- Success is an end state, one that provides a fleeting but positive feeling.
- We undervalue progress, which provides a sustainable feeling of growth and accomplishment.
- Many people give up because they undervalue progress and get frustrated waiting for their breakthrough.
Much of what people write about success describes an end state. It’s the attainment of a goal, the acquisition of something tangible, or some worthwhile accomplishment. Focusing on these outcomes, however, undervalues or even completely overlooks a better (and healthier) way to think about success.
Think back to a time you succeeded at something important. I hope it felt good, but I bet those positive feelings didn’t last very long, and were perhaps even disappointing in hindsight. You may have felt incredibly proud, for example, the day you graduated from college: you got to walk across the stage, shake the Provost’s hand, and hold up your sheepskin while your family took a hundred pictures. That emotional high might have lasted a little while before its emotional power faded away. For a few days, maybe even a week, you felt a strong sense of euphoria, telling your friends and family about your new accomplishment and the great new job you’ve lined up. After that first week or so, though, the euphoria vanished and left you with the responsibility.
The Trap of Success
Those who point to their car, their watch, their house, or some other possession to demonstrate their success aren’t really proving anything. Instead, they’re broadcasting a need for others to believe they are successful, perhaps because they don’t really believe it themselves.
This is the trap of success. It is the pursuit of something you value that you eventually attained through great effort and persistence, followed by a sense of satisfaction that is neither sustained nor sustainable. But what if success weren’t so ephemeral, and what if it could lead to real, sustainable growth and satisfaction?
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Success is Progress
Pursuing success is a worthy goal, if only because it forces you to change who you are and how you work. The destination provides you with a way to measure your accomplishment, fleeting though it may be. What creates a more sustainable form of success is progress, the proof that you are moving closer to your goal and nearer to your accomplishment. Moving from one level to the next is proof of your progress: you haven’t yet reached your goal, but you’re closing the gap. In all cases, progressing towards that goal will require that you grow, becoming the person who can achieve the goal they’re chasing. In fact, recognizing your own growth is what prompts that sense of accomplishment.
While an accomplishment like graduating college might be durable, lasting a very long time and unlocking hundreds of opportunities, the feeling isn’t as robust as constant and continuous progress. We tend to celebrate the end of the race without recognizing the tremendous value of progress. While you can celebrate a given success once (unless you need validation), progress occurs at a frequency that allows for acknowledgment and recognition over and over again.
The last step of the marathon marks the achievement, even though the real accomplishment started by the runner turning off Netflix, getting off the couch, and walking around the block until they were capable of running several miles each day, something they did for many months.
Zero is the Loneliest Number
Accomplishing anything worthwhile is going to require progress: from zero to one, from one to two, and from two to infinity and beyond. At one, it isn’t easy to see the end state clearly, but two is in plain sight. From two, you can easily see to ten. As you grow and move closer, you recognize your progress more clearly, and each step forward moves you closer to your vision.
Sometimes your progress will come very fast. But many people fail to reach their goals because they quit while they are on the plateau, frustrated by the lack of progress. They never achieve the breakthrough that was just around the corner. The time you spend on the plateau means that you are paying your dues: as Mr. Scott reminds us, “it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock-n-roll.” You’d better get moving.
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Achievements and Progress
Last week, I wrote about the need to stack up worthwhile accomplishments, achievements, and outcomes. The path to those accomplishments is growth and progress. Growth and progress allow you to reach your goal, and in doing so, you prepare yourself for your next goal. When you focus on the goal, it can seem far away. Progress is much closer, and you will have to do the work between where you are now and the result you want. Focusing on improvement is the only way you are going to reach your goal.
Do Good Work:
- Do your goals require you to grow as you progress towards them?
- How can you mark your progress and your growth as you move towards what you want?
- Has your progress and growth prepared you for what comes next?
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