Among friends, colleagues and clients, the topic of success keeps popping up at an oddly frequent rate. Perhaps it’s because spring is in the air and fresh ideas are floating about; but the discussion of success, and the stresses associated with that word, seem to be on everyone’s mind more than usual.

Success can be a tricky thing – an amorphous ball of desire that we long to attain and then, presumably, shout, “A-ha! Success! I have it!” We look for it in business, in our relationships, with our families, on websites (“I found the perfect jeans – 50% off!”), and in every other thing we do.

There is always a way to measure whether we have been successful. We know if we’ve met our revenue goals, if we’ve gotten the performance review we wanted, if our kids received the grades we knew they could earn, if we were as attentive to our friends as we wanted to be. We evaluate, review and ask, “Was that a success?” The problem is – especially for those of us who are creative, smart and ever so slightly focused on perfectionism – we can often completely overlook our successes because we see only what can be improved. This approach, while very common and accepted, is not really that much fun.

It’s not fun because we miss the point that we are, in fact, successful at things. We often don’t stop and say, “Hey, look at this! This is great! I’m a success at this!” We get stuck in the, “Yes, that was good, but it could have been so much better if only I/we/he/she/it had done this…” We are missing the best part of what we’re doing: that we’re doing stuff and it’s working. Maybe not everything, but some things. Of course we see ways toward improvement – that’s human creativity and innovation at its best. We want to make stuff better and nicer and cooler and more fun. Our problem lies in not noticing that what we are doing IS in fact better, nicer, cooler and more fun that when we started. When we fixate only on improvement, we miss the joy of the success. It’s the journey vs. destination dilemma.

What to do? First, pause for a second and think. No, stop that. Don’t think. Pause for a second and FEEL. How do you feel when you are successful at something? When the day goes well, or you get good feedback or your projections are spot-on, or your kid or your parent thinks you’re awesome. In that moment before you start analyzing the situation, how do you feel? Write it down.

Second, pick something that you want to accomplish. What is it? How will you know when you have accomplished it? Write down the details: the data, the timeline, the weather, the task list, the people involved and how you will feel when all of these details become real.

Third, notice that you have just listed what a specific spot of success will look like in your life. If you know what it will look like when it happens, then you can spot it when it does. Now go into action and make your list happen – voila! you are experiencing a success. Congratulations.

For those of us, who read that and thought, “That’s all well and good, but I know that I can always improve…” I believe you. Of course you can – there is always a next level of creativity and improvement*. But if you skip to that step, you miss the celebratory fun.

Here is what I propose: instead of saying, “…but I know I can always improve,” say, “AND I know I can always improve.” BUT is negating, feels a little sad and puts what’s been done at odds with what might be. AND feels hopeful and inclusive and builds on what you’ve already accomplished.

We are all striving to be better, to do more and to feel more connected to what we do and wish to become – we all want to succeed. If we can know that we can always improve whilst simultaneously seeing our current accomplishments, we might see that we are, currently, in the midst of a spectacular success.

So, my question to you: how are you – right now and in this moment – a success?




* I am a huge fan of After Action Reviews, the PDSA cycle and all things Process Improvement. If, however, we jump straight to analysis when we complete something, we miss the feeling of being successful. For the sake of fun and the ability to say,” Wahoooo!” more frequently, please, keep that cart behind the horse.

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