(condensed and modified from Nina’s book, Getting Passion Out of Your Profession: How to keep loving your living…come what may)

Redefining professional “success” is an excellent strategy to help see you through professionally blue periods, uncertain workplace stretches, eg. due to large scale organizational change, downturns in your organization’s marketplace/economy or being passed over for an anticipated promotion. Redefining “success” can also help you count your blessings.

Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles that one has overcome while trying to succeed. –Booker T. Washington

Even if you are not currently going through such professional flux, it’s still a terrific idea every now and then to revisit your personal definition of “success” and clearly know your answers to the following questions:

  • What does success mean to me?
  • What does success mean to the world around me?
  • What does success at my job/in my profession mean? in my organization?
  • How would I define success in my personal life?
  • How does society’s prescribed definition of personal and professional success influence my own definition of this concept?
  • How has my personal definition of professional success changed over the past year? five years? ten? more?
  • How can I broaden my personal definition of professional success to increase my job satisfaction for the years ahead?

A few years ago I learned a simple yet profound lesson about success from Michael Gelb, who, along with Tony Buzan, co-authored, Lessons from the Art of Juggling: How to achieve your full potential in business, learning and life. Mr. Gelb (who, in addition to his academic and business credentials, is also a retired professional juggler) provided each member of his audience with a set of three colourful foam balls and guaranteed we’d all be successful in our very first lesson in the art of juggling–which he’d instruct.

How many people do you think actually believed him? Hardly any. But we all got up, with our colourful balls in hand and played along…and then it happened. We were all successful! Every single last one of us! Who knew it could be true? How could that be, you may ask? This is how, Gelb shared that the first lesson in the art of juggling is the courage to hold all three balls in your hands and then, all at once, throw these three balls into the air, and let them all fall to the ground, on purpose! Do you think we knew how to do that? You bet.

The point was this: most people will look at the fallen, lifeless balls on the floor and say “I failed.” But maybe these “groundballs” represent success after all, because the only way to become a “successful” juggler is to have the nerve to throw the balls up in the first place! How can you learn to “juggle”, at work or elsewhere, if you aren’t willing to let go? if you aren’t willing to acknowledge the elements of success in a perceived “failure”?

Next time you think you’ve failed, consider the juggling balls and reconsider your personal definition of success for the particular task. And, when you’re really in a funk, consider the lifeline lent by the profound words from Clarissa Pinkola Estes (author of Women Who Run With the Wolves):

There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate. The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, whom you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours: They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.

Some will say, “Yeah, yeah, I know all this stuff”, while others will roll their eyes at the “New Age-iness” of it all. But there’s one thing I’ve learned through the years that makes for a great rebuttle here: If you know it, but you don’t do it, you don’t know it, because if you knew it, you’d do it!

There’s a big difference between knowing and believing, but for many the words are interchangeable. Many years ago, a fellow workshop facilitator–the late Jim Quinn–illustrated this point with a tongue-in-cheek story: A man, his wife and seven children, new to town, attend their first church service. The minister is delighted to welcome nine new parishioners. After the service, he asks the husband, “Are these your children?” to which the husband replies, “I believe they are.” Next, the minister asks the wife, “Are these your children?”, to which the wife replies, “I know they are”!

Knowing that you’re successful, on your own terms, is different than believing you are. Knowing you’ll persevere through difficult times is more assuring than believing you will. And if it’s a rough patch you’re riding out at work, perhaps this saying I heard on an old television drama (Judging Amy), may prove helpful: “Everything will be fine, in the end. And if it isn’t fine…it’s not the end!” Another couple of philosophical expressions to help see you or your team through rough times and shore up in-the-moment definitions of professional success include: “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”, and, “This too shall pass”. Use these when you feel the need; they just may do the trick.

Positive attitude and thinking are important foundation stones for realizing both personal and professional success (however you define it), and have everything to do with persevering. Positive attitude and thinking also takes a lot of conscious effort and commitment, especially when you can see that your next resting place, coming up just around the bend, is that old familiar “Pity City”…yet again.

It takes 100% of your positive, focused attitude, effort and commitment to choose desserts over being stressed (“desserts” backwards), and to work and live “successfully” in this now well established “new normal” of the early 21st century. It takes 100% of your commitment–not 99. What good is 99% about anything when the chips are down? Well, to answer that question playing devil’s advocate, if someone told me I had a 99% chance of winning the big lottery, I’d at least go serious window-shopping, even if I didn’t actually buy anything outrageously expensive in advance. If a surgeon told me I had a 99% chance of surviving a serious procedure, I’d probably rest assured that I’d to see tomorrow. But what happens when, for example, your spouse tells you, “Darling, I’m 99% committed to our relationship”? What goes through your mind when the person to whom you report says, “I’m 99% pleased with your work performance this year”? Most of us would want to know what’s going on with the other 1%! As subtle as it may sometimes be, there’s definitely an energetic and emotional difference between 100% and 99% of anything.

What’s the difference between 99 and 100% commitment and how does this difference show up in workplace attitudes and behaviours, and on work teams too? Can you see and feel the difference between employees who are 100% committed and focused and those who are 99%? between those who give it everything they’ve got, everyday, and those who always hold some back? and between those who are willing to “soldier on” and persevere despite difficulties versus those who have a “I give up”, defeatist attitude? Author/psychologist/therapist Jack Kornfield, in his audio series, The Inner Art of Meditation, tells the story of two barnyard animals–a pig and a hen–who break out of their humdrum farm life, travel down a dusty dirt road, full of excitement and wonder as they contemplate the adventures they’ll experience. After walking all day and night, they confess to one another just how mighty hungry they feel. No sooner had they acknowledged this truth when, on the horizon, they spotted the glowing red neon sign of a diner. When they got to the doorstep, salivating at the thought of a scrumptious breakfast, they paused to read the menu posted outside, “Today’s Special: Ham and Eggs”. The pig and the hen looked at one another with sinking hearts; they were soooo hungry but, to them, the “special” was out of the question! What should they do? They were so hungry! After a few moments the hen clucked, “Oh what the heck…let’s go for it!”. To which the pig replied, “NO WAY! For you it’s just a contribution…for me it’s 100% commitment!” And that, dear reader, is the difference between 99% and 100 % commitment. Perseverance. Commitment. Success. They all hang together.

We’re now approaching the half way mark of 2008. June is a terrific month–just in front of summer vacations and while there’s still a whole half year left of 2008–to consider your own, re-definiton of success at work and in your private life for the balance of 2008 and beyond. While contemplating such concepts on a lazy summer day, take into consideration Emerson’s thoughts on the subject:


To laugh often and love much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the approval of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give of one’s self without the
slightest thought of return;
To have accomplished a task,
whether by a healthy child,
a rescued soul, a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm
and sung with exaltation;
To know that even one life has breathed easier because
you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

May the balance of your year be full of professional and personal successes. Go ahead, make your day…and year. Make the rest of 2008 terrific so that by year’s end you can honestly declare 2008 as your most successful year yet! There’s still plenty of time to make it so.

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