I was walking briskly with a client between buildings on the campus. He told me he’d lost five pounds will all the running around he did all day. He said, “I never feel as if I accomplish anything. I want to be successful!” (He might have said I need to be successful. I no longer remember.)
I asked him this question, “What does success mean to you?”
He stopped in his tracks. “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.” He shook his head and continued walking, “I need to shepherd all these projects to completion. I want my people to feel good about their work.”
I waited for him to continue speaking, but he walked a little faster. It seemed to me that he was thinking.
I said, “My legs are shorter. Please slow down a little.” He did. “What constitutes your success?” I asked.
That’s when he stopped again. He shook his head. “I can’t answer you yet. I’m not sure I can think about it yet.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “I’ll suggest some things later for you.” We continued to our meetings.
Success means something different to everyone. My definition of success is not yours.
Here’s a problem that stumped my client. Up until then, he’d thought about his pay and stature in the company as his definition of success. It’s not that he focused only on material things, but he used our societal norms to define his success. He was a terrific middle manager in his late 40s. He had his eyes set on the executive suite. And, he was so busy that he no longer had dinner with his children, took his wife on date-nights, or had time on the weekend for his hobbies.
He was professionally successful and personally miserable. On reflection, he decided he was not successful.
For me, success is about living my values (primarily enhancing my learning and having fun with everything I do). To achieve that, I challenge myself physically and intellectually. I create days and weeks of “balance” where I decide how much time to devote to what, and weeks where I focus on my business and weeks where I focus on vacation. I’m pretty happy and successful right now. I can choose again if I find I’m not successful.
I use reflection, a form of retrospective to see where I am in respect to success. I do have some quantitative measures such as what I’ve published and revenue, and qualitative measures that relate to my clients and family.
I have found that when I define my personal definition of success, I am more successful at work.
That is the question this week: What does success mean to you?
- When Should You Optimize for Speed?
- When Do You Suffer from FEAR?