Are you successful?

In a corporate career you will answer this question within the career framework provided by your company. But does that external measurement align with your core values? How do you define success?

“Yes! I’ve made it!” Do you know that feeling that comes along? This deep satisfaction and happiness that a goal is reached. Usually accompanied with some sort of stress relief or even tiredness – because all the training paid off, the invested hours in learning resulted in a graduation or you are finally standing on a mountain after a long hike. Satisfying success feels good.

Usually we are connecting success with mastering a task, reaching a goal or getting a promotion. At least when you are working on a classical career in the corporate world.

Here is a different view: Just recently I watched the son of a friend doing his first steps. How successful, I thought! Amazing how quick children develop and learn – mastering their way into life without knowing the adult-way of success.

That somehow leads to the questions: What actually is success? Or better. How do you define success for yourself?

Why is this question important? Having a diverse circle of friends I can see how different each “segment” of friends is answering the question. While all business friends tend to take the general business definition of success that is mainly offered by their company or society, my friends in social service, schools and medical jobs (e.g. nurses, midwives) already answer that question differently. And the answer to that question influences the perspective in life and resilience in tough life situations.

Therefore, if you are working in business take a few moments in answering the following questions for yourself before reading on.

  1. What is success to you?
  2. When do you feel most successful?
  3. How do you measure success?
  4. Who defines that you are successful?

For each question I will comment why it is useful to think about it and what benefits you might have if you know what drives you. In the end all of us want to have lived a fulfilled life – therefore, better know your inner drivers early on. Otherwise these drivers might lead you to a destination you did not intend to reach.

What is success? When do you feel most successful?

Both questions address a similar point. But while the first one is targeting your rational, the second question relates to your emotions. It is worth checking whether your logical answer is in line with your feelings.

Sometimes human beings tend to tell themselves a rational lie because it is what they have learned, e.g. “Success is reaching your next promotion.”. But when you are checking on your emotions that you had during your last promotions, you did not feel the success. You might have felt pressure to bring higher performance. Or resentment because you gain that promotion with a too high invest in terms of working hours or working against your inner values.

If you find a mismatch between the two answers, acknowledge it. Don’t judge yourself. It might be helpful to write down your discovery. It is a great start for finding out who you are and what you want in life. Be happy that there is a mismatch; that way a really cool journey can start.

How do you measure success?

What is your measurement? Actually take some time to think about this question. Because the answer will tell you a lot about your inner drivers. And those drivers can easily be used by others to manipulate you. So it is very valuable to know them. By the way: that does not mean that you have to change them.

I give you some examples.

  • Youth -I am successful because I have reached xy at this young age.
  • Money – I am successful because I earn xy amount.
  • Grade – I am successful because I have grade xy in my company.
  • Status – I am successful because I have this house/watch/car/hobby.
  • Working hours – I am successful because I work a 70-hour-week.
  • Beauty – I am successful because I weigh xy kg.
  • Family – I am successful because I have xy kids.

You can continue the list as you like.

Let me give you one thought on the list: What do you do when you lose your success factor?

All of the named examples have one thing in common: They are all external factors and timely limited. Basically you have little to no influence in maintaining these measurements. Think again of the question: How do you measure success?

Who defines that you are successful?

Be honest to yourself: who has the power in your life to take away your feeling of success although you might have reached a certain goal. Who tells you that you are not enough? Or that you will never accomplish anything?

We all have these voices within us every once in a while. They come from our parents, friends or current environment. Although it is totally normal to handle an inner fear from time to time, it is important to be aware of this inner self talk. If you just progress in life without checking on that question, your inner driver will kick in every moment you touch a similar situation.

Here is one example:

If you have learned that only a 6-figure-salary makes you a successful person in life – and you might even get comments from relatives or colleagues while progressing in your career – you will never feel successful with your first promotions. The frustration raises when the promotion that leads to 6-figures is delayed. And even worse: when you finally get to that mark: you are not happy. You just reached the bare minimum of what is acceptable to the people who define your success. (and by the way: You will not get a “well done” when you reached it. Those people will raise the bar the moment you are there.) But remember your unhappy talks during those years: all the coffee breaks and evenings complaining about your ‘miserable’ life not earning 6-figures – what could you have done with the time instead?

Therefore, it is worthwhile to think about the question: Who defines your success?

And consequently: Do you align with that definition?

[If you feel that these questions made you think, take some time to write down your thoughts. Follow your intuition and be bold to question your current believes. It is a healthy start in getting to know yourself and setting up your way of life.]

My job adds value

We all want to have a job that adds value and brings a sense of purpose. Truth is, you need to invest in order to get that job. Here is how:

“I am looking for a job that adds value”, the graduate smiles at me. “I need to feel a sense of importance”, another one agrees. We are having a discussion on why to choose which job and how to emphasize certain aspects. Priorities around payment, working hours, leisure time, sense of purpose, content of the daily doing and so on are thrown through the room. All agree that feeling fulfilled at the end of the day is among the top three for their entry jobs.

Reality Check!

Have you felt fulfilled every day of your studies? How much value added that math test? And haven’t you been working until midnight to get that project done with your classmates?

I see some sort of nodding around me. I am surrounded by high performing students who all did well at school and chose to study a high intensity topic in university – leading them to even study abroad, working in a different language and get acquainted with unknown people from all over the world. Yet, when it comes to their first steps in working life, somehow the expectation shifts to immediate gratification.

As I am mainly working with people in business, let me use this picture from the corporate world: Investment.


investment
/ɪnˈvɛs(t)m(ə)nt/

an act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result.

