What a successful career really means
Money, power, fame? What’s the standard definition for success in life and career?
What is professional success? Well, it’s a great question that few have come up with a universal answer for, and even fewer have achieved. Success in life or career is not based on money, fame or power, even though many theories of successful leadership say so. Historian and critic Sarah Lewis says that success is nothing more than a momentary celebration of the achievement of a goal. For Lewis, the truly satisfying thing is to embrace the “near win”, that’s to say, “not being the best”.
Is the “near win” the key for a successful career?
“Being the best” means not being able to fail, something that inevitably ends in constant pressure and frustration. This feeling is supported, in part, by the Prospect Theory, developed in 1979 by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. From the Prospect Theory it can be interpreted that triumph and happiness do not go hand in hand and this is exemplified with an athletic competition. In a competition, the one who wins the silver medal is often frustrated because he or she compares themself to the one that won the gold medal (does the name Mckayla Maroney sound familiar?) and feels they could have been the best, but are not. Whoever wins the bronze medal is much happier because they’ve achieved a record, and don’t compare themself to the best, rather to everyone that’s been left behind and in fact, applying Sarah Lewis’ theory, “not being the best” gives them the strength to keep on improving.
Obviously, in order to focus on constant improvement rather than success itself, we must develop a very specific aptitude: self-knowledge. Who am I? What are my circumstances? What are my strengths and weaknesses? What would I like to spend my time on? It may sound like mindfulness, but working on self-knowledge is essential to define what success is for each person and what short-term and realistic goals can be set to achieve it.
Who knows, perhaps, in the end, professional success really means not comparing oneself to others, and becoming the best version of oneself. Or if not, ask Jack Ma, maybe he knows. 😉