Try Asking What Success “Feels” Like Instead of What it “Looks” Like
by Dr. Julie Pham, Founder & CEO
Have you ever been asked, “What does success look like to you (at some point in the future)?” Have you ever asked yourself that question?
If you have any achievement-oriented people in your life, or you are one yourself, my guess is the answer is yes.
I was asked by a friend a few months ago, "What does success look like to you in five years?" I bumbled my way through, trying to remember my organization’s mission statement. Implied in that first question is another question: “What activities do you need to be engaged in now to help you achieve your vision of success?”
For example, success for me looks like becoming a best-selling author in five years. That means I’d better write a great book, get a smart agent, and market the heck out of it.
Then my friend asked, "What did you think success looked like to you five years ago?" I got her point. I had no idea I’d be doing what I do today. I can’t even remember what I imagined success was back then. So much has happened since. Whatever it was, it must not have been that important.
Asking “what does success look like” and creating a corresponding workback plan makes sense for a single project but I’ve found it’s way more unpredictable to apply this to my career or personal life. For most people I know, unexpected events happen in our lives that change our ideas of what success looks. As someone who has gone through numerous pivots, I no longer invest too much energy into creating detailed plans, and I forgive myself if I take a detour.
Even though I’ve been asked some form of this question numerous times and I have asked it of others, this time, it nagged at me.
Why is success described as something that can be seen, something tangible? What if we were to reframe the question as, “What does success feel like (at some point in the future).” I realized my answer would be different.
Recently, I talked to a girlfriend who has struggled with losing weight for years. She named a weight she wanted to get down to. That’s what success looks like to her. She described how she would feel confident and healthy again at this goal weight. I asked, “What if you focused on doing activities that make you feel confident and healthy instead of losing weight itself?" We often conflate what something looks like with what we think achieving it will help us feel. The activities that might make her feel good might also help her achieve her weight goal, or they might not. Inversely, she might engage in unhealthy activities that don’t make her feel confident in pursuit of her weight goal. With this reframe, she is more clear about what she actually wants versus what she thinks she should want.
I know talking about how we “feel” might sound wishy-washy. That is because feelings are usually described in very generic terms: happiness, sadness, joy, anger. We are constantly fed elaborate images of success, yet we lack the words to accurately describe the feelings we desire.
Here are some of my answers to the reframed question. Success feels like:
The activities that will help me feel this version of success are so much more open-ended than if I were to stick to pursuing what success looks like.
It’s not so much about what I will do, because so much is possible. Reframing the question helps me filter out activities that won’t help me feel success. For me, that means things that bore me, that make me count the minutes until I’m done, and that require asking for permission from others instead of giving myself permission.
I'm not saying don't name what success looks like. Just be aware that what it looks like and what it feels like are two different ways of envisioning the future. When I look at this through the lens of how I want to feel, I realize that I am pretty successful already, even without the best-selling book or a legion of followers that signal achievement. Sometimes I’m anxious about how I’m performing compared to my peers. I then remind myself to ask, “Do I care more about what I want to feel or what others think I should have? Am I going to follow my internal compass or look for cues from others to tell me where I should go next?”
When you employ this reframe, you too might discover you’re already successful. Or you might realize you’ve been pursuing success in a way that is actually preventing you from feeling success. You might also start to look for strategic ways to achieve what success both looks and feels like.
It’s the beginning of a new year. Let’s start by writing out some possible “success feels like...” statements. Here are some examples to get you thinking:
Then consider what you need to do — and not do — to help you feel those ways.
Now that you’ve begun describing success differently, try asking someone in your life, “What would success feel like to you?”
By Julie Pham, PhD. Originally posted in South Seattle Emerald
Authentic Conversation with Women Technology Leaders
by Payal Tiwana, Azure Global Commercial Industries Leader
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak at an all-women panel at the Seattle Uber Offices on the topic of 'Being your authentic self' along with a few other go-getters - Mamtha Banerjee, Director of Technology at Expedia, Shobhana Ahluwali, Head of Information Technology at Uber and Julie Rezek, Managing Global Client Partner at Facebook. We went on stage with a glass of wine to have a casual, no holds barred conversation and share our personal, authentic stories on this corporate journey with an amazing women audience. It was incredible to realize that we all had such similar experiences and learnings on our journeys. Kudos to Shoba Sriaiyer and NAWMBA, a non-profit that did an incredible job at organizing this talk in partnership with Uber. Many requested us to share the talk, there was no video recording purposely, so that we could be completely candid. Summarizing key highlights from the authentic conversation that happened last evening.
