But, my patients protest, the Eighties taught them that the only way to get ahead is by focusing on a single goal and going for it tooth and nail. Forget about feeling successful, they declare; you have to look at what it takes to acquire success.
It's counterproductive to have a narrow focus and a singular goal. Among the abundance of research that supports this position is the Grant study, which tracked a group of Harvard graduates for more than 50 years. Those with the most successful careers were not necessarily academic superstars, and their professional ambitions have not wholly defined their lives since. Instead, they've allowed themselves to build strong, stable marriages and deep friendships. They've made room in their lives for exercise, relaxation, and multiple interests and activities.
They've also become best-selling authors, cabinet members, scholars, physicians, judges, and captains of industry. In short, they've shown an abundance of initiative rather than blinding ambition. Initiative tends to enliven and open us up to new ideas and opportunities, while ambition tends to enclose us.
Viewed within the broad context of your life, ambition can be a strong motivator, and goals can help you organize your time and energy. The danger arises when you allow just one goal to define your life. Time and again my patients tell me that they must first reach a certain level of professional success before they can get married, have a child, take up a sport, or even spend time with a dear friend or relative.
However, professional success is not always a direct fiction, of ambition; luck, timing, skill, and lodgevity are often more potent factors. In the second place, you're more likely to succeed both personally and professionally if you embrace three key pursuits in different areas--for example, work, family life, and leisure activity--than if you focus entirely on a single objective.
2. Self-promotion vs. self-trust and self-expression Do you strive to appear more successful to others than
you think you really are?
Do you fear being disliked?
Do you respect yourself?
THE MYTH OF SELF-PROMOTION ARISES out of the commercialism of society. We buy and sell products and services. We've come to view ourselves as commodities as well. There is a pervasive assumption that success depends on how well we "sell" ourselves. It's not enough to be talented, skillful, and creatively involved in our work; we have to round out the package with an engaging personality, physical charm, and powerful connections. If we don't have it naturally, we have to fake it.
Unfortunately, in the process of promoting ourselves, we often confuse acceptance with self-respect. We want so badly for everyone to like us that we may neglect those who love us the most and make it almost impossible to love ourselves. Then, when outsiders don't buy our promotional package, we feel that we've failed.
All too often the concentration on a packaged image also eclipses the development of the skill, talent, and creativity that are required for real growth and advancement. As a result, the self-promoter can end up losing both psychologically and professionally when the employer/buyers begin to look for the substance inside that impressive package.
Meaningful success requires not self-promotion but self-trust. In the end, the facade you mold and refine to someone else's specifications is far less important than your core identity: your values, ideals, talents, and dreams.
When you are committed to expressing your deeper sell it becomes very difficult to change, chameleon-like, to fit the latest marketing trends. Yet when you trust yourself, you exude the capability, pride, confidence, and conviction that make you impressive to others. Even among your rivals, you will command widespread respect for your integrity. That respect, supported by inner conviction, is what separates truly successful leaders from followers.
3. Independence vs. interdependence Do other people's problems concern you?
Are you responsible to anyone but yourself?
"LOOK OUT FOR NUMBER ONE"--THE underlying model of the "me" generation of baby boomers--is one reason adults are experiencing record rates of divorce, depression, and suicide. What began as a celebration of individuality has turned into a generational trend toward emotional isolation. Self-assertiveness has been confused with selfishness.
Achievement has been confused with dominance. In this context, independence does not engender a positive feeling of success. It engenders anxiety, mistrust, alienation, and guilt--the emotional benchmarks of failure.
This fiercely defensive brand of independence even has a negative impact on career advancement, as one of my patients found out the hard way. An associate producer for a television news program, she became enraged when a less qualified producer was placed above her. Instead of approaching the producer directly, she confronted the show's executive producer with work samples that, she thought, would prove she deserved to have the job. To her face the executive producer was polite, but he said that this was a bureaucratic appointment and his hands were tied; perhaps she could work with the producer to help him get up to speed? The associate producer, bent on advancing her own career, could barely stand to speak to her competitor, much less help him. Yet she soon realized how much her selfishness was costing her when colleagues began to overlook her. Had she helped the struggling producer, she would have proved herself a team player and earned the entire staff's respect. Instead, by treating her career as an independent venture instead of an interdependent process, she found herself suddenly locked out of the team and any immediate chance of advancement.
Most of us realize the greatest benefits of interdependence through family and other close personal relationships, The stability, constancy, and love in these relationships can provide the vital support we need to weather the lumps of everyday life. In a world where individuals are categorized by their occupation and superficial appearance--and valued accordingly--these intimate attachments provide a deeper, more meaningful sense of belonging. Our families and friends cherish us not just for what we do or how we look but for who we are and what we feel, for our uniqueness. We're responsible to them, and they to us. The resulting sense of connectedness is what makes us feel personally important and secure.
