I was starting to ask myself a lot of hard questions, some of which had never occurred to me to ask before. Chief among them, “What does success look like?” You see, I knew exactly what success looked like in the corporate world. I understood the people, the hierarchy, the roles and assignments, as well as how to navigate those things to continue to move up the corporate ladder. Technically, that’s success. I was successful at work. I did great work and people seemed to like working with me. I knew the answers to the question “What does success look like?” at my corporate job.
However, the question changes dramatically with the addition of two words: for me. When I started to explore the question of “What does success look like for me?” I was initially at a loss for words. I had no idea, no real guesses, apart from some glib answer that people spout off when complaining about the job that’s making them miserable. It was some vague notion of not having to work anymore and laying in a hammock in the shade. Beach optional.
Truth be told, I’d never spent much time thinking about the for me part of the question. It was an unnecessary input. I knew what I needed to do to become successful at work and I set about doing it. As you can imagine, I was grossly underprepared for the shocking realization that defining success for me was actually WAY more important than how any company defined it.
I read every book on purpose and meaning that I could get my hands on. I was desperate to find my calling. The thing I was made for. The one true work for me. And for 20 years, I felt like one of the cast-offs on the Island of Misfit Toys in the Claymation holiday classic.
I didn’t find purpose or meaning, partly because I lacked an understanding of my authentic self. It was disappointing, frustrating, maddening even sometimes. Where was my one job? Where was my calling?
I kept on reading the articles and books that were telling me I could find it in 3 easy steps. But it never materialized for me. I had lots of interests. I had a great set of skills and strengths I could deploy. If only I could find that secret, one thing that had eluded me my entire life.
Finally, I had to call shenanigans and malarkey. This conspiracy has gone on far too long.
I don’t believe there is one job or one type of work for each of us. I know now I could take my strengths and talents and find lots of ways to deploy them meaningfully. I’d found a way to be successful as a telemarketer, a web developer, a waitress, a computer help desk person, a front desk clerk at a hotel, a project manager, a requirements analyst, a technology educator, a product manager, a team lead, a presenter, an IT leader, and plenty of other roles.
And that’s true for every single person on this planet. We can all be successful in myriad ways.
I’ll grant you that some individuals have managed to find work they truly enjoy that gives them meaning and challenge, pay and benefits, autonomy and the like, but according to Gallup surveys, that’s less than 15% of the global population. In an 80/20 world, finding your one true calling would be considered the exception to the rule, NOT the rule.
So, what to do when your purpose is as mysterious as how the flux capacitor makes time travel possible? The best approach is to do some more digging to discover or uncover your authentic self. Once I started to resurface the me that I had lost along the way, a funny thing happened. The best way I can describe it is a lack of resistance. Everything stopped being So. Unbelievably. Hard.
All of a sudden, things were simpler. I was still working hard and committed to quality work, but the obstacles in my path were cleared or were easier to get around than they had been in the past. The resistance I’d felt up to that point wasn’t there.
It was a strange sensation to be sure.
In the past, I’d figured out how to be successful in lots of roles in lots of ways, but never as defined by me. For all my roles, it was a lot of work to assess the people, processes, and systems and the corresponding definition of success for any organization. It was challenging and stretched and grew me in different ways. But it was never satisfying or fulfilling. It felt much more like a check-the-box activity rather than anything remotely enjoyable. It was a path filled with friction.
When I started to move toward the “for me” part of the question “What does success look like?”, the friction dissolved. It didn’t magically make everything easy without any challenges, but it did remove a layer of resistance that I didn’t even realize I’d been bumping up against my entire working life.
Defining success for me helped me move beyond the “one job for every person” fairy tale and into an exciting world of possibilities.
#PositiveAction Examine what success looks like for you in any realm where you haven’t defined it yet. Starting points could be career, exercise, parenting, free time, relationships, making a difference, etc. You’re awesome if you’re hanging out here, so I know you get the idea.
This was an excerpt from my bestselling book, Success Authentically: Unlock Excitement, Purpose, and Joy At Work. Loved it? Grab a copy below.