Subjective Success

In some roles, it’s easy to define your win. If you’re a sales rep, for example, or a runner.

In others, success is harder to measure. Just ask a pastor or a social worker. But in any job, what looks like success from the outside may not feel like success from the inside.

Think of your role models in your field. (I hope at least a couple come to mind easily). What have they done that makes them admirable to you?

The irony is that if you did those same things, you may not feel like any more of a rock star than you do right now. Or than you are right now! Even in the face of very compelling evidence that might convince others that you are excelling, your subjective experience is likely different than that on many days.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

So here’s my challenge for you: specifically what evidence would it take to convince you that you are doing a great job? I wonder if that evidence began to stack up, would it be enough to shift your current belief about your own level of effectiveness?

Are you getting a sense that this isn’t a purely rational game we’re playing?

This hit home for me recently when a friend sent me a photo of an article in Real Simple magazine with my name in it. I’m not a big magazine reader, but if someone had told me in my 30s that I’d be featured in a Real Simple article, for something other than a before and after of my messy house and crazy schedule, I would have been both doubtful and delighted. It’s the only magazine I’ve ever subscribed to, and I’d still choose to pick it up when heading on vacation. Fast forward 20 years and here I am. One of my first thoughts? “Yes, but if it weren’t for that COVID dip in the spring, next month I would have hit my growth target I set for my business three years ago.” See how easily we discount our own success, and shift our metrics to suit the story we’re telling ourselves anyway?

So this is an invitation for all of us to be a bit more gracious with ourselves, but also more concrete. What would you need to see to convince yourself you’re on the right track?

When you see glimpses of that evidence, like the leaves just starting to turn in the fall, believe that the full rainbow of colour is on its way. Celebrate it. And surround yourself with others who will likely spot it before you do.

*In case you’re interested, here is the book that the Real Simple article comes from.

One Reply to “Subjective Success”

  1. Seth Godin and I are clearly on the same wavelength today! Here’s what he has to say about what it might take to change our minds about something we believe:

    Dancing with belief

    All of us believe things that might be inconsistent, not based on how the real world actually works or not shared by others. That’s what makes us human.

    There are some questions we can ask ourselves about our beliefs that might help us create the change we seek:

    Is it working?

    If your belief is working for you, if it’s helping you navigate a crazy world and find solace, and if it’s not hurting anyone else, it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. Often, beliefs are about finding human connection and a way to tell ourselves about our place in the world, not as an accurate predictive insight as to what’s actually happening. And beliefs are almost always about community, about being part of something.

    Is it helpful?

    Air traffic controllers and meteorologists rarely believe that the earth is flat. It’s a belief that would get in the way of being competent at their work. If your beliefs are getting in the way of your work, of your health or the health of those around you, or of your ability to be a contributing citizen, it might be worth examining why you have them and how they got there. Did you decide to have these beliefs or did someone with an agenda that doesn’t match yours promote them?

    Is it true?

    True in the sense that it’s falsifiable, verifiable, testable and predictive. Falsifiable means that the belief is specific enough that something contrary to the belief could be discovered (“there are no orange swans” is a falsifiable belief, because all we need to do is find one orange swan). It’s not necessary for a belief to be scientifically true, in fact, it undermines the very nature of belief to require evidence. Once there’s evidence, then whatever is true is true, whether or not you believe it.

    Do you need it to be true?

    Which means that much of what we do to somehow prove our beliefs are true is wasted time and effort. If a belief is helping you make your way through the world, if it acts as a placebo and a balm and a rubric, then that’s sufficient. The problems occur when some people use our beliefs to manipulate us, when they prevent us from accomplishing our goals or contributing to the well being of those around us.

    What would change your mind?

    If we decide that our belief is actually true, we owe it to ourselves to be clear about what would have to happen for us to realize that it’s not. One of the frustrating things about conspiracies and modern memes is that as soon as they’re examined or contradicted, they’re simply replaced with a new variation. It’s one thing to change beliefs because the scientific method shows us a more clear view of what’s happening, it’s totally different to retreat to ever more unrelated stories in the face of reality. Sometimes, it’s easier for people to amend their belief with one more layer of insulation than it is to acknowledge how the world is likely to work.

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