4. Manipulation vs. honesty Are you willing to defend your beliefs publicly?
Do you try to outmaneuver people who get in your way?
Do you try to make others think you agree with them even when you don't?
SOME YEARS AGO, MICHAEL KORDA MADE the best-seller list with two books, Power! and Success!, both of which offered readers a host of tactical power plays designed to give them more clout in the office. His suggestions included the positioning of one's desk, the location of one's office, manipulative use of the telephone, as well as the personal grooming guidelines that are now remembered as "dressing for success."
Yet behind all the clever how-tos, the real message of these books was this: In order to succeed in your' career, you've got to manipulate others into feeling inferior to you while at the same time convincing them that you're invaluable. In short, anyone who prefers to concentrate on the work at hand rather than the position of buttons on a sleeve or the color of a briefcase might as well forget about making it to the top.
This message has been echoed in scores of subsequent instructional guides, creating the widespread impression that legitimacy and honesty are detrimental to professional success. Two facts contradict this illusion. Number one, most people who achieve bona fide professional success--whether in business, politics, science, or the arts--are too busy with the substance of their work to pay much attention to the trivial details that consume most manipulators. Can you imagine Pablo Picasso trying to impress art collectors by positioning his easel in the power comer of his studio?
The second argument against manipulation is that it breeds mistrust and resentment. Those who wangle their way into positions of authority rarely have the support of those around them and frequently must contend with open hostility from the ranks. Sometimes these impasses lead to coup attempts and sometimes to lingering alienation. Unless they are able to display genuine leadership ability, the manipulators usually experience professional and emotional defeat.
When you deal with the world honestly, you treat the people around you not as pawns but as partners. This involves much more than simply telling the truth. It means that you look at all sides of a situation before drawing up your game plan. It means being evenhanded: criticizing yourself but also defending your own rights; criticizing others but also defending their rights.
Acting honestly means that you invest your personal values in everything you do instead of simply conforming to expected patterns of behavior. In all these ways, you let others know that you have respect for yourself and for them. And with it you earn their respect.
5. Perfection vs. growth
Do you have to be the best to feel good about yourself?
Do you try to conceal and forget your mistakes?
Do you consider your work drudgery or play?
JAMES MICHENER ONCE SAID, "I LIKE challenges. I don't mind defeat. I don't gloat over victories. I want to be in the ball game." The important idea here is that fulfillment involves a process of growth rather than the achievement of perfection, which is often equated with success.
Unfortunately, the myth of success as perfection runs throughout the business world, where constant victory is seen as a condition for progress. Few companies allow for the natural tidal motion of growth. Instead, achievers are expected to catapult from one triumph to the next, rising ever higher, never backtracking. But even the strongest performer eventually hits a time when the challenge is just too great. The logical reaction at this point is to backtrack to a position of strength, accept the situation, and regroup before attempting to move ahead again.
Many organizations, unfortunately, resist this strategy, treating the impasse instead as a failure for which the punishment is demotion--and humiliation. The performer who has consistently excelled is suddenly stopped cold and may never recover. The temporary setback that could have been a valuable learning opportunity instead becomes an insurmountable barrier to progress. Such shortsightedness imposes unnecessary losses on both the individual and the organization.
By concentrating on process and discovery rather than perfection, you allow yourself to be playful both in your life and in your work. You open yourself to spontaneous thought and action as well as risk taking. You challenge the limitations of standard reasoning. You permit yourself to enjoy what you' re doing and to let the momentum of your pleasure generate new insights and achievements.
Civilization's greatest geniuses, from Leonardo to Einstein, have all understood the value of play. The downfall of Americans, laboring under misinterpretation of both the Protestant work ethic and the meaning of success, is that we too often treat work as a penalty instead of a privilege, then look to leisure to compensate for an unsatisfying career. This makes it virtually impossible to achieve the kind of internal balance that tree success requires.
The solution is to revive playfulness in work as well as in leisure. Enthusiasm is a far more powerful motivator than desire or necessity, and as such is a more reliable source of success.
6. High-stress vs. physical and emotional fitness Are you too busy to exercise?
Do you allow yourself time to do nothing each day?
Do you think it's worthwhile to put in 15-hour days and
seven-day workweeks in exchange for a high-power,
STRESS IS THE NEGATIVE BUZZWORD OF modern life. "I'm so stressed out over this project I can't sleep," says one patient.
"Between cooking, cleaning, organizing the kids, and working part-time," says another, "the stress is killing me." Yet for all the griping, there's an undercurrent of smugness in these statements, as if experiencing stress is a mark of valor. If I'm stressed out, they seem to be saying, I must deserve to succeed.
The misunderstanding is twofold: that all stress is unpleasant and that one has to be overstressed, or distressed, to succeed.
In fact, all stress is not unpleasant, and only some forms of stress are necessary to succeed. In the strictest sense, stress is nothing more than emotional and physical arousal. We experience stress when we're excited, enthusiastic, or sexually enticed, and when faced with emergency situations or tough problems. Without stress, we would be ill-equipped to manage in a crisis or under pressure or to experience our full range of emotions.
What distinguishes positive from negative stress, or distress, is the level of arousal. If you become so upset that you get a migraine headache, your stress level is too high. If you are so panicked by a situation that you become numb or severely depressed, your stress level is too low. Either way, you can develop chronic stress-related illnesses, such as ulcers, back pain, high blood pressure, or heart disease. Emotionally, you feel burned out. Personally, you' re likely to withdraw from or alienate those closest to you. And professionally, you're likely to experience a decline in performance.
The real key to stress management is to find the zone of stress that enhances your performance and your outlook on life and that contributes to your physical and emotional fitness instead of undermining it. Once you've identified this zone, regular exercise and relaxation, improved nutrition, time management, and stress-reduction techniques can help you protect it.
7. Sheer willpower vs. the ability to recognize and capitalize on good luck Do you feel that good things happen only to other
people, never to you?
Do you believe you can achieve anything you desire, if you
just want it badly enough?
Do you automatically blame yourself when you are unable
to reach a particular goal?
TRUE SUCCESS IS NOT DETERMINED ENTIRELY by luck, nor is it purely a matter of willpower. Good fortune does play a role, but what really counts is your ability to recognize and seize whatever golden opportunities come your way.
Many of my patients resist this notion. They prefer to cast themselves either as pawns of fate, abdicating responsibility, or as masters of their own destinies, giving themselves too much responsibility. Both views tend to work against internal success. When the fatalist achieves, he can take little pride or satisfaction in his success. When the self-willed person fails, he may become so mired in irrational guilt and self-condemnation that he cannot see the real problems before him.
We all know people who seem to have incredibly good luck, and others who trip over every curb of life. We also know that some who are born with enormous advantages squander them, while others who start with almost insurmountable hardships become heroes for us all. The distinction between success and failure lies less in luck than in our ability to utilize positive opportunities and shift direction when obstacles are genuinely beyond our control.
8. Absolute consistency vs. flexibility Does the prospect of change make you uncomfortable?
Do you defend your decisions even when you know you're wrong?
How do you see yourself 20 years from now?
DO YOU THINK THAT SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE are always fight, always in control, and always know exactly where they're going? These are dangerous illusions, because they imply that success demands a degree of certainty that no one can sustain.
The notion of success as an absolute tends to frighten off those who recognize their own insecurity or confusion. "If I can't envision myself as a corporate president or CEO," one patient, told me, "I have no business becoming a manager." When I asked her why not, she replied, "If I'm going to succeed in any profession, I've got to be completely sure of my target and have a clear, fail-safe strategy for achieving it. Unless I have it all together, I won't be able to stand up against the competition." Though she didn't realize it, this patient was using a common avoidance tactic that promised to keep her from ever realizing her dreams. By setting impossible standards, particularly the standards of absolute self-knowledge and consistency, she was keeping herself in a comfortable holding pattern, waiting as if for spiritual enlightenment to reveal her own perfect troth.
The illusion of absolute consistency is also responsible for many mid-career casualties. For example, the artist who has pursued a single, cohesive theme for many years becomes attracted to different artistic forms and issues, but cannot bring himself to pursue them because the change would threaten his professional identity and puzzle his buyers and critics. Or the executive who is known for her methodical research and analytic thinking suddenly has an inspired marketing idea that cannot be substantiated by data; her intuition tells her she is right, but she is unwilling to trust her feeling. When consistency takes priority over inspiration and necessity, it can lead to stagnation.
In fact, it's wise to question yourself all the time, challenging what you think you know and asking what you need to learn. When faced with tough decisions, accept that there may be several right answers-or none--and base your choices on issues and evidence as well as your convictions. This approach requires a certain amount of flexibility because, while your beliefs may never waver, the circumstances surrounding each decision are shifting. There is no perfect recipe for success; the moment you think there is, you'll find the ingredients have changed.
Dr. Stan J. Katz is a clinical and forensic psychologist practicing in Beverly Hills, California. In addition to running a private practice, he is clinical director of the Maple Center, a community mental-health center. He has lectured at many universities and served as a member of the Los Angeles Superior Court expert panel. He and Ms. Liu recently published their third book together, The Codependency Conspiracy (Warner Books)
Aimee E. Liu has coauthored six books on health subjects, and authored Solitaire, detailing her bout with anorexia nervosa.