May 17, 2013

Avoiding the Success Trap

Some might say that insecurity is my vocational Grim Reaper. I’d prefer to see it as ingenuity keeping things fresh.

Either way, the traditional success story of rising to the top eludes me because I don’t stay on any work path long enough to go "Big." I get bored, say yes to the next shiny opportunity, or fill my life with so many engaging tasks that the old stuff I was just getting good at gets squeezed out.

Insecurity or ingenuity? Both, I suppose. On one hand, I say yes to most requests because of the accompanying affirmation. "Sam, can you do this?" translates into, "Sam, you’re awesome. Nobody else on the planet could do it like you could. When can you start?" To which I inevitably reply, "Tomorrow, or as soon as I can set aside what I was just doing, whichever comes first."

On the other hand, my mind is like a compost pile. The more I churn it and add to it, the more useful it becomes for a variety of crops.  

So it’s both. Yet in both cases, I miss the chance of experiencing full potential in any specific aspect of my career, let alone my career in general. This may sound, well, grim, but the reaper has appeared at a slew of premature endings over the years. Does this mean I’ve failed? Not really. Where some take a singular path to the top, I enjoy side trails. In fact, I'm quite happy to be where I am in life. I'd even say that this is roughly where God wants me to be.

Such contentment, however, does not let me ignore the wisdom I found in an article at the Harvard Business Review blog. Greg McKeown, inspired by Jim Collins’ book, How the Mighty Fall, suggests that "'the undisciplined pursuit of more'…is true for companies and it is true for careers."

His progression goes something like this:

Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities.
Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts.
Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.

That sounds about right. Fortunately, McKeown offers three insightful tips, and not just for those who share my "undisciplined pursuit of more." Read The Disciplined Pursuit of Less here.

 

Image by Andrew Sorensen. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Lead-in by Sam Van Eman, Young Professionals editor and coach at The High Calling, and narrator of A Beautiful Trench It Was.

 

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