Reaching the Professional Summit

Three Pillars to Redefine and Understand Success

 By Lei Wang

Stephanie is in her early fifties. She has been a business consultant for twenty years and worked her way up from a junior associate all the way to one of the few female partners in her company. She lives a comfortable life and no longer need to pull all-nighters frequently just to stay “on top” of her work. Though considered rather successful by most people, she is a bit lost as to her next step. Coasting through the rest of her professional life? Early retirement? Do something different? For many years, other than working like mad, she hardly set aside time for herself. Driven by a strong desire for success and the responsibility for taking care of her family, she never entertained the possibilities of other “options”.

Her only daughter recently graduated from college, .Now that her daughter is asking her for career advice, she finds herself questioning her own professional direction. How can she provide her daughter with the best career advice? Also, what’s next for herself?

While launching or furthering your career, knowing what success means to you will help you find greater meaning and happiness. Here are three pillars to help you define success for yourself:Knowing what success means to you will help you find greater meaning and happiness. Click To Tweet

1. Make every achievement personal and measure success against your own effort rather than any external comparison: If you rely on external comparison to validate your sense of success, you may obscure your own perception by comparing yourself to people who are less or more “successful” than you. Or you could be confused as you bounce between being applauded by a full room after a presentation, and being passed over at the next promotion opportunity.

The external criteria used for comparison is frequently random. Yet, as an individual, you long for a consistent and trustworthy confirmation of your worthiness. The only reliable source has to come from you—no other people or commonly accepted social norm.

Every person has a different starting point and different talent. So your success can only be judged against your own effort. What matters is not where you start from, or where you are today, but how hard you are working and how fast you are making progress. Someone starts low but consistently works hard could surpass someone who starts high but only makes a mediocre effort.

Instead of resorting to any external comparison, compare where you are today versus where you were yesterday. Keep an eye on where you want to be tomorrow, and constantly make your best effort day-after-day. Sooner than you realize, you will be surprised to find how high you have reached.

2. The energy and motivation that a challenge inspires in you will make it easier to reach the summit: Be sure not to overachieve at the expense of being able to sustain yourself mentally and physically for the next challenge.

Do not put yourself in a position where you are in the “flow” of your work and resist taking breaks for fear of falling behind. This creates burnout—plain and simple.

You may find yourself at a critical junction that taking a break means failure and render void your previous efforts. But you have to remember, your ultimate goal, your ultimate success, is much further than the goal in front of you. The journey is a long marathon, and the finish line is further than you can see. Keep in mind: even though sprinting to reach that immediate goal in front of you right now may appear to be the most important task, it’s just a very small step in the long journey.

What can you do to prepare yourself for the long-haul to success? What can you do today so you will be better prepared when you face another “critical” moment tomorrow? By taking care of some important—but not yet urgent—issues today, you could avoid making every important issue today an urgent problem in the future. In business, that’s what risk management is for; in combat or competition, that’s what training and rehearsal is for; in your daily life, that’s what learning and taking care of your health and your relationships is for.

3. Success is a journey of constant searching and reconnecting with purpose: Any achievement, no matter how significant it may be, is just a point on this journey. You will have many opportunities for success.

While the only criterion to evaluate your success has to come from within and the journey to success is a long marathon, you still need some “target”, right?

Common goals include reaching a certain number in revenue, scoring a certain position in an organization, or attaining a certain rank in your profession. However, you need to understand that each of those goals is just a point on your journey to success. Those points themselves are not the ultimate success you are pursuing. Just like the measurement of success comes from within, the goal also needs to connect to something within yourself.

The most important question is why? Why are you in this business? Why are you pursuing in your profession? What does reaching those goals mean to you, to your family, to your community? What is the ultimate “goal” you are trying to reach beyond those “points”?

