Defining Success And Failure Precedes Career Reinvention

Certified Career Coach and Certified Business Coach  

When Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman, co-writers of the Oscar-winning screenplay Annie Hall, were interviewed in 1977 by journalist Susan Braudy for the New York Times, Woody would be credited with telling the world that, “80% of life is just showing up.” Woody’s often quoted comment actually reflected the post-World War II stage in the evolution of the American worker when paternalistic employers were still offering their workers job security and retirement in exchange for loyalty. But, today, “just showing up” no longer generates job security nor is it the path to finding the elusive meaning in work that so many yearn for.

Most Americans hate their jobs and are holding on by their existential fingertips trying to survive each day. A recent Gallup poll quantified what American workers are feeling by producing the disconcerting statistic that almost 70% of those surveyed aren’t engaged in the work they do. While there is some shallow comfort in knