IS YOUR SUCCESS A CONSCIOUS CHOICE?

YOUR SUCCESS IS…..?

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.’ (Jack London)

I believe we also need to pursue success with a club but the danger of blind pursuit, of not knowing what we are seeking is almost as bad as non-pursuit, which brings me to a recent meeting I had with a candidate.

The individual in question, who I shall call ‘Von, ’arrived slightly late, carpet bombing the table between us with his satchel and jacket.

I usually like to frame a candidate conversation with an understanding of broad life goals that they aspire to. Context I was taught, is king. To that end, I asked Von to tell me what success looked like for him. And then it happened….A very sudden and meteoric meltdown ensued. “Isn’t that obvious! Don’t you know what success is…” he shot back. “Aren’t we all pursuing the same thing?

I reflected on this notion of us all pursuing the same things and of course we are, at different times, to differing degrees based on a finite number of core motivations, pursuing the same thing. The great thing about success is that we can make it anything we want it to be. The awful thing about success, we tend to make it all about everything everyone else wants it to be.

“Yes” and “No” my answer equivocal, my tone anything but. “Have we met before?” I asked? “Did we speak at length?” Knowing we hadn’t. I continued calmly, measuring his response. “Are you a carbon copy of everybody else?” He blinked a few times. My tone then raised an octave, indicating slight impatience. “Because, you need to be able to tell me what your definition of success is. I want to know what it is you really want” “I need that direction from you if I’m going to help you.” I continued.

I really liked something Sheryl Sandberg said, ‘let me not die while I am still alive.’ That resonated. It scares me, the idea of living life without passion/not making great use of time. But passion and time usage in themselves vary greatly based on life-stage, background, relationships, support structures, what we value and the way we see the world, along with a host of other influencing factors.

Von leaned back in his chair. He looked somewhat confused. Because I had reacted? Or, because he felt perhaps he had been too forthright, even rude? Or perhaps because he thought that what was obvious, what is success for him, is anything but? Perhaps he had assumed success must be everything everyone else is encouraged to see as success.

Many candidates I meet today seek progression in a framework of what I describe as ‘big picture success.’ They need to conquer this world, or others.. That is bigger title, responsibility, salary, team, office…which presage the bigger apartment, car etcetera. And you know, this ‘conquer the world mentality,’ ‘big tangible success’ is fine, it’s just not for everyone all the time, it can’t be. And then others are focused on ‘big intangible success:’ Bigger meaning regarding larger non-work goals, more significant relationships, desire to have a positive impact on the world; People are thinking at a much earlier age in terms of their legacies. And, tangible and intangible are not irreconcilable, just in flux.

As our meeting progressed Von’s manner mellowed. It became clear to me that his defensiveness projected as arrogance. He knew that for someone paid to think, to work out how to solve problems it could be construed as weakness if he was unsure what he really wanted yet, he was unsure. He assumed he had no choices, that he was consigned to having to follow everyone else’s definition of success. And that’s when we started to talk meaningfully about what was truly important for him and how to navigate forward. We discussed.

  1. Knowing what you do well.
  2. Knowing what context you thrive in.
  3. Knowing what you won’t put up with
  4. Knowing what resources you need to be in place to thrive
  5. Knowing that your skills/function are valued by a prospective employer
  6. Knowing your putative employer’s definition of success
  7. Knowing what success is for you/that this next step takes you toward your objectivesth