Success at Work


Success GurusAmbitious, challenging goals are clearly essential to achieve success. But how do you make sure that your aspirations are realistic? Everyone needs aspirations, goals to work toward and challenges to tackle. 

It is when we think we have unlimited power to achieve anything we put our minds to, we may be in for disappointment.

Success gurus can be inspiring but they can also raise our hopes to an unrealistic level. By creating unachievable expectations, failure hits us all that much harder. Because we believed the success guru and convinced ourselves that success shouldn't be all that hard to achieve, we run the risk of blaming ourselves for not succeeding. We say to ourselves something like: "I must be especially stupid if I can't follow a simple formula for success." Such a major setback can put us further behind than we were before we listened to the success guru.

As a result, we're asking for trouble if we believe the success gurus who tell us we can have it all by just making up our minds.

Success gurus are really only right about themselves. Because they achieved great success easily, they think that everyone else should be able to repeat their achievements. The truth is that everyone can do some things that are difficult for others. Unfortunately, the things we're good at we regard as easy, so much so that we can't understand why others can't do them.

If you think of all the work, sports or personal activities that you really enjoy doing and are good at, you probably don't see the skills involved in doing them as real strengths because you see these things as simply too easy to do. They come naturally to you. Can't think of anything you are good at that others can't do? What about tying your shoes? Young children can't do that. What about finding your way somewhere new without getting lost, using a computer or doing a crossword puzzle? There are countless such things that are so easy for you to do that you can't understand why everyone can't do them with equal ease.

A relevant pop-psychology book from the 1980's is If I'm So Successful, Why Do I Feel Like A Fake, subtitled The Impostor Syndrome, by Judith Bardwick. The core message of this book is that some very successful people feel like fakes because they don't think they deserve their success and they live in fear of being found out. The real problem for them is that they feel that their success came too easily. Instead of recognizing their strengths, they feel like impostors.

We all share an important trait with success gurus and people who feel like imposters: anything we are good at seems so easy to do that we think others should have no trouble following our example. This is a myth, a biased self-perception. The truth is that people differ enormously on countless traits and abilities such as motivation, confidence, resilience, anxiety, self-discipline, talent, skill, intelligence, energy, attitude and optimism, to name only a few.

So, how can you hang onto your aspirations without setting yourself up for a great fall by living in a fantasy world where you think you should be able to do anything you put your mind to? There is no doubt that you won't achieve great things without pushing yourself and taking risks. But you should do a reality check from time to time. Ask your friends to help you make a list of the personal qualities and other conditions (i.e. finances) needed to achieve your dreams. Then ask them to rate you on a 10 point scale on each of the success criteria to see how realistic you're being. Make sure to thank your friends for the feedback they give you or they won't give you any more. If you think they're wrong, get some expert advice or at least some other opinions.

Success gurus who make it sound easy to get whatever you want are not deliberately deceiving you. They're simply making a mistake in thinking that what was easy for them should be easy for everyone. Their hype is seriously damaging to your chances for happiness because they're encouraging you to feel dissatisfied with your present state and to feel that you can change it with relative ease.

The key is to take the inspiration you get from reading, or listening to, success gurus and doing a reality check to ensure that your aspirations are realistic, not that you shouldn't take reasonable risks of course.

What does it take to be successful? What personal traits or habits will help you get there? See Achieving Success for a discussion of these questions.