You have to dig deeper to understand your internal drivers, and discover the purpose of your life. Once you “know” the purpose you are serving or pursuing, it will be easier to see how those “points” on your journey connect and where you are heading. Let your purpose be the guide posts on your journey. You will never feel lost no matter if you succeed or fail at reaching that immediate next point, because you always know how to find the next guide post and you know where you are heading to in the future.

Be prepared to go beyond the immediate goal or achievement. Too often we sacrifice long-term success for short-term goals. There are always new summits and new goals. You will reach further faster if you look beyond the summit just in front of you.

Lei Wang is an internationally-recognized adventurer, motivational speaker and author of After the Summit: New Rules for Reaching Your Peak Potential in Your Career and Life. The first Asian woman to complete Explorers Grand Slam (climb the highest peak on each continent and ski to both poles), Lei channels her experiences to convey a message of perseverance and steadfast determination that her audiences can use at work or at home. For more information about Lei Wang, please visit www.JourneyWithLei.com.

Abandon Your SMART Goals

6 Reasons Why SMART Goal-Setting Does Not Work

 By Lei Wang

You’re probably familiar with the concept of SMART goals. SMART is commonly defined as Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

Organizations use these goals with two primary aims in mind. When addressing each aspect of the initials in SMART goals, the anticipated result is a clearly—defined direction for employees, and a well-set timeline to overcome procrastination and motivate employees to stay on track.

It is easy to see how you could expect SMART goals to work best when you are trying to reach a well-defined concrete target under a steady-state situation. Where you can see the target as realistic and the progress within your control, they are great for providing short-term direction and planning progress toward a long-term goal.

But when should you abandon them?

It is dangerous when SMART goals are blindly applied to every pursuit. For people who are aiming for big dreams that venture into new territories, or organizations that want to truly achieve ultimate greatness, especially in a dynamic environment, SMART goals are often inadequate, and sometimes detrimental.

To avoid such mistakes in applying SMART goals, it is helpful to know where and why they do not work. There are six primary problems inherent with SMART goals.

1) Focusing Too Narrowly on a SMART Goal: Fixating on a single SMART goal, it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing it as the only goal. Looking at the SMART goal in the context of the competing and contributing goals will likely influence your actions regarding the single goal.

2) Using SMART Goals to Measure Success and Failure: SMART goals need to be specific and measurable, so you can objectively evaluate if you have reached the goal or not. It is effective in managing progress when working on projects in a controllable environment. However, if you apply the same criteria to measure success or failure, it can motivate people in the wrong way, and when the situation is dynamic or extreme, it can even be dangerous.

When success is measured by a SMART goal, people end up pursuing that goal for a narrowly-defined success, and letting that exclusive target take over their identity. Failure to meet a SMART goal can make employees feel as though their lives are meaningless. They only see losses, unable to appreciate what they have. What drives them to success when things go well may send them into a tailspin when they do not.SMART goals need to be specific and measurable. Click To Tweet

3) Sacrificing Long-Term Success for a Short-Term SMART Goal: Turn to any business or market news channel, and you will find a big portion of daily news is about how much the stock price of companies rises or falls because they beat or missed their quarterly earnings target or market expectations. To an outsider, earnings appear to be the most prominent metric for a company’s performance. Because of the likely severe market reaction for missing their earnings target, firms commonly take extreme measures to meet earnings projections, even if it means sacrificing long-term growth or manipulating their accounting. Such companies operate as if the world ends every ninety days.

They put meeting the quarterly SMART goals set by Wall Street at higher priority than their customers and their long-term success. Eventually, that strategy will be fatal for business.

In more extreme situations, when your competitors are engaged in unethical tactics, and you are at risk of missing your financial target or losing your ranking in the field, what do you do?

4) Giving Up Too Soon, and the All-or-Nothing Approach: A SMART goal can be discouraging, either before or after reaching the goal. Have you ever heard yourself saying, “I don’t have time,” when excusing yourself for not doing what you had planned for that day? Time management is one of the most popular applications of SMART goals. When you think about allocating time to do a certain task, it’s often in terms of all-or-nothing.

