Watching the Olympics today, I was both thrilled and heartbroken at the same time. Thrilled for those who won Gold, and heartbroken for those who felt they had failed. But the old adage ‘it’s the taking part that matters’ was never more relevant – even in the lives of ordinary people.
These are difficult times with recession and uncertainty, and every day in my psychology practice I’m hearing stories of how people are discouraged and hurt by what they consider to be lack of success. At the same time, plenty of people have asked me how I stay focused and successful. My personal view is that it all depends on how you measure success.
I am a goal-orientated person. I didn’t learn this in management school, or through some guru; it was the process of raising three children to adulthood and working at the same time that necessitated it. The organisational skills we use in parenting are transferable skills in the workplace. The most valuable lesson I learnt was to prioritise. I HAD to get my children to school on time, whereas a report deadline could be put back half an hour. I also learned much about planning and delivery, later in life, from completing my educational goals. I always said that when my children were grown I would go back into education, and I completed this goal.
Likewise, my friend who chose not to have children has a similar set of transferable skills. She project-managed the renovation of her home, a task that took two years and most of her spare time. She HAD to turn up on a wet Sunday morning, whether she felt like it or not. This project management and the satisfaction that comes with completion of a project has helped her to find a new job that, for the first time, includes people management.
Success. What is it? Something transient that makes you feel good in the moment? Related to money or material possessions? For me, it’s the balance between learning and contributing to the world. Of course, I appreciate the abundance that success brings, both material and spiritual, but my personal success is based on, basically, doing what I say I am going to do.
I focus on completing the task. For example, I may set myself a six month goal. This could be to write a novel, complete a qualification, organise a knowledge symposium or transform my living space. I understand that during the six month period there may be setbacks. In the last six months I have started three novels and abandoned two at fifteen thousand words. I did, however, finish one novel. I may organise an event, the programme may be perfect, but for one reason or another, attendance is low. I focus on the completion of the event, not on the low attendance, because that is in my control. It’s my success.
This is sometimes very difficult, especially if our definition of success revolves entirely around the validation of others, and, inevitably, most projects are aimed at a client or reader. In this case I try to remember that my success was in the completion and other people’s opinions of my work, whilst valuable and valid, are out of my control. I can’t do anything about subjective opinion, so why worry about it? If it doesn’t work out, push on. You’ve learnt from the experience and you can use this knowledge in future projects.
My energy is better spent on being motivated toward my goals and my own success in completion. Fifteen years ago today I was at rock bottom with, I thought then, little chance of recovery. Even then, I set myself a goal of a year; a review date, a set of small steps I would complete. I made myself my project. My life since then has had its deep traumas, because life has its ups and downs which are part of our journey, but I have also achieved beyond my wildest dreams. Mostly because I did what I said what I would do. I turned up and I did it.
So if you are looking for success, make yourself your project. Focus on training yourself to be consistent and to follow your dream, whatever that may be. Think about what you feel makes you successful – what’s the end result for you? Concentrate on your transferable skills. Be aware of the things you are good at and do them more. Manage your time and do what you say you are going to do. Go for gold – even if you never get there you might be surprised at the unexpected results you achieve along the way!