Woman to Women
Success is only success when it’s on your own terms
Shannon does a great job at work. Everybody says so. Her performance reviews always say she “exceeds expectations,” and she’s been steadily promoted to a position of major responsibility.
So why isn’t she happy? She’ll tell you she’s burned out. She has no personal life. She has no time. She can’t think. She forgets the birthdays of friends. She’s productive at work, but still very, very stuck in a life that doesn’t fit quite right.
What would she like?
“I guess I would say, ‘Peace’ – time to hang with my friends,” she says. “Time to maybe even have a boyfriend. Time to do quilting. Time to play with my nieces and nephews. Time to work out and get healthier. Time to do a really good job too.”
What’s keeping her from that vision of a life? I ask her about her job and her eyes get glassy. “I work 10- to 12-hour days, probably six days a week,” she says. “But there’s always so much to do.”
Any way she could delegate or get more staff to help?
She pauses. “Well, I could try that, but I’m afraid I won’t find anyone as committed as I am,” she says. “I have pretty high expectations for others.”
Hmmm. I sense an avenue for exploration. I ask, “Shannon, what does ‘success’ mean to you?”
After a bit of hemming, hawing, inner-cheek chewing and stolen glances toward the ceiling, Shannon says, “Success is not disappointing others, I guess. When I’m successful, I’m meeting the expectations of others.”
“So,” I start. “Other people get to decide how successful Shannon will be, and you have to do what they say? You have no role in that? Because that’s kinda what I hear you saying.”
Tears well in Shannon’s eyes. “I never thought about it that way,” she says quietly.
“You can have a life of your own design, Shannon. It is possible,” I explain. “But you have to figure out what’s most important to you and live by that, rather than accepting that assignment from others.”
We take a look at Shannon’s underlying fears and beliefs and began the process of eliminating and revising those that don’t fit with the life Shannon would like to live.
It comes down to this idea Shannon has – that success means meeting the expectations of others. Is there another way to cast that sentence in a way that allows Shannon to get the life she wants to live? After some poking and prodding, we come up with:
“I am successful when I meet my own expectations.”
Which is true. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from (shout-out here) my friend Grey Terry. In a very difficult period of my life, Grey looked at me, with my perpetually red-rimmed eyes, and said, “Michele, just do things today you can be proud of a year from now.”
It was in my power, then, to have the expectation that I would face a great challenge as a person of integrity, one who’s responsible and respectable, a person of honor, and to have my actions flow from these values. As a result, there’s very little I regret having done from that time in my life. Which is quite nice.
Shannon came to see that she, too, has the power to make and set her own expectations for how she will be in the world – that she’ll make time for things that nourish her whole life, such as relationships, interests, exercise and a healthy diet.
Attempting to live by the expectations of others merely held her back. Now, she feels free.
And you – how do you feel?
Michele Woodward is a Master Certified Coach and speaker who’s worked with hundreds of people and workplaces. She’s also the author of Lose Weight, Find Love, De-Clutter & Save Money: Essays on Happier Living. If you have a career question for her, send it to Coach Me…If You Can.