Sometimes the greatest obstacle to moving forward is looking backwards. We cling to the memories of our good 'ol days, linking our identity to a past success. Maybe it was winning an athletic championship in high school or college, or maybe even a single incredible play. Maybe it was a position with inside access to movers and shakers. Maybe it was a work project that mirrored the case studies you read in college. Maybe it was earning more than you'd ever dreamed of for a period of time. We often talk of learning from our failures and putting them behind us. The same is true of our successes. Here are three ways success can be a trap, and how to escape them.
For most of my twenties, I had horrible pain in my hands and forearms. Sometimes it was a steady ache, sometimes a shooting pain, and sometimes it just felt like I was on fire from the elbows down. I've had all the tests and lived on Celebrex for a while. (Whoever invented the test for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome deserves a special episode of Alias just for them.) It really was never diagnosed as anything specific, and I eventually quit seeking traditional medical care for it. Once I started working out regularly and eating better, it mostly went away. Until the last ten days or so.
If we were running a 5K or marathon, we wouldn't dream of stopping just inches before the finish line. We know that the rewards come with finishing, and there's not much else that tops that surge of confidence and pride in ourselves. So why don't we carry that philosophy into our work? I'm guilty of it too. When the finish line approaches on a consulting contract, we start to brainstorm ways to extend it, often sabotaging ourself or our colleagues. Or, if we're an employee, we cling to projects for the job security they seemingly provide. We're not willing to automate them, cutting the needed hours in half. Or to create a checklist and train a more junior person to complete them. Why?
Count me as a member of Team Tebow. I'm a fan, and I've certainly enjoyed the last few weeks of improbable victories. He's certainly made football more exciting and provided an excellent role model for living out the Christian faith. But there's more we can learn from his example. And I think the lessons translate to more than the football field. Here's what Tim Tebow can teach us about business.
I used to think that there was an "it" to figure out, that one day everything would snap into place and make sense. I'd know my purpose and exactly how to fulfill it. In search of that, I'd dip a toe, or maybe a calf, into something new, and then move on when it wasn't perfect. I was committed, but there was always a part of me that held back. At the time, I wasn't even aware that I was shielding myself, but it's clear as day looking back. I wanted the certainty first. Somewhere in the last couple of months, I've realized that it's not likely to happen that way. But I'm not the least bit disappointed.
Just yesterday, I had several conversations around the concept of constraints with my colleagues from different teams. Each of us were coming through situations where we initially viewed the limitations as negative, but soon came to appreciate the creativity and resolve they inspired. This TedTalk from Graham Hill got me to thinking. Can simply having a constraint increase the chances of a positive outcome? If so, what other ways can we inspire ourselves to create something amazing by using a radical constraint?
Maybe it's the time of year or our recent discussions about raises and pay equity. I've really been paying attention to this topic lately. In general, I think it's healthy to always ask for feedback and let folks know that you're always looking to grow. There is one way to fail before you even get started, and I'm still surprised at the number of people that use this approach. Let's talk about pie. We all want more pie, and we have some choices about how to get it.
During the Thanksgiving holiday, my 13 year-old daughter dyed hot pink stripes in her hair. Several of her teachers weren't fond of it, and she almost got a referral to the office. That would have been her first one, but an Assistant Principal intervened. When she told me about it, she also explained that she wears a jacket every day because she doesn't want to wear "dress code shirts." In addition, she takes her cell phone to school (another violation) as I'm sure a significant number of other kids do. Two years ago, I would have been very upset. Today, I think I'm proud.