Define Your Own Success

This is often a time of year for reflection, followed by goal-setting and resolutions. If your annual process works for you, great! However, if you find yourself disappointed, disillusioned or even depressed about what did not occur for you this past year, it’s a great time to try something new with my Six Questions to Clarity exercise.

These past three weeks I’ve been talking with leaders who are exploring the two coaching programs launching in January* – all are at a self-described “crossroad moments” and wanting to curate their dream scenarios in 2020.  They are from different industries, backgrounds, ages, positions, and income levels. 

Two themes have appeared. Frustrating, heart-wrenching

1.  Inadvertent Self-Sabotage

Believe it or not, what you may consider as realistic,
practical, best practices, or even facts, may not be relevant to you, and be the determining factor in preventing you from reaching your goals.  Similarly, what you consider to be the mark of success, may be getting in the way of you seeing the success you are having right now.

I had the honor of speaking with a visual artist and a musician last week.  The conversations were one day apart, and while these leader’s lives are completely different, each shared how they were happy, having impact on the lives of friends, family, community and organizations. During one of the conversations, a couple even walked by and said how much they had enjoyed their performance the night before!

The leaders each spoke of people seeing and acknowledging them for things that really mattered.  And then, the musician said, “But I know I should be performing in Carnegie Hall or Paris.  I guess I’m just never going to be successful.”  The artist said, “I gave up on having shows in galleries in New York.”   I was struck by the jarring “should-ing” they both were inadvertently doing! 

Early in our careers having ambition and being able to visualize our success was often a very important tool.  For some, that definition of success remains true, but for many, the definition of success needs to deepen as we grow into ourselves, connect with our impact (our purpose), and see how many “vehicles” we have available to have that impact.  In the case of these two leaders, they said they are happy!  They said they are living full lives of meaning and joy!  And yet… the voices in their heads are whispering “you’re not good enough.”  Can you imagine how exhilarating it will be, and what will be possible for them, when they see themselves as the successful, purposeful leaders they are? They will attract those who want to help them, and who they are meant to help.

2. Expert Advice Causing Harm

Limiting beliefs don’t always come from within they can be in plain sight as experts give us advice.  In the realm of executive search, every day leaders are told in order to reach their goals they “must first do x, y or z to be considered.  It’s just the way it is.”  These “gate-keepers” wield a lot of influence.  It’s one of the reasons I would get so frustrated when I was working in Search and everyone sounded the same, as they all followed expert advice. Recently I was on the phone with a senior level non-profit marketing professional who knows she wants to be an Executive Director. For three years, every recruiter has told her she’s “not ready” yet – she must “first” get a development director job, or start out as an Executive Director of a very small budget organization, or get more credentials, training, and certificates.  For the past three years, she’s followed all that advice, invested time and money in training, and was told recently it is still not “enough.”  Guess how she’s feeling right now?!

When looking at her materials and doing our Strategy Call, it was clear (to me) that the unique kind of deep impact, experience in supervision, budgeting, relationship marketing and partnerships and collaborations make her an excellent candidate for the right kind of ED or CEO role, and that her unique story of impact and trajectory needs to be conveyed differently to both the recruiters and search committees. If she continues to convey her value in the traditional ways, in terms of skills and experience “boxes” to be checked (or not checked), she will never be enough in the decision-maker’s eyes.

Instead, with a new approach she can take charge, tell her story, enroll and engage others in her trajectory, and find the leadership role where she can thrive, with joy and a salary in line with her true value, and make a difference in the lives of those around her!

As you think about what you accomplished in 2019 (and didn’t), and as you think about what you want to make possible in 2020, try my Six Questions to Clarity exercise:

  1. How have I defined success in the past?
  2. As I think about 2020, what does success mean to
    me… now?  Describe success in detail.  NOTE: Check and triple-check your answer: where is that definition coming from (parents? industry? Other “shoulds?” Are you smiling or frowning?)
  3. How will I feel when I achieve that
    success?  Why?
  4. What will my success make possible… for
    ? (what is my impact?)
  5. How many of the responses in #3 and #4 are already
    happening NOW?
  6. Therefore, I am slightly revising my definition
    of success for 2020 to be…

100% of the extraordinary leaders I speak with have everything they need to be successful, within themselves.  You have everything you need.  However, there is often missing “foundational” information that needs to be unlocked, revealed, used as a compass, and communicated.

Begin today by taking some time to connect with what you are (really) looking for in 2020.  Only then can a plan be reverse-engineered to help you get there.

To your success, and wishing you a very Happy New Year!


Kathryn R Martin,
“Next Chapter” Coach
Leadership Transition Strategist & Professional Interim CEO

*P.S. – 2020 is fast approaching, and our Leadership Coaching Cohorts begin in January – with special pricing and bonuses. IF you are ready to take a leap into your Next Chapter, CLICK HERE and we’ll get on the phone to see if I can be of help.

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