Success That Lasts
October 9, 2020
It was 2008 early Feb – 8 months to the Global Financial Crisis.
I was at the Said Business School, Oxford attending a leadership course. Something is exciting about being in an academic setting, engaging influential minds that ignite a desire and aspiration to learn and grow.
The Program was designed to help prepare young emerging leaders like me to take on Managing Director roles and covered varied leadership aspects- Strategic Orientation, Dealing with ambiguity and adaptive challenges, authentic leadership, etc.
One of the sessions was about the responsibility of leadership and what authentic leadership looks like. In that session, there was a rich conversation about what success means for leaders and individuals. The professor introduced to us an academic paper published by HBR titled “Success That Lasts“
Till that point, I was moving along my life, responding to whatever opportunities and challenges life threw intuitively and instinctively. However, questions were beginning to crop up in my mind. What is the purpose and meaning of my life? What am I pursuing, and why?
I was hitting my mid-life.
The great thing about life is that Teachers present themselves when the Student is ready. That session and that article, in many ways, became a catalyst for my personal transformation journey.
Success That Lasts
Pursuing success is like shooting at a series of moving targets. Every time you hit one, five more pop up from other directions. When we think we have achieved one goal, we feel pressured to work harder, earn more, put more effort, and buy more toys. Standards and examples of “making it” constantly shift in the face of the VUCA(Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world.
A lot of us evaluate our success in the context of accomplishment of some sort. At the same time, the pursuit of success is like a tug of war with our notion of personal happiness.
Every one of us is unique with our version of what success is. For one, success could be in being an amazing dad. While, for someone else, it could be in climbing the corporate ladder.
Therefore, to understand what makes success enduring, the authors of that article researched people with visible signs of high achievement across multiple goals, to derive powerful conclusions.
Four Dimensions of fulfillment
The core premise of that article is that success is not a one-way street. It is four-dimensional. When we get to see our life across these four aspects, we start experiencing enduring success that gives us meaning and fulfillment.
- Happiness- Our feelings of pleasure and contentment about our life.
- Achievement- Accomplishment that compares positively against similar goals others strive for.
- Significance- The sense that you have made a positive impact on people you care about.
- Legacy- A way to establish your values and accomplishments to help others find their future success.
These four elements are what all of us look for through the pursuit of success. Whenever any success comes at the expense of any one of these factors missing in our life, it feels shallow and unsatisfactory. E.g., You pursue some work goal with a “success takes no prisoners” attitude, burning bridges and destroying relationships and achieving your objective, but you cannot experience happiness.
By contrast, when our success straddles all the four domains of accomplishment, we experience fulfillment. We can have achievements that encompass all four dimensions, or we can juxtapose different goals and activities that cover these four aspects. E.g., countervailing the demands of a high-stress job with taking up violin lessons or training for a marathon or committing time for community service during weekends.
Building a Framework for Life:
This model opened my eyes to what I was looking for. A framework to help me decide my life goals, focus, and effort.
- What aspects give me happiness- reading books, spending time with family.
- What fuels my sense of achievement- work goals, starting a blog, coaching.
- Pursuits that create significance- Coaching, Blog writing, sharing experiences.
- Activities that help me develop a Legacy- Coaching, Being a leader, helping youngsters manage careers, associating with a social cause, etc.
For the longest time, my success notion was all about single-minded ambition and focus on achieving some great work results. But over the years, I have realized that professional and personal fulfillment comes from creating goals that help me balance activities across the four dimensions of Happiness, Acheivement, Significance and Legacy.