A Different View of Success

I love to visit historic places and hear the stories of people who lived and died there over the centuries. Every time I do this, it strikes me what a huge role external circumstances can play in a career. You might be the best, most skilled, most experienced cardinal, stonemason, warrior or queen, but if the French Revolution intervened, or you were Scottish, or your boss (or worse still, husband) was Henry VIII, it may all come to naught in a pretty sudden and dramatic fashion.

It’s not just about famous types like Mary Queen of Scots, William Wallace or Cardinal Wolsey, or even about big dramatic events like the French Revolution or the Great Fire of London. None of us ever have total control over our careers (or anything else, really…). So, even in the legal profession, relying solely on the external world to bring you success could well prove to be a tricky strategy.

This connects nicely with the ideas of American creativity expert Robert Fritz. One of his pet topics is about the dangers and even futility of having goals based on the desire for ‘success’. 

Fritz says we should stop obsessing about external markers of success (which are generally about our identity or ego – in the sense of ‘being’ a success or having ‘arrived’) and focus instead on thinking about what we want to create in the world and how we can take steps towards making it real.

I love this distinction, as it’s value driven and about what you can create – and not who you want to become. As Fritz says, it is generative, and not reactive. It may need a bit of reflection to see the distinction, but it’s time worth spending.

Whatever our external circumstances, we can still have internal markers of success, we can still be creative, we can still get excited and make stuff. (OK, maybe not if your external circumstances include having your head chopped off, but for most of us, that’s not our biggest worry…)

Why not reflect on this question: What does success mean to you? What are the elements of a happy (or satisfying, or meaningful, or complete) life for you? 
As you move through your working day, it is a good idea to keep these questions in mind. Or you can set aside some time one weekend to think about the elements of your satisfying life – work, family, community, friends, travel, finances, health, purpose, whatever it is for you. There’s no right or wrong here, but it’s worth spending a bit of time thinking about the elements that you need to have in place, even if some of them haven’t happened yet.

You can also think of this in connection with your values. For example, think about which of these would make you the most excited:

– making $1 million
– receiving an Order of Australia or other award
– becoming famous or a celebrity
– gaining the respect of your peers or community!

By the way, setting goals and hard work and persistence are still really important – so watch out for some goal setting tips next post.

Joanna Maxwell
Work in Colour

To learn more, visit workincolour.com.au or call (02) 9994 8020.