Success is a tricky topic as I’ve covered here before. It may have even become the topic I write about the most. It’s been top of mind as it’s one of the biggest mindset shifts I’ve gone through going from being a consultant to the corporate side of the house. When you are a consultant, success is relatively straightforward because it’s tied to projects; it’s highly measurable. Success on the corporate side is different, it’s much more difficult to measure and occurs over a longer period of time.
The measuring of success can be tricky. Do you tie it to personal, group, or corporate success? If a combination, how do you weight the various elements? If you are doing something new, how do you define success? If you are working cross-functionally, how does your success tie to other groups?
There is no right answer to the topic. The hard part is stopping to actually think about it. Stopping to think is a critical step in the process. Stopping may feel unproductive but often it is the most productive time you can have.
It’s really hard to be successful if you can’t define what success looks like.
This may seem like a simple statement of fact, but all of us occasionally start new projects without knowing what the end state looks like. Often times, this is just the nature of what we all do. Not everything can be defined up front.
The problem arises when you never stop early in the project to define success before really getting underway. At some point, before the work really gets going, you have to understand what you are trying to achieve. Without a picture of the end, you can’t actually get to the end. Moving goalposts lead to lots of problems.
Simplicity is your friend in this. A simple, clear goal can be explained to others and compared to the final product. Success should be more than just throwing your arms up and declaring it. It should be something recognizable by others.
Last week I talked about sometimes success is not failing. Other times success is actively looking to break things – or at least shine a light into the dark places. Just because there isn’t noise today doesn’t mean that everything is working as it is supposed to.
Shining a light on what isn’t going right can feel wrong. You are essentially pointing out where things aren’t working as they are supposed to. The reality of it is that someone would catch on eventually in all likelihood. Usually, that happens when something really bad goes wrong.
Waiting for that really bad thing to happen is bad policy. The worst case scenario is invariably worse than uncovering and fixing the issues yourself. In the latter method, you control the noise and approach. You can control the message.
Success and failure are not opposites. It’s possible to succeed while failing and it’s possible to fail hard while succeeding. This may sound stupid, but trust me, it isn’t.
Think it through, sometimes the best outcome is to fail. If the only way to kill a bad idea is to have it fail then that can be a success.
Likewise, sometimes success leads to failure through no fault of your own. You can do everything right, absolutely everything, but the outcome falls through because of the actions of others. No amount of your own success could prevent the failure.
Then there are the days when nothing is going right and all you can do is to continue to keep everything from falling down. All you can do is just barely prevent the failures from happening. All you can do is succeed at not failing. On those days, that’s as successful as anything and likely something to still be proud of.
There is only one person in this world that has the ability to stop you from being successful: you. It’s surprisingly easy to keep yourself from succeeding by doing any of these:
- Setting unrealistic goals for yourself.
- Underestimating your capabilities based on your current work instead of understanding your current capabilities.
- Not creating systems for yourself to excel over time and allowing yourself to get stuck in what you do today.
- Not setting any goals for yourself.
- Not being willing to accept that you can succeed and do better for yourself.
- Letting others dictate your path.
- Trusting in luck to get you through instead of trusting in yourself.
- Not creating strong relationships with people you can actually trust.
- Trusting people who are not worthy of your trust.
- Stopping too early.
It’s never too late to start on your path but it can be too early to quit. Focus on you. Who you are, what you are good at, and what you want from your life. Don’t let the success others seem to have on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites influence your definition of your own success. I’ve never met two people with the exact same goals and dreams for themselves.
A commodity is something considered easy to get and safe to procure. It’s something that people feel just happens without a lot of complicated efforts. Everyone wants to avoid being a commodity because it’s considered entering “the race to the bottom.” But anything too complicated is too difficult to sell.
I strongly believe in working yourself out of a job. There is no task too complicated to automate or eliminate. If it’s something that adds value it should be automated (or at least greatly simplified). If it doesn’t add value it should be eliminated. Over time you should not be doing any of the activities you started out with if you are doing a good job. You’ve been even more successful if you’ve made the process look easy.
If someone looks at the work you do and thinks it is a commodity, that is often the sign that you’ve successfully simplified it to the point that you can move on to the next job. If you are the only one capable of producing a commodity item, you have the market cornered by definition. When people can sell themselves on what you do and none of your competitors can replicate it, that’s the very definition of winning.
So much of success comes down to how you define success. It’s a feat that is self-fulfilling if done right. One person’s success may be in completing a marathon while another’s may be walking around their block three weeks in a row. Success is what you need it to be at the moment of definition.
The same goes for business projects. If your definition of success is to be a billionaire by 30 or to create a billion dollar business, you will likely be disappointed. However, if your goal is to collect experiences that will allow you to be given more responsibility over some amount of time, you have a higher likelihood of success.
Similarly, if you update your definition of success every few months, years, and decades you will continually push the boundaries of what you expected to do. Success is not actually an event – it’s a habit. Success breeds success and is built from doing one thing at a time.
Failure is often a requirement for future success because only through failure can we understand where our problem definitions were out of alignment with what we were actually trying to accomplish.