Be careful what you wish for; Success might just be the death of you

Have you ever told anyone that you want to be successful?

It’s probably fair to say that most people aim for success. It’s something I have done professionally and personally and am sure you have too. But why is it so potentially dangerous?

Everyone’s description of success is different but, in my younger days, success meant earning lots of money, gaining promotions, winning awards. As I wised up, I became even more political and even less authentic, tweaking my success metrics from what I thought I wanted, to what I thought others would expect of me.

Take a moment to let that sink in and ask yourself, have you ever aimed for something (consciously or subconsciously) to please someone else, such as a boss, family, partner, or friends? If you haven’t; you can stop reading now. Those of you telling the truth; read on!

I have been fortunate enough to be able to make a ‘success’ of many things but I constantly wondered, why my achievements yielded only a fleeting sense of reward or left me feeling hollow and deflated.

As an employer and former head-hunter, I have interviewed everyone from Hedge Fund Managers to Salespeople to Tax Auditors they all wanted to be successful. (fame, fortune, family, friends, future career etc). What I never heard uttered was, ‘To be fulfilled’.

Success is not ‘exactly equal’ to Fulfilment.

Why your goal should be Fulfilment and NOT Success

Hopefully, this article will help you think more deeply about your goals and assess whether you are working towards success or fulfilment. It’s just semantics I hear you cry. I beg to differ.

The two words are incredibly similar but subtly and vitally different.

Here are the Google Dictionary Definitions…

My extension to this….

Success is an outcome that can be measured, such as the achievement of a goal.  It’s an event that produces an emotional response, which, often wears off quickly.  

Fulfilment is a feeling that cannot be measured. The feeling generated by undertaking and completing a worthy journey.  It’s a process not an outcome.

Still not convinced?

Be careful what you wish for – Success might just be the death of you

In all walks of life, we see successful people have horrific responses after achieving their goals.

  • Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse paid the ultimate price.
  • Countless Hollywood child-stars simply never recover from their success.
  • 70% of lottery winners blow the whole lot with a staggering 33% declaring bankruptcy.
  • Countless ‘Top Execs’ have heart attacks, get divorced or barely see their children.
  • Michael Phelps, the ‘most successful’ Olympian of all time is one of many to suffer ‘Post Olympic depression’.

There may be more to these individuals’ stories, but it is clear to see that the goals they set out to achieve may have brought them the fleeting buzz of success but didn’t leave enough (longer lasting) fulfilment in their lives.

The never-ending cycle of “Success”

We might not all end up with such devastating outcomes (as above) but chasing success can do untold damage to our long-term performance at work, relationships, and our mental wellbeing.

Success is like a drug. At the point we achieve it we feel great, but soon enough we are back at square one, looking for the next, often greater high. The four-hour marathon becomes a 3h45 and then a Triathlon, and eventually an Iron man. In business it could be a £100k salary becomes £150k, then a £1M net wealth and A holiday Home.

Now, there is nothing wrong with getting better, going further, or becoming wealthier, but if the only thing that drives you is the outcome, success will come at great cost in many other areas of your life.

Aiming for Fulfilment?

Having made half a lifetime of mistakes setting goals and achieving many hollow successes, I have learned that my goals need to be congruent. But what does that mean in reality?

An Incongruent Goal has an arbitrary outcome. The achievement of which will deliver ‘Success’. An example of this might be. To earn £100,000 in salary and dividends this year. You will be richer, for sure, and this might bring you both happiness and fulfilment but on its own that is by no means guaranteed.

A Congruent Goal combines both your motivations and your values. Putting that into context your motivation might be ‘to be wealthier’ i.e., Earn More money. Your applicable value might be ‘security and stability’ i.e., to provide for your family’.

So, a congruent goal could be to earn enough surplus income to be able to put a deposit down on a home.

It is psychologically still important to quantify goals and paradoxically, you may even end up with the same financial targets.

Building this out, a fully congruent goal could then become:

Goal: Through salary and dividends I am going to earn enough in the next 12 months to put down a deposit on a family home. Achieving my goal will help me provide security and stability for my young family. I am aiming for £100,000 to enable me to save £25k.

There are several interesting reasons why this type of goal works.

  • It avoids the binary outcome of Success vs Failure. You are not limited to a single definition of success. Even if you put £20k aside you may not be ready to buy the house, but it does give you options to provide both stability and security.
  • It helps you navigate the challenging periods. Success is rarely linear, especially if you have your own business, where income can be lumpy. It’s easy to give up on an arbitrary goal but are you likely to give up on your desire to provide for your family?
  • You can detach from the outcome. When a ‘value’ drives you, whatever happens you have acted in a way which is authentically you. Binary targets never take into account changes in circumstances. A pandemic, for example might mean you re-frame ‘security’ as staying in business.
  • You can set the tactical and strategic approach to help you meet your goal. You have two pathways of earning money (salary and dividends), you have two pathways of saving £25k (earning £100k or spending less). Focusing on the goal (family stability and security) helps ensure all actions work to the higher aim. Your values guide your actions.

The achievement of congruent goals is what I describe as ‘Elite Performance’. If you do the Right Things, for the Right Reasons, you will get the right Outcomes.

If you would like to know more about:

  • Fulfilment Vs Success
  • Chasing success
  • Congruent Goal Setting
  • Understanding your Motivation
  • Understanding your Values
  • Letting go of the outcome
  • Elite Performance
  • Or any other queries you may have surrounding enhancing your business or personal performance

Then please get in touch with Andrew via any of the methods below.

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As the founder of First Parallel North, Andrew is delighted to add this highly personalised coaching service to 1PN’s repertoire. Andrew is committed to helping others grow and is dedicating a portion of his time into supporting an exclusive group of senior business leaders one-on-one. Will you be one of them?
Andy Shaw

Andrew is a passionate entrepreneur, critical thinker and change maker. With a track record for success, often born out of failure, he has been involved in developing dynamic leaders, from the day he took his first role in management, some 20 years ago!

His own story has contained many highs and several hard bounces (lows) but over the last decade, the exponential rate of growth Andrew found during his own one-on-one personal coaching journey has inspired him to now give back through this unique program.

A qualified Coach and NLP Master Practitioner, Andrew combines his business acumen, love for developing the human mind and scientific tools to help you achieve rapid and fundamental breakthroughs and ultimate personal and professional fulfilment.

Are you ready to break-through?


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