One thing that comes up again and again in my conversations with friends and colleagues is the way it is so easy to project a feeling of success onto other people. We see their outward accomplishments and imagine them: pleased, satisfied, and finally without a care in the world. We think, Here is someone who has had the Big Success Moment. Surely feeling Finally Okay Now and Peace at Last must follow.
Here's where it breaks down.
No one I know has ever actually experienced the successful feelings attributed to or projected onto them. Not even after landing a new book deal or a radio show or receiving an invitation to a very large stage (literally or metaphorically).
Instead, they tend to have new concerns that simply replace the preceding ones. Things like: what kind of reviews will come in, whether or not the book or project will sell, whether the show will get extended, and whether they are taking the best advantage of their opportunities while they last.
At first it may seem like bad news because many of us are hoping that Success Feeling is up ahead or around the bend, when the truth is, it's probably the carrot you will chase but never catch.
Chalk it up to human nature and the way we create a new gap as soon as we close the one ahead of us. By the time you get to The Big Success Moment, it doesn't feel so big after all because now you can see even further ahead to something that seems much larger, cooler, steadier--you name it.
Here's the good news.
You can actually be successful or accomplished, even if you don't ever FEEL it. This can work in our favor in in two areas: measurement and motivation.
You can measure your progress in more tangible, less fickle ways. Try out these metrics to start:
- What have you made? What plans have you drafted, what ideas have you incubated, what have you written/created/built?
- What have you learned? This includes life lessons and new skills acquired. Trial and error results, and all the failed experiments that need not be repeated. New productive habits formed and the body of wisdom you've expanded along the way.
- Whom have you touched? Have you offered or shared your work? Who has received and benefited from it? What have they taken away with them--beauty, inspiration, curiosity, mystery or know-how?
The second piece of good news is that you can choose another source of motivation. An intention to work from instead of an imaginary or elusive feeling to work toward.
Why DO you make what you do?
- To save your sanity, make sense of the world or form your soul?
- Or maybe you work to be of service, to contribute something to others or as an act of gratitude for what others have given you.
- Is there a possibility you're working to inspire, or an action to provoke?
Your contribution to others, your own formation and all that you provoke or inspire happen whether you ever feel that Success Feeling or not.
The Big Success Moment, the Finally I'm Okay Feeling and Peace at Last are fleeting at best, if not complete fabrications of our imagination. So what if we stop chasing after the success carrot?
Perhaps we could steady ourselves against something true. We could mark our progress in tangible metrics and work from intentions that are more about where we come from and less about where we arrive.