I originally wrote this more than a year ago on Rajiv Srivastava’s blog. This is a word for word reproduction.
If this question isn’t haunting you, then you don’t want to read beyond this sentence. This will be more interesting to people like me who aren’t that sure.
For the first several years of my professional life, being successful was never a problem. I did well at almost everything, every employer I left wanted to retain me and I never had to look for a job because head hunters or old contacts came calling.
Then something changed. I didn’t try to switch my job so there’s no question of my employer trying to retain me, and head hunters did call, and for all purposes, though not as fast as before, my career did move forward. But I just didn’t feel great any more. And then the doubting started…
At first, I refused to believe something was changing. I had an inkling that the change was that I wasn’t enjoying what I did as much as I did earlier. But I was in my early 40s with another 20 years or more of productive life before me. How could I accept that I was bored of what I had done till now? And I had no answer to what I would do over the next 20 years. No, this wasn’t acceptable. I would get over this tomorrow…but tomorrow never comes.
Several months later, I did accept that I wasn’t enjoying myself. No, I didn’t do a Harsha Bhogle. My experience is not the story you would publish in a magazine, but it did help me put a better perspective on what I meant by success. And after all that I have done, I feel a lot happier, and a lot more successful. I thought I’d share it with people who may be going through the same challenge.
The first thing I said to myself is that I would be brutally honest with myself. Many of the things I didn’t accept about myself in the past were because they were not hip and happening, and they were designed for acceptability in circles that mattered to the world I had submitted myself to. The only circle that should have mattered, and that didn’t, was me. The first of these was the narrow definition I had given to success. All it meant to me was which company I worked for, what my designation and level were and whether I was getting ahead in my career or not. Just how much of my success I had placed in the hands of people and dynamics that were driven by organizational politics, flavors of the day, and other such things that had little to do with how well I did and more to do with how the coin dropped at the toss.
I decided to change all that. But I couldn’t get around to relegating my career to the back burner. It still matters a lot to me, probably as much as it ever did. So I decided to keep it as a very high priority. But not the only one. I asked myself hard questions about what really mattered to me. Like all good, educated middle-class men, family came first. It’s a different story just how true it turned out to be but that’s another discussion and I will come to it at the right time. I did, by the way, include family. I eventually identified 7-8 aspects of my life which I had never bothered about earlier. There was my profession, my finances, my spiritual self, my physical self, how I wanted to be perceived by the world, my emotional self and what challenges I wanted to throw at myself. Then I started putting down things that fit into these categories. I struggled quite a bit because there were overlaps. But eventually I worked out where I wanted to go with each of these aspects. So I set specific tasks – nothing very complex – but realistic tasks that I could achieve in 6 months and 12 months time. For example, in the physical self section, I set myself a goal of achieving a golf handicap of 14 (down from 18) in 6 months time. And I did.
So was I successful or not? Sure. And my handicap had everything to do with me, and nothing to do with anyone else. I felt in control, and I felt a sense of achievement and satisfaction. I’m your average corporate party animal. It seemed a bit incongruous for someone like me to have a spiritual goal. No, I don’t intend going into the Himalayas and meditating till there’s an anthill growing all over me. But nothing stopped me from setting a goal of reciting a specific mantra 1,00,000 times. I did. Not one, but two of them. Now I’m not sure it sounds like an achievement to you, but it did to me, and that’s the other big change that came over the way I was looking at success. Yes, what you think no longer matters, mate. Because in areas other than my profession, it is I who will judge achievement, not anyone else.
So is this the approach of a loser? I thought about that too, because I’m essentially competitive, and my last 20 years in a professional career in IT, mostly in American MNC’s, has ensured that line of thinking. Anyway, I tried to fight the thought away. But every day, I would think about my new “successes” and the way I was measuring them, and wondered if I was fooling myself into believing that I was achieving something meaningful. So I set about another exercise. I created a Word document titled “Me”, and I wrote down everything I have done that I’m proud of since I can remember, things that meant a lot to me when I did them. Some of those things are completing the Raid-de-Himalaya motor rally in 2007, took a hat-trick in a cricket match (all bowled) when in school, made a blemishless 10 minute speech on Clive Lloyd at age 8 before 200 people and so on. Can’t think of too many people who can say all of those things. And they were successes in things that had meaning for me. So that helped me understand that if I consider myself the center of the universe, then things that matter to me are more important than things that matter to others. And if I’m being successful at achieving those things, then where’s the question of whether those things are meaningful or not; of course they are!
There’s actually 20 odd things I wrote down. I already know the 21st. I’m going to make a list of 100 things I want to do before I die; if I do 50, I’ll die a happy man, more importantly, a successful man!
Go take your success into your own hands. I’m not advocating you give up or slow down on what you do. But try not to make only what the world sees as success as your benchmark. Its a good idea to create your own definition of success and then achieve it. This is not a new idea. It’s just my experience of living through it.
Golden question. Do I consider myself a success now? Not completely, but I have many more open roads to success now than the solitary one I saw a year ago, and that one had a menacing roadblock along the way.
I am sure this will help some people form their own thoughts and routes to how they want to view success.
Here’s wishing them success!