It’s all well and good to say that we should dig deep, commit to learning and move forward with intention. But move forward where? What are we trying to accomplish? What goal are we really trying to bring to life. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us are wandering around with dozens of partly-formed dreams, ambitions and aspirations that hope our future self will get around to bringing to fruition. Continuing to push those ideas past the horizon into the future makes that realization unlikely. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Your approach and appetite for learning says a great deal about who you are and how you approach your work and your life. We often view success as being defined by accomplishment—work done, status attained and accomplishment realized. In reality, much of satisfaction comes from actually doing the work, immersing yourself in experiences and challenges and formulating ways to realize accomplishment. Nowhere is this more true than in situations where success requires learning and growth.
How we think about work is challenging. And how we do that work is more challenging still. When the work we are doing is creative and uncertain—where we are the author and motivating force of what gets produced—success is often judged externally. We don’t have an effective, objective way of evaluating the quality of what we’ve done. Ultimately, we rely on the subjective assessment of those for whom we have done the work. That’s a hard thing to do, and many of us have developed work strategies that make it even harder.
Knowing why we are doing something is inarguably important. Being able to define what one successfully looks like is fundamental and critical. This is particularly true when we are the ones that are guiding development of the deliverable, and there is a creative component to what needs to be produced. While we would like to say that we know what successful completion looks like, there are many factors that can create roadblocks for us. Most of which exist in our own perceptions.
I had an interesting conversation with a colleague recently about how to represent project success, and to do so simply. He’s an accountant, and a municipal one, so he’s interested in money and politics are an inherent part of the equation. They are two ingredients that make the interpretation of success messy. It doesn’t have to be.
How should I build my skills? What should I focus on? What are the things I should avoid doing to be successful? Those are easy questions to ask, but astonishingly difficult to answer. Especially without context, background or any detailed understanding of who you are responding to. But they were questions that showed up in my inbox last week. So I took a stab at answering them anyway.