My bonus shows I am undervalued

If you handle failure the right way, you win nonetheless.

There are these times – the promotion has been denied, the deal has been lost, the project failed. The bonus is lower than expected and the pay raise had been higher once. Despite all the time and personal invest, you are confronted with failure. What usually worked, all of a sudden doesn’t.

Although everyone knows that the paycheck doesn’t reflect a person’s worth, very often people feel tremendously undervalued when not achieving their aspired goals. High performing business people invest so much time and energy into their professional success that the reward gets mentally linked to their identity and self-esteem. As long as win follows win this connection feels awesome. It is not only a professional win – it is also a validation of the person, to some even their personality. Sometimes the feeling of invincibility is visible from the outside by posture and gesture.

This grown connection between success and personality or even identity becomes dangerous when success is being delayed. Or worse: if failure is settling in. One bad situation might be handled. But if failure after failure is hitting, the impact cannot be ignored. All of a sudden the business flop feels like being a failure as a person. Bad comments of colleagues on top and the self-esteem crumbles. Depending on the person, the downward slide can take pretty long and is quite devastating.

Crack the causal connection of success and identity

When in a downward spiral it is quite easy to spot the unhealthy connections between success and self-esteem. It can be felt deep inside. Thoughts of failure keep nagging. So, if you currently feel like you are a total loser check on this connection in your brain. Yes, you might have failed in business issues. And no, that doesn’t define who you are as a person. Use this awareness to crack the causal connection of success and identity within you and explore who you are as a person. Thereby you win as a person although you are walking through failure.

But even when there is no failure trend in sight, it is helpful to disconnect personal success from the feeling of self-worth. Only because you are successful, e.g. got the promotion or won the big deal, doesn’t mean that you are more worth than anybody else. Step away from entitlement and be thankful for what you have. This way you can enjoy your success and you are prepared for times of failure.

Will you regret your success?

If you follow an unreflected assumption of success, you will lose in the big picture. Check yourself with the questions provided.

The group gathered from all ends of the world at the wooden kitchen table in some hostel in the middle of Dubai. They are exploring what success means to them and what they want from life. The swiss girl just quit her job and is convinced that success lies in happiness. And happiness is not connected to money. The guy from argentina is having is laptop in front of him – just doing one last thing for his job. He wants to get rich. Money it is!

The engineer from Kenia tries to find the balance between these two extremes – a certain amount of money will lead to happiness, he argues. But chasing money all your life doesn’t add value.

What is success to you?

How you answer this question will tremendously influence your behavior. And if you are one of many who hasn’t found your unique individual answer, it is worthwhile to check on your actions. Where do you allocate your time? Where do you invest your money?

Money and time are tremendous indicators in telling what is truly in a person’s heart. And there you will also find the truth of what you believe success means to you.

It is being able to go to bed each night with your soul at peace.

Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho is addressing success from a different angle. He brings in a measurement of peace. What do you think of this viewpoint?

Think early, avoid regret

Everyone wants to feel successful. This is how our brain is wired. If we are successful we get this tranquilizing rush that lets us feel happy, invincible and at peace. Unluckily, if we are wired to the wrong measurement, e.g. what success means to us, we will pursue agendas that won’t lead to an overall successful life.

Let’s take money as an example: Earning the first money is awesome. We are able to afford to move out from our parents homes or to buy our very first own trip abroad. It feels awesome. We are successful. So our brain learns that more money is wired to a feeling of happiness.

Over time it will get harder to increase the income. The sacrifices are higher, we need to invest a lot of time to stay top of our peer and get promotions. If we never question the underlying measurement of success – in this case: money – we will run blindsided into problems, e.g. losing close relationships.

regret/rɪˈɡrɛt/

a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over an occurrence or something that one has done or failed to do.

Dictionary

In order not to regret your behavior when it is too late, it is clever to question your measurements early in your career. With a regular reflection you are able to pursue a career and still keep your measurement in check.

What does success mean to you?

What evidence do you see in your behaviour – especially in time and money allocation – that shows that you your assumption about yourself is correct?

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.]