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The mistake you make by trying to measure success with a “number”

By September 2, 2014 One Comment
By Ben Sands – Get free updates of new posts here

During my early career as a corporate sales executive, it was often said “you are your number.”

The implication was that your value as an employee was directly proportionate to how close you were to hitting your sales target.

Crazy, right?

Well, crazy or not, as a young professional with something to prove, I believed it. 

As a result, I put forth the effort of a man working not just to feed himself, but to defend both his self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Needless to say, it was an intense couple of years.

Today, as I listen to the stories of similarly-intense lawyers, consultants and Congressional staffers (among others), all working their tails off to bill more hours, close more deals and win the Mid-terms, it occurs to me: they believe it, too.

THE TRUTH

It’s not true.

You’re not your number.

Unless, of course, you choose to be.

My advice?

Measure success by a different metric: vitality.

THE ARC OF THE AVERAGE

Martin Luther King once said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” 

I’d argue the arc of the average, well-educated, professional career is long…and it bends towards boredom.

If, however, we prioritize vitality – aka excitement, zest, adventure and/or curiosity, among its many names – we can alter that trajectory.

We can overcome the ever-present threat of inertia and live lives that energize and inspire us…until the very end.

The reality is that for most of us, this is a daily battle. We are climbing mountains – figuratively, at least – and it can be so tempting to settle down once we get to the top.

So, the question we must ask ourselves is this: How can we achieve success, without losing the drive that got us to the top in the first place? How can we avoid the complacency that too often follows accomplishment?

Stanford professor John Gardner once used a barnacle (yes, the marine crustacean) metaphor to bring this point to life.

In a speech to the McKinsey consulting company he says this:

“The barnacle is confronted with an existential decision about where it’s going to live.  Once it decides…it spends the rest of its life with its head cemented to a rock. End of story. Alas, for a good many [men and women], it comes to that…”

Ring true?

I suspect that we all know men and women who are currently executing the “barnacle plan;” who, as Gardner says, “ran out of steam, mid career.”

In fact, according to Gallup, 70% of men and women are disengaged at work today.

They’re barnacles…and they may not even know it.

FIGHT BACK

Needless to say, we all want more for ourselves; for our friends and family members.

So, today, start fighting back.

Make a move.

Shake things up.

Change your trajectory.

If you need some ideas on what to do, read this book, watch this video and/or show up for this.

Good luck – and let me know how it goes.

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Ben Sands

Author Ben Sands

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  • Jeff Gay

    Wise stuff Ben Sands! Thanks for sharing it.