class so many times now that I know it like the back of my hand and I can just talk about it without having notes and I can come up with stories and analogies and things like that, that's what I really like. And the students seem to like that as well. And of course I like the college atmosphere and the people that I work with are really nice. Like I said it’s a semi-flexible schedule. I get summers off.  It works for me for someone who has a family. I can do my science and and I don't feel overwhelmed.

Do you feel like you have a reasonable career life balance? Yeah, I drive two hours every day, one hour each way, that's true and I probably do have to do a little bit of extra work outside of my office time because of that, but I'm so used to it by now that I know how much time it takes me to do things and I can plan ahead a lot better. I do a lot of things before the semester starts, like prepare all the lab quizzes ahead of time, because I won’t have time for it later. I'm so adapted to it now that it's just part of my routine.

Can you think of three things that you don't like about your career? In general I don't like bureaucracy and I think anywhere you work there is bound to be some bureaucracy. We all do our thing, we do our teaching and all that, but then we have other issues we have to deal with at the university. I don't like the hoops that you have to jump through sometimes to get what you need. And that comes down to the fact that it's a business and the administration and the higher-ups have their priorities. That's not my cup of tea. But that's going to be anywhere you go you will have those issues. I do not like that in today's day and age the students are so dependent on technology. In the classroom the students are addicted to texting and playing with their cell phones and I feel like they are not as well prepared sometimes as they should be from high school. I feel like the student population expects you to do it for them sometimes, you know, if it doesn't work out the way they want it then what did I do wrong versus what could have they done differently. So I think that's a generational thing and perhaps every generation has said the same thing, you know it's always harder in the previous generation. But I do think that there is a difference, I think that the students expect you to hand them a lot more and they complain about it if you don't. When I was a college student we had e-mail, amazingly there was e-mail back then, but I never would've thought to e-mail my professors about stupid stuff like what's going to be on the test or stuff that I already talked about in class. And the students just e-mail you out of the blue about irresponsible stuff and it's annoying to me that the respect isn't there and that the accountability isn't there. And part of that falls on me as an instructor to make it that way- okay you have to learn to do things this way because this is the right way and things like that. So we all have to work on that. It's just kind of annoying to me because I never would've done certain things- I can't believe you are e-mailing me about that, I just said that. But the students need to know that there are boundaries and they need to take accountability.

What skills, abilities, or personal attributes do you think are essential for someone in your job? You have to work hard. You have to be very personable. You have to be very organized. You have to be able to relate to students. They are coming from all different backgrounds and sometimes I have adults in my class with kids, sometimes I have 18-year-olds in my class that had no sense of responsibility, some people are paying their own way, some people aren't, some people have three jobs that they're working, to help pay for college. So if a student comes to you and says that I missed the exam today because because my kid was sick and I couldn't come to class, you have to be able to say okay, even though the rule was x, this is logical and this makes sense. I'm not going to penalize you for that. That would be awful. You have to be able to relate and be able to connect with them so that they feel open to come to you with their problems and to ask questions whether it's about class or it's about life. You have to be able to communicate effectively. The students are looking for somebody that can get the material across so that they understand it. How you do that is another question. Are they learning on their own, are they supposed to be reading the book, are you delivering it in a lecture form, the point is you have to get them to learn the way you want them to learn it. So you have to be very clear about that and you have to communicate effectively, and be very organized. The students need that, they don't like disorganization. Like I said it fits me very well, I'm someone who's organized and cares about details. And you have to be very knowledgeable about what you're talking about because the students will see right through that if you don't know what you're talking about. The worst thing you can do if somebody asked you a question is to BS with them, you have to be honest and say, “I don't know that, that's really interesting, I'm going to figure that out for you, or maybe you could figure it out and let me know,” or something like that. I learned that really fast when the first time I taught, you can't make up stuff, they can tell from the second your mouth opens that you're making stuff up. And then you lose all credibility, so you have to just be honest with the students because they respect that themselves. You have to be willing to spend hours outside of your 40 hour workweek to make things work. Maybe that's not what people expect with a teaching job. There is so much prep that you don’t realize that you have to do. Not only do you have to read the book and prepare a coherent presentation, you have to know what you're talking about. You have to plan when the quizzes are going to be, and what questions are going to be on the test, there is so much that goes into it. Oh by the way you are also teaching a lab and and what are you going to do for lab. My first year, it was just all I could do to be prepared each night for the next day.

Do you have any suggestions for an effective strategy to seek a position in your field? Having been on several search committees for other positions at Carroll and knowing what we are looking for, you have to have experience in the right area. If we are hiring for an anatomy and physiology instructor you have to have taught those courses before otherwise you would get put in the pile of doesn't fit the job description. So I absolutely needed to have that teaching experience at Madison. If I didn't have that, they would not have hired me. There is no getting around the fact that if you want to teach, you have to have teaching experience. If you don't have it, you have to find ways to get it, like I did or at a community college. And it's not just in one course necessarily either, I had a physiology course but also one semester I taught in the bio core course at Madison. I wanted that, I wanted more than one teaching experience, and I wrote a case study for that. I wanted to show that I could do more than one thing. People need to recognize that you want to build your resume before you stick your neck out there. And you want to make sure that your application materials are unique, and you to have a good cover letter and explain why the position is right for you. The first thing we read about a person is their cover letter and why they want to have the job. If it's some form letter where they are not even addressing your specific position, just some blanket letter that they are sending out to fifty different places, that really annoys me. You're supposed to be telling me in your cover letter how you fit this position and how you can contribute to it. So I feel like people need to spend some time making their applications good and getting experience in what they want to do before they stick their neck out.

How do you define success in your career?  Every year we are challenged as faculty to come up with ways to improve our courses, so we are actually judged on that. We are judged on our student evaluations, and we are judged on what we call teaching innovations. We are not just supposed to do the same test every year, or not supposed to be like oh you taught anatomy and physiology before so you can teach that the next 10 years and just dust off your notes and repeat. So we are not supposed to do that. We're supposed to come up with ways to better deliver the material and have more in class and hands-on activities and stuff like that. That is always a challenge for me because that requires a lot of creativity. In evaluating my success, whether or not my year was successful, I look back on that and how effective were my strategies this year. Did this assignment work? Was it a complete failure? How did this change in lab go over? And stuff like that. That is kind of how I look at it. I wrote a whole new lab manual, for example, and I'm so proud of that because it took so much time. And the students really like it, and that is what they've written on my evaluations, so I really appreciate that and then I feel successful because of that, because I put so much time and I feel like it is a good quality product and so every year there are things like that that I try to improve on and that's what I like about it. The challenge is to come up with what am I going to do this year that is different from last year, if it can work or not, and seeing whether that's true. We do have a promotion structure and stuff like that at Carroll and of course I'm going to go for whatever promotions I can get. I guess you can define success that way, but the way I am going to define it is have I improved my courses and am I happy in what I'm doing. And if I'm not, if I'm not improving or not happy with what I'm doing, then I have to do something else. Like I said, every four or five years I get the itch to say well I've done this let’s do something else. Part of my success is recognizing that, and I hope that if anybody is listening to this, that they take that as a message that being happy is the most important thing and that is how I would judge success. Of course getting a paycheck is part of that, but you have to want to get up in the morning and go to your job otherwise you will just be miserable.