Dictionary

Investment means devoting time, effort or energy in the here and now whilst believing that it will have a result, payoff or impact in the future. In the sense of learning in order to get a degree, it is quite simple to see the principle working. Therefore it is easy to understand, why thousands of students go to university, investing night shifts, saying “No” to a whole lot of parties during their exam phases and pushing themselves abroad – not knowing whom to meet or where to sleep. They all have seen others do it and at the end getting a degree which lead to a job. A job that provided for their life.

The question unanswered is: when do we get to the turning point? When is the investment-phase over and when does the reaping-the-result-phase start?

I think there are two aspects to the answer:

  1. How big do you want your result to be?
  2. Why would you ever stop investing when you know that you will see a result in the future?

The size of the result

Let’s look at the building of a house – if you invest little time in building the foundation, it is only strong enough for a small house. So the size of the foundation will limit the size of your future house. Taking this picture to your education: if you decide that your investment time is over when leaving university, your job options and your future career will be limited to the investment given.

This leads back to the discussion of the graduates in the beginning. If you want immediate results after your graduation, you will probably find a job that requires limited amount of time to be present, but it will also limit your responsibilities and payment. Usually responsibilities are accompanied by freedom of choice and impact in the organization – and with these aspects you are getting into a stage where you feel that you have impact and fulfill a purpose for your company. But the impact and purpose are results that need to be earned by personal investment.

Therefore, if you are not sensing that purpose in your job yet, take a step back and check on people that are longer in their careers than you are. Would their role give you a sense of purpose? If yes, then maybe you are still in your investment phase. I want to encourage you to keep on investing and you will be getting there.

If you don’t see anyone of your superiors as a role model, you might want to consider to invest at a different place. Or you need to create your own role model. Maybe you like your job, but you just want to turn out to be a different type of boss – then invest in your leadership skills and become the leader you didn’t have.

Let’s consider your whole working life: you probably can use your 20s – 60s for university and profession; so roughly 50 years. How many years of investment are suitable for you in order to build a career? A career that has the potential to make an impact and in which you can have a sense of purpose? You choose how long you invest.

Why ever stop investing?

Once you have tasted the sweet result of an investment, you will never want to miss that taste again. Therefore it really does make sense to never stop investing. So while you are reaping from your investment of university in your first careers steps already, continue to invest in your education, skills and mindset.

Find yourself topics in which you want to get better. Acquire relevant certificates for your job, learn how to communicate well, write that article for your company’s newsletter – just to name a few. [For sure the same principle can be applied for your relationships and your body – just to trigger two more major aspects in our lives.]

For which results are you investing? This question leads back to the discussion with the graduates. Although we often associate result with career steps and money, I want to broaden your perspective for the sense of purpose and satisfaction. Once you are settled in your first job and you have learned the necessary basics, check what you want to reap in the upcoming years.

I give you a personal example: I always wanted to have a team that I enjoy working with. I want to get up in the morning and smile because I am looking forward to work with my colleagues on that day.

Did I have that team in my first professional years? Yes, sometimes. But not always. And certainly not because I intentionally invested for that team but rather by chance meeting some nice people on a project (and then investing into the relationship with those colleagues, of course).

Now – roughly 10 years after my graduation – I am in a position where I can invest in people in order to build that team. I can select applicants, hire team members, give them tasks and explain how that task is contributing to the big picture. I can listen to them so they feel valued, highlight their strengthens and give constructive feedback. It’s a daily work that I do – and day by day I see more of that investment bear fruit. And I really enjoy getting up in the morning and work with them!

But – please note – that vision was there in my first year of work. And 10 years later I am in the position to invest into that team. Some results take longer – and therefore I encourage you not to search for the immediate result in your professional year No 1, but rather think of the big picture and find your reason to invest on a broader scale.

Also, learn the skill of investing. The following questions can help you to explore your personal wishes and get a strategic step into your professional future.

  1. Think of what do you want to reap: high salary, good reputation, a great team, sense of purpose at your workplace etc.
  2. Find out where you want to invest: In which people do you want to invest? Which skills do you want to acquire? Which certificates will enhance your career? Which knowledge should you enhance?
  3. And then define how you want to invest: How much time do you want to spend? How much money is your investment worth? Where do you need to be in order to invest?

Have fun exploring and start investing into your purposeful future job that adds value.

Make appreciation stick

Giving a handwritten note to a colleague emphasis the content and creates a memory.

Recently I received a card saying “thanks for being my friend, it’s good to know you and have you in my life”. It feels good. What an honor if people value your friendship and enjoy spending time with you.

The other way around is also true: I love writing paper based notes to family, friends and also colleagues – letting them know what I appreciate about them, what makes them special and why I like spending time with them.

If you wince when reading “colleagues” I will share a few thoughts on why writing small notes of appreciation could actually be a good idea.

The format emphasizes the content

In our digital age we are not used to paper based communication anymore. Therefore, a real note of appreciation stands out – whether it is a sticky note on the screen or a well-chosen postcard. It can be touched and even smelled. The paper has a certain sound. All those elements create a more intense sensation and add to the value of the written content.

The writer learns to choose words precisely

A piece of paper limits the words, condensing the content to the mere core. Knowing that those words will last, they must be chosen well. It gives the writer the chance to think about the person who will receive the note and wrap the thoughts in words.

A physical note can be kept and re-read

The human brain tends to forget. Quickly. Even positive feedbacks only last a few days and are soon overwritten by stress, failure and bad self talk. But a written appreciation can be re-read, reminding the receiver of his/her strengths, positive impact and successes.

I will never forget the postcard I got from the client on my first project – a reorganization of a department with all the stress change brings along. Two ladies of the department wrote “it’s the people you meet you remember”. Despite an unpleasant project it was possible to connect on a human basis and touch people’s hearts. Over 10 years later I still have that card and like to think back.

Who gets your next card?