Success: An Unborn Dream

The past few decades have ushered in new challenges for younger (and even older) generations in creating success in their lives. Now, we can point to a sluggish economy for providing fewer opportunities; that is, less promotions, pay raises and job openings from companies who are tightening their belts. Perhaps we can blame the rising cost of tuition as a way to limit the success to only those who can afford it. Maybe you can blame companies for eliminating training, canceling their management development programs and even foregoing their tuition reimbursement programs. Well, we can’t forget the reduction in the number of startups, as those represent a decrease in opportunities as well. What about people working longer rather than retiring? On and on we can go.  Are there real challenges for creating success today? Of course there are and there always have been.  But these aren’t the barriers that are really slowing us down. The ones that have the most impact on our career mobility are self-generated.

Clarity. Most of us want more success. Yet, when it comes to defining it, we struggle to put even a simple description to it. Now, this still doesn’t deter us from working hard to gain recognition and reward. In fact, we will overlook the fact that we don’t really have a destination we are seeking for many years. Naturally, a lack of a definition of what we want to achieve and maybe even when we want to achieve it forces us into a journey where our only reward for our effort becomes stress and disappointment when we don’t get something in return for our efforts. How long does it take for you to get frustrated? It really depends on your tolerance level. I’ve seen many MBA graduates sit in their same jobs for many years after graduation waiting on their rewards. If you can’t define what you want, it’s almost impossible to identify the tasks you need to take to get it. It’s also quite challenging to identify what others can do to help you.  “See” what I’m saying?

Passion. You’ve surely heard all the advice about following a career path you have a passion for. If you follow your passion, success will follow. That advice has always irritated me.   But, that’s because for many years I hadn’t been following my passion. Within 3 to 6 months of working in a new job, the novelty would be gone. At this point, I’d begin looking to create a little excitement in my work, maybe it was a new project or traveling to a new place. I had to have something to break the monotony. In just three years or less, I’d be stressed to the point where I had to make a change. It wasn’t my passion. While I didn’t clearly define my destination to my consciousness, my subconscious was looking out for certain accolades in my environment and when I didn’t get them, my satisfaction decreased to the point where something had to give. What’s your passion? What signs do you see when you aren’t living out your dreams?

Boundaries. So many of us build boundaries around ourselves but still hold expectations that assume our possibilities are without bounds. I understand my boundaries. I’m not a single kid who can go anywhere and do anything.  I’m married with three children. My kids are entering high school now and I want them to have a stable surrounding. I wouldn’t entertain a job in another state. So, I’ve limited my own opportunities. We all do this to ourselves to some degree. Some limit themselves geographically. Some do it by job title or salary (minimum salary, of course). You might also limit yourself by remaining in the same industry. The problem with these limitations is that we tend to forget they exist and that we’ve chosen them.  Then, the only time we make a change is when our happiness is lost and we must change something to find it again.

Determination. Malcolm Gladwell proposed the law of 10,000 hours in his book, Outliers, which basically suggests that it will take you ten years of intentional effort to hone your craft. In the 1970’s, where people held “long” jobs, ten years would have been enough time to make a considerable impression on your company. However, today, job tenure is about 4.4 years. In other words, by the time you craft your skills, you’ll have gone through two companies and will be on your third. Granted, organizations are transforming themselves at alarming rates and are forcing such change, it will take you longer to build your expertise. As Henry Farber, an economist at Princeton, says “For some reason I don’t understand, employers seem to value having long-term employees less than they used to.” Such changes will increase insecurity, volatility and risk. Staying true to your cause will be challenging, as the changes you have little influence on will act to redirect you when you least desire it. But that’s business today.  It requires more determination than ever.

Our dreams of success are influenced heavily by our surroundings. From the commercials we watch on TV to the Internet to our neighbors, our dream is constantly bleeding through the lines and off the canvas. Fortunately, reality steps in and gives us a gentle nudge and reminder of where we really are. Our success isn’t simply a victim of circumstances, unless you want it to be. It can be planned. It can be changed. It can be improved. You simply have to develop your dream by giving your mind an image of your desired life, making changes when the happiness of work is gone and no desirable future is in view, and setting goals that are in sync with your own established limitations. Lastly, if you really want to achieve your dreams, you will. You’ll give it everything you have. You’ll find all the answers. You’ll get all the help you need. You won’t give up until your dream materializes. That is, if you really want it. Otherwise, you’ll be forever stuck in your own unborn dream.

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