1) Holding back : often times women hold back what they have to offer - our ideas, our opinions, our point of views. You might find yourself in a roomful of senior and talented people and you question what you are doing there, and that you are not smart enough. This happens with everyone, also known as the imposter syndrome. It's important not to be self deprecating but instead take the opportunity to learn as much as possible. One trick to use is to focus on asking 'smart questions' instead of making 'smart statements' in these conversations.
2) Create your brand and market yourself : there is no shame in marketing yourself and your team. Make sure people are aware of the amazing work you and your team are doing. One tip is to forward the recognition you receive from a partner or a co-worker to your manager/leadership with a summary of the project status. It seems less ostentatious that way.
3) Support other women : I once recruited a female engineer when she was 8 months pregnant and who immediately went on a 5 months maternity leave soon after I hired her. I hired her because I didn't want to deny a great career opportunity to her, irrespective of where she was in her life journey. Create an environment where women feel supported and can have a voice that can be heard. If they are introvert and feel shy to share their views in a team meeting filled with men, have them share in email with everyone. If they point something out where they felt stifled by the 'bro culture', address it immediately and firmly with the people involved. Often times, the offenders are not even aware of how they might be showing up and their actions might be completely unintentional. We are all learning about inclusivity and are dealing with our own conscious and unconscious biases, its ok to make mistakes. without being too hard on yourself. One thing that helps is to not assume anything about anyone, but when in doubt, ask.
4) Being a working mother : There are many working mothers who are chasing their dreams in the workplace. Its acceptable to be open about your family at your work environment and making it
known that they are a priority. We shouldn't fear that we will be taken less seriously if we talk about our children and families at work or if we head out of a meeting early to get to a school event on time. On the contrary, we have found talking about our family, helps us connect with our co-workers better and they get to see the feminine side of us. Its also ok to show your vulnerability. You don't have to be a wonder woman all the time. We might feel guilty when we are not there to pickup our children from school everyday, but use any opportunity you get to talk to your children about the work you do and the impact its making in the world. They will understand, and it will all pay off when your children start seeing you as their role model and appreciate all that you have been able to accomplish in your career, and the dreams you have been able to fulfill, while nurturing them.
5) Slowing down in your career: Remember career is a marathon and not a sprint. There will be opportunities that will come your way at every juncture of your career. Don't fret if you have to slow down your career a bit - off ramp when you have children or due to other life impacting events. Be open about these life events with your management and leadership, and make them aware of your ambitions and your career goals. If you are bold and a risk taker, you will always get opportunities that will catapult your career in spite of the temporary slow down.
6) Balancing work and life : Work life balance is not a myth, it is a real thing. We all have 1000 things to do outside of our work and the stress of not being able to be do everything perfectly adds up. One trick is to outsource to simplify your life - outsource cooking, cleaning, driving your kids etc. Get help. Another hack that I use which works for me superbly well is that I meditate everyday. Meditation helps me channelize my energy better and gives me the focus to do more in less time and not feel stressed. You can learn more at seattlemeditates.org
7) Being pulled down : Don't change your authenticity, due to the perspectives and biases others might have about you. We have all been given feedback that we are too bossy, have strong energy that can be intimidating to others, are over confident, are too bold - take that feedback with a grain of salt and question their beliefs and their biases. Most likely those biases are coming in play. And when you find yourself in work situations where you cannot continue to be authentic and make your best and highest contribution due to these biases, you have the choice to move on and find the next great opportunity. Exercise that choice! Don't play the victim and continue to suffer. It's not always easy to get up and leave, but it pays off in the long run. Be smart about it. Always, and I mean always maintain and nurture a network you can tap into when you want to look for that next great move.
Finally we were asked to choose just one word to describe what makes us successful in what we do. For Mamtha it was optimism, for Julie it was being bold, for Shobhana it was perseverance and for me it was passion.