The secret to your success?
Or not. And if not, you try again. You reconsider, revisit, reconfigure. You reinvent.
When on a particular path – toward a personal goal or a professional one – and you see that your methods aren’t quite doing it, how do you manage a turnaround?
Do you lay out your plans and pour over them? Do you dissect your objectives to see if they remain reasonable? Do you dig in and work harder? What if you’ve done this all before – when you hoped to shed those 20 pounds, pump up your sex life, motivate your teenager to take school more seriously, or nail that corner office?
Secret to Success
The New York Times relates several stories that suggest a shift in the usual approach to going after and getting what we want: a serious dose of self-awareness.
In “Secret Ingredient for Success,” we are told the story of one Mr. Chang, who changed course after years of work and dedication, unable to achieve the success he hoped for as a restaurateur. But that changed, when
… he looked inward and subjected himself to brutal self-assessment.
The article goes on to offer other examples (and stories) of turnarounds in super-achievers, emphasizing that self-awareness is the critical ingredient that is often missing in the most talented and hardworking who nonetheless miss an opportunity for lack of digging in and getting clear on what’s not working.
There are those who don’t like the term “failure.” (I’m one of them.) Yet failure is a fact of life. We may set goals in a specific realm and come up short (semi-failure? semi-success?), or not meet those goals at all.
We may deviate from an original path, and consequently find ourselves somewhere more interesting, more fulfilling, more lucrative, more meaningful; we may even toss out the need to label where we are – if we feel we the need to claim a destination at all – and in so doing, determinations of success or failure simply fall away as we experience both process and accomplishments and continue creating and learning from both.
All that sounds very nice (I tell myself), but it doesn’t change the fact that some issues are clear-cut: we target schools because they offer the best options for our aspirations; we target a weight or BMI or cholesterol level because it indicates a healthier lifestyle; we set our sights on the corner office and the job that goes with it because we’re convinced it’s where we belong.
But what if we can’t get there? What if everything we try – repeatedly – doesn’t land the prize? Not even close?
Real World Constraints… Or Excuses?
Left out of this article are the ages of those used as examples at each point of self-assessment leading to turnaround. After all, can’t we agree that at 35, we have less to lose than at 55? (We have more time to recoup our losses.) What is the health of those used as our models of super-achievers thinking outside the box? Their propensity for risk? And what is at risk? Home? Life savings? Marriage? Nest egg for the kids?
Are these constraints… or excuses?
Returning to the Times article, it’s clear this journey into self-awareness isn’t for lightweights. It necessitates a process that is exceptionally rigorous and potentially disorienting. Citing Professor Chris Argyris, business theorist and professor emeritus at Harvard, we must:
question every aspect of our approach, including our methodology, biases and deeply held assumptions. This more psychologically nuanced self-examination requires that we honestly challenge our beliefs and summon the courage to act on that information…
Self-examination may be the key that unlocks a more open mind (relative to our approach and even our goals), the big (or small) reveal that convinces us we may not be suited to our goals after all, or the discovery that something is lacking in us – even temporarily – needed to turn failure into success, or a so-so performance into the sort of win we’re really looking for.
Help Along the Way
And if we’re willing to pour through our motivations and our methods? If we’re willing to tackle and disassemble our obstacles, including those we ourselves place in our own paths? If we make our way to clarity and still seem no closer to the brass ring?
What if that willingness to “do the work” of reconsidering goals, methods, and plumbing our psychological depths doesn’t cut it?
So how do we find friends, mentors, loved ones, professionals – who will offer their viewpoint to assist in a personal or professional turnaround? Do we remain “blind” to our real abilities (or lack thereof) in some areas, and remarkably lucid (and achieving) in others?
My Mother, Myself? Maybe. Maybe Not.
For decades, I watched my brilliant but troubled mother set weight loss goals, work toward them, then fall back in her efforts and find herself even worse off. Battling obesity much of her life, her failure to thrive was palpable, and her results – anything but “success” – were far from private. She wore her failure – literally – on her small frame, as she would yo-yo from 180 to 240 and down again, only to regain.
This formidable woman also suffered relationship problems; she invariably pushed away those who were closest to her, or could have been, alienating family members throughout her life.
Yet I was awed by my mother’s ability to obliterate any obstacle in her path when it came to other activities. She went back to college in her early 30s (in a decade when that was rare), and persevered for 10 years. She earned her degree at an excellent university – and with honors, I might add. She went back to school again, at 70, to learn Japanese – and spent the next years loving every minute of the language and culture, making Japanese friends along the way who seemed to adore her.
Why was she unstoppable in some areas and utterly unable to see herself in others? And I ask myself – Am I my mother?
The Reinvention Revolution
We talk (and read) a good deal about reinvention these days. The economy has something to do with this of course, as does gray divorce – forcing women (especially) to recreate a life they may not have anticipated just a few years earlier. These are by no means the only factors in our reinvention revolution.
I have always assessed my motivations and methods; self-examination is no stranger to me, perhaps because I saw my mother’s refusal to engage in it. Still, like most of us, I don’t always see the forest for the trees. So I dig in, turn myself upside down (so I may create yet another turnaround?), and I “do the work” required to reach self-awareness. I hope it will lead to what you might term reinvention, and I just as soon call “change.”
But then what?
In a few key areas, I know what I want, and it remains out of reach and has for years. In other parts of my life, what I vaguely considered desirable seemingly appeared out of nowhere – a matter of timing and serendipity.
I feel responsible for the former and at a loss to explain the latter. I also know that self-awareness alone isn’t enough. Stepping outside one’s comfort zone isn’t enough. Circumstances matter but nor should they become immovable obstacles – or excuses.
But brutal clarity as the secret ingredient to success? I find that conclusion to be simplistic. Or maybe I’m kidding myself.
- Have you found yourself fighting the same battles year after year – making progress, but not reaching the goal?
- Have you enlisted help in raising your level of self- awareness, to make lasting change?
- How have you shifted and tweaked objectives and plans to put you on a path with more likelihood of success?
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