Sean Wagner On How We Need To Redefine Success

Enjoyment Matters. I learned early in my career that I am at my best when I am doing things I enjoy. We all have friends or family who are well-compensated, but they never seem to be particularly excited about what they are doing. As we enter this post-pandemic world, I think everyone needs to think […]

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Enjoyment Matters. I learned early in my career that I am at my best when I am doing things I enjoy. We all have friends or family who are well-compensated, but they never seem to be particularly excited about what they are doing. As we enter this post-pandemic world, I think everyone needs to think about whether you are a part of something that brings you joy and satisfaction on a personal level.


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 Sean Wagner.

Sean C. Wagner is a business attorney with deep experience in a wide variety of business transactions, commercial litigation, government investigations, and regulatory compliance issues. Mr. Wagner’s practice focuses on helping commercial entities proactively identify and develop effective strategies for navigating complex legal issues, while minimizing financial and reputation risks for his clients. In addition to his representation of commercial entities in mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures, Mr. Wagner regularly represents clients in complex commercial litigation and government enforcement actions throughout the country.


Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

There have been so many people and events in my life that have altered the trajectory of my life. It’s difficult to identify the most impactful events. I don’t say this enough, but I would not be who I am today without the assistance of dedicated mentors, friends, and family at every stage of this journey.

This is especially true of my wife, a hospital physician in Charlotte, who has been my biggest supporter and most important advisor over the years. In terms of events, the most impactful event in my life to this point has been the birth of my little girl last year. It is amazing how much children, even before they even say their first word, can cause you to really rethink things and make positive structural changes to your personal and professional life.

We all have myths and misconceptions about success. What are some myths or misconceptions that you used to believe?

At the start of my career, I had this inherent need to measure my own success by using other people’s benchmarks. I bought into the idea that success was working at a large law firm, but I realized after several years that my ideals for how I want to treat my clients and grow my practice weren’t consistent with working massive law firm. Once I put that misconception aside, I was able to really find my niche. I started to refocus my practice on the things that I enjoyed and better serve my clients’ needs. Being able to let go of the misconceptions from my early career has helped me define success for myself.

How has your definition of success changed?

Letting go of the aforementioned misconceptions of my early career also meant letting go of what I used to think of as success. Instead of looking at success through the lens of benchmarks and metrics established by others, I now view success more holistically.

As a business owner, I view success in terms of building a workplace that is inclusive and positive. A business that adds value to our clients’ businesses and provides a foundation for everyone in the enterprise to reach their full potential while also being sustainable for all parties involved.

While I do think people in business need to be conscious of the bottom line, there are other meaningful indicators of success as well.

For example, for me as a new parent, I also view success in terms of making sure I reserve time to spend with my wife and little girl, because the foundation of my life is my family.

Overall, I believe when a business focuses on these matters, everything else seems to fall into place.

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?

As a society, I think we need to view success more holistically and get away from constantly defining success in terms of dollars and cents or titles.

The pandemic really put things in perspective for me on a number of levels. As I mentioned earlier, my wife is a hospital physician at a large local hospital and has been on the front lines of the pandemic from the start. Thanks to her, I have personally witnessed the kind of dedication and personal sacrifice that thousands of healthcare professionals across the country made for perfect strangers.

Even more, my wife was pregnant in the early days of the pandemic and gave birth to our little girl in July 2020. So, in the middle of a once-a-century pandemic, I became a parent and, like so many other people, was forced to really think about what was important to me from a personal and business perspective.

I think we need to focus on individualizing the definition of success, because one of the easiest ways to get off track in terms of defining success is to simply adopt someone else’s definition of success.

What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic? We would love to hear a few of your stories or examples.

From my perspective, the first unexpected positive was the overwhelming inspiration and feeling of community that came from watching healthcare professionals take heroic measures to ease the suffering of others in the community with full awareness of the risk of harm to themselves and their families.

I was sitting in my office one day last year when I looked out the window and saw a caravan of hundreds of police cars headed to the hospital to show their support to healthcare workers. It was truly inspiring on several levels and really reinforced the need for community in challenging times.

Another positive thing to come out of the pandemic is this new wave of entrepreneurs looking to make a difference. There are countless new entrepreneurs that took the mandatory at-home time to evaluate their lives and emerged on a mission to achieve their dreams of starting a business.

Over the course of the pandemic, I had the opportunity to work with scores of new entrepreneurs with fresh ideas, enthusiasm, and a tangible commitment to doing things the right way and making a difference in their communities.

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.)

  1. Enjoyment Matters. I learned early in my career that I am at my best when I am doing things I enjoy. We all have friends or family who are well-compensated, but they never seem to be particularly excited about what they are doing. As we enter this post-pandemic world, I think everyone needs to think about whether you are a part of something that brings you joy and satisfaction on a personal level.
  2. Focus on Value. It is often easy to get caught looking only at the bottom line, when the real health of your business can be better gauged in terms of the value you provide to your customers. While your bottom line may be a helpful indicator of whether you provide value to your clients, it is really only a small piece of the overall puzzle.
  3. Personal Life. It is easy to bifurcate your personal life and business to a point that is truly unhealthy. A big mistake many professionals make is not realizing that a stable and healthy personal life is the foundation for long-term success. From my perspective, you need to make having a stable personal life part of the way you view success.
  4. Evaluate Success on a Longer Time Horizon. I see some entrepreneurs make the mistake of evaluating business success by looking at outcomes over an extremely short period of time. The reality is that successful businesses go through ups and downs in the short term that are not really indicative of whether a business is set up for success. The question I constantly ask myself in all business ventures is whether things are trending in the right direction because it forces me to think about the health of the business on a longer time horizon.
  5. Sustainability. Finally, business owners need to view things in terms of sustainability and make sure that all perceived success is sustainable. It is one thing for a business to have a great quarter or year in terms of revenues or profits, but that is of little comfort if those results cannot be replicated. I have seen successful companies that were extremely dependent on the active involvement of key leadership in the company, but the hours required to replicate that success weren’t sustainable. When the key players finally faltered, there was a significant disruption in the business. Those situations can be avoided by simply incorporating sustainability into your definition of success.

When thinking about sustainability, business leaders need to consider things like (1) whether the working environment is sustainable for employees and other important partners, (2) whether the value proposition offered to clients is durable and will remain enticing for the foreseeable future, and (3) whether the business leaders believe they can realistically replicate their role in the success over a long period of time.

How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?

I think we naturally measure ourselves against our definition of success and that can lead to making decisions that aren’t sustainable or consistent with our personal needs and goals. If we change the definition of success to be more individualized, I think people will be more likely to find what they are meant to be doing and feel a sense of pride about the impact they are making on others.

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 is probably breaking free from existing norms regarding what it means to be successful.

My advice for overcoming this obstacle is to ignore these norms and focus on what is important to you and your business.

Where do you go to look for inspiration and information about how to redefine success?

I really try to look inward, because I am afraid of getting sidetracked by what others view as success.

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.

I would really love to sit down with Michael Jordan because he has been successful on so many levels over the years in different phases of his career. I also admire the way he has used his fame and wealth to promote worthy causes and improve the lives of others. I have no doubt that we could all learn something from the way he approaches business and how he defines success at this point in his life.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Your readers can find me via my firm’s website at wagnerhicks.law. I’m also on LinkedIn under my name, Sean Wagner and my firm’s LinkedIn page is Wagner Hicks, PLLC.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

Thank you for having me! I wish you and your readers the same.

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