It sounds like one of those Zen riddles or something: “Trying to be successful will not help you become successful.” In fact, they’re the words of career coach Steve Errey, who’s penned a somewhat counterintuitive, totally enlightening article for the Daily Muse titled “5 Reasons Trying to Be Successful Will Leave You Struggling, Broke, and Miserable.” Read on to find out why all your striving might be ruining your life.
1. Success Isn’t a Fixed Thing — Right now, you’re busting your hump for a that big promotion. After that, it’ll be the corner office. Unless your priorities shift, and you’re obsessed with getting your kid into the right school or buying that beachfront property you’ve had your eye on. Or maybe you simply want to make it through the week without being consumed by your current project and slugging your boss. It varies, another words, so how can you make it an end goal? “When success is just a vague idea that comes and goes, changes shape and always seems out of reach, its amorphous, extrinsic nature makes it much easier to second-guess yourself,” Errey writes.
2. It Amounts to a Value Judgment — Too often, Errey writes, we start thinking in binary terms: success is good, while failure is bad. The thing is, life is more complicated than that, and success isn’t something like a fancy car or big house — i.e. a “consumer need.” “It’s a judgement that’s fatally flawed, leaving no room for grey, keeping eyes fixed forward, and not seeing the value inherent of all experience, regardless of meaningless labels,” he writes.
3. What About ‘the Now?’ — If you’re always looking toward the horizon, convincing yourself that happiness awaits after XYZ happens, you’ll never appreciate what’s going on right now. And that’s a problem, Errey writes, because now “is where the action happens.” You’ve got to do your best all the time, regardless of how it might get you to that nebulous final destination of Success-Ville.
4. It Can’t Buy You Happiness — According to Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant, who spent more than three decades studying what makes for happy and purposeful living, success at work isn’t the be-all, end-all. “In terms of achievement, the only thing that matters is that you be content at your work,” he says. The takeaway: Don’t make decisions based purely on whether they’ll make you successful. In business, as in life, you need to feel fulfilled and supported.
5. Success = Limitations — However you define success, it probably has to do with what you feel you’re capable of. If you don’t believe you can write a novel, Errey says, you’ll take “become a novelist” off of your list. But maybe you can do it. Don’t let your perceived shortcomings color your idea of success. “Real confidence is being able to trust your behavior with implicit trust in that behavior, in the full knowledge that you’ll be okay and whole no matter what happens,” Errey writes.