SMART goals are viewed as a complete entity, and when you are unable to do everything as planned, you can become discouraged and give up the entire goal.

When a SMART goal is the sole focus you work so hard for, it often becomes a negative incentive. When all eyes are on that SMART goal, you lose sight of the achievements and fulfillment of the journey.

5) Failing to Realize One’s Full Potential: Even when people reach their SMART goal, it may not be a real success.

There are plenty of examples of smart people starting a company based on a great idea or product. They work hard to bring their dream product to life or to take the company from private to a public offering to attract investment money. Once they reach their SMART goal, they relax and the company’s growth curve dramatically flattens. They could have built a great company with many brilliant products, but instead they rested on their laurels.

While working toward SMART goals can motivate you along the way, they can often operate like a stop sign that makes you fall short of your full potential. Setting goals that are too easy will not move people to achieve more than the minimum they are capable of, they miss the opportunity for growth, and they will never know what they might have achieved if the goal had been more challenging.

6) “Realistic” and “Achievable” Can Be Misleading: When you are pursuing “realistic” and “achievable” goals such as your next promotion, next higher sales numbers, next award, you should pause for a moment and question, “at what cost?”

People who are so self-driven have a tendency to overload themselves with too many high priorities. An item is number one for a reason, so with too many number one priorities, the number becomes meaningless. Something has to be number two, number three, and so on.

When you look at each goal in isolation, it’s seen as realistic and achievable within a certain time frame. The tendency is to be overly ambitious, thinking, “I will figure out a way to fit it in!” But “realistic” is a relative term, not an absolute term. It is not just considering, “Is this goal realistic considering my capability?” but also, “Is this goal realistic considering all my other goals?”

Pursuing a lofty dream and fulfilling your greater purpose requires a broad vision, one that goes way beyond the immediacy of the next SMART goal. SMART goals can serve as checkpoints in your long journey to keep you on the path toward success. It is important to measure progress by growth and effort as well, because it is the growth and learning along the way that are of the most value.

Lei Wang is an internationally-recognized adventurer, motivational speaker and author of After the Summit: New Rules for Reaching Your Peak Potential in Your Career and Life. The first Asian woman to complete Explorers Grand Slam (climb the highest peak on each continent and ski to both poles), Lei channels her experiences to convey a message of perseverance and steadfast determination that her audiences can use at work or at home. For more information about Lei Wang, please visit www.JourneyWithLei.com.

Save

The Risky Six

Six Keys to Shed Fear and Take Smart Professional Risks

By Lei Wang

Like all the knowledge and skills that people learn, fear of failure is also learned. And as you age, you gain mental constraints. Those mental constraints remove creativity and replace it with yet more fear.

Fear is perceived risk; it is learned, and it can be unlearned through practice. The ability to overcome fear—to combat fear—is like a muscle. It can be trained and can get stronger through exercise. Through deliberate practice, you can become courageous, and harness your fear to take informed, intelligent, and potentially lucrative professional risks.

1) Harness Fear’s Positive Power: Fear is an extremely powerful emotion—and thus, an extremely powerful motivational tool. When facing fear, the normal response is fight-or-flight. Flight is to let the fear and the worry take control of your mind. Fight is turning fear into a positive risk management response, forcing you to focus and actively do the best to overcome the present situation.

When you take a leap of faith to confront a new career challenge, instead of worrying “What if I fail?” imagine you have no opportunity to back out.

Instead of letting the fear hold you back, take that first step, and turn fear into a positive strength that compels you to focus and to make your best effort.

2) Act Early, Act Decisively: Rather than waiting until your industry or department becomes dispensable, proactively manage your career growth; learn new skills and think ahead of the curve continually to prevent a career crisis from happening.

Anticipate problems and dangers before they occur. Once danger does arrive, it is often too late to do much in response. Act early and act decisively, because waiting diminishes the chances for success.

