11 March 2014

Success and the Culture of Fame and Fortune

In our culture, success is often equated with wealth and fame.  If you were a smart kid who did well in school you might have grown up thinking you would become a successful adult, which you took to mean that you would be rich and famous.  Your experience in college and early professional work may have further enhanced your expectation of your eventual fame and fortune. 

But what if you’re beginning to see that fame and fortune may never be yours, even though you are just as smart as you ever were and do really good work?  What if you look to your left and right and see other people getting promotions and opportunities you want?

There are two kinds of major course corrections that I have seen people in this situation make that bring about big, positive change: the Re-Frame and the Behavior Modification.

The Re-Frame
The re-frame is the most appropriate course correction for many people and situations.  It goes like this:

    • Let’s say you’re a research biochemist at a big pharmaceutical company. You’re plugging away at your job, you get good reviews, things seem to be going well, but then you start seeing that some of your colleagues who started at the same time and same level as you are advancing more quickly than you are.  You ask yourself, “Where’s my promotion?” You wonder if you are failing.  You feel jealous.
    • The re-frame makes you stop looking at your colleagues and start looking at your own successes. Once you shift your focus to your own trajectory, where you’re coming from, you see that during this same period of time your company paid for your graduate degree and gave you reduced hours (at full pay) to pursue it, you took a leave when your mother was dying so that you could care for her, and then your company agreed to the job share that you and a colleague proposed, so you now work half time and have half time with your child.  (Your colleagues who got promoted did none of these things.) You have a really interesting job with people you like and respect, who appreciate and respect you. You have a wonderful family life. You’re actually a fulfilled and happy person. You’re living your life in alignment with your genuine values and priorities. THIS IS ANOTHER WAY THAT SUCCESS CAN LOOK.    
    • When you see this you realize that international fame and vast financial fortune aren’t the only markers of success, and neither are these particular promotions you’ve seen others get.
    • Can’t relate to the biochemist example?  Look at all the things in your life that you are grateful for.  Every day for a month, write down 5 things you are grateful for, any 5.  This will bring about your re-frame.

The wonderful truth is that as you begin to more fully recognize, appreciate and enjoy the life you actually already have, and as you let go of comparing yourself unfavorably with other people, you become more and more of your best self.  As you move into more fully living your best life, you will probably continue to be be very successful on all levels, including getting promotions.

The Behavior-Modification
The behavior modification is the most appropriate course correction for other people and situations.  It goes like this:

  • You’re the same research biochemist at the same big pharmaceutical company, seeing the same colleagues get promoted before you.
  • In this scenario, you go to your boss, and ask what you can do differently to qualify for promotions.  And then you listen very hard to what your boss says to you.  You don’t argue or disagree.  You just take it in.  You may need to think about it and come back with questions; this may be an ongoing conversation.  When you’ve heard what your boss tells you, and when you’ve digested it, you can either choose to pursue it or not.
  • If you choose to pursue the changes that your boss suggests, you may need to go back to her for help in making the changes.  For example, your boss might say you’re an excellent bench scientist but to advance here you really need to develop your leadership skills.  Or become a more assertive champion for your ideas.  Or a better team player.  If you have no idea how to translate those ideas into different behavior, you may need to ask for help.  There may be courses you can take, or mentors you can attach yourself to, or books to read.  There may be performance objectives that you and your boss can come up with that will move you in that direction.  There may be lots of help available to you if you seek it
  • Don’t have that kind of boss?  Seek out this information anywhere you can find it.  From another senior person in your organization.  From a coach.  From a colleague or mentor.  From books.

These two types of course corrections can be used one after the other, or at the same time.  You may move from one to the other and back again for years.  And of course there are many other ways to fine tune both your understanding of what success means to you, and your strategy for getting there.  These tools can help you resist the temptation to feel bad about yourself when you compare yourself with others or to feel like a failure because you haven’t created the fame and fortune you imagined you would have by now.