Practice facing fear by taking chances. Even if you fail the first time, you should try again. Start with a small task, such as a new project, something you have never done. The more you try, the easier it will become to overcome fear. Take a leap of faith to confront a new career challenge, instead of worrying “What if I fail?” Click To Tweet

3) Separate Probability from Consequences: Many working professionals are afraid of taking risks because the probability of success appears low and the consequences of failure are frightening. When you think about the consequences of a failure, it is important to recognize the difference between the immediate consequences and the ultimate consequences.

Yes, the probability that a new startup will succeed is low, and the immediate consequence could be losing investment money. For any new product launch or new job, there is a chance of failure, and losing your current position. But that is only temporary. Not taking the risk means that the ultimate consequence is failure.

A low probability of success should not be the reason holding you back, as long as the temporary consequences of failure are recoverable. Be more mindful of the ultimate consequence of not taking that chance.

4) Know Your Risk Management Capacity: When approaching a risky situation, some people—often those who have some special talents or experiences—would go all-in and aim to grab the opportunity fast by taking bigger risks. Others take time to build a more solid foundation through each step so they have more control of the risk—at the cost of slower progress.

Which style should you choose? It depends on the situation, your skill, and your risk management capacity. There is no right answer for everyone or every instance.

Consider what the cost and return of taking those risks may be. Think about the alternatives you have and what the risk and return of those alternatives will be. Evaluate what losses you can afford, and consider what the temporary losses and permanent loss might mean. Ask yourself what your options are in the event of a soft loss, a hard loss, or a replaceable loss. Think about how you would recover from these possible losses. Keep in mind ways you could prepare yourself for the best outcome. You have to balance your skill level and risk management ability.

5) Be a Smart Advice-Taker: It can be difficult to measure your own capability against the risk you are considering taking, because it’s hard for people to see themselves completely objectively. But there are mirrors to help you see yourself better. That mirror is the feedback from people around you, such as a mentor, colleagues, or your boss.

Seeking advice is imperative before you take a risk. How do you decide which advice to heed when they conflict with each other? It is important to discern the intention behind each person’s perspective.

Some might be overprotective of you because of emotional attachment, such as friends or family; some may be driven by personal interest. Everyone has a bias; it is important to learn to recognize the value of different feedback. Do not just listen to the feedback that you want to hear. Do not brush aside opposing opinions too easily. Learn to form your own judgment based on those who give you advice.

6) Pushing Too Far vs. Not Pushing Far Enough: The line between pushing too far and not pushing far enough is a fine line, especially when the stakes are high.

In business, not pushing enough causes mediocrity and may eventually lead to a company’s demise. Pushing too far causes burnout and unsustainable growth, or pursuing economic return without regard to the wellbeing of the environment or community.

Managing this delicate balance is a skill that can be learned, like courage and other risk management skills. In order to avoid costly mistakes on either side of the line, you need to learn the skill of heeding the feedback you receive and improve your ability to make sound judgments. Through practice, you can gradually develop objective criteria before real danger arrives, and become better at calculating risks.

Fear of failure is not the reason to avoid taking risks. Of course it’s not smart to jump at every opportunity—you have to calculate and make the best decisions under the circumstances and constraints of your knowledge and vision. Even a calculated risk can prove wrong sometimes, but when you take a chance you have the opportunity to learn and grow. If you are afraid of failure and never risk anything, you will risk everything in the end.

Lei Wang is an internationallyrecognized adventurer, motivational speaker and author of After the Summit New Rules for Reaching Your Peak Potential in Your Career and Life. The first Asian woman to complete Explorers Grand Slam (climb the highest peak on each continent and ski to both poles), Lei channels her experiences to convey a message of perseverance and steadfast determination that her audiences can use at work or at home. For more information about Lei Wang, please visit www.journeywithlei.com.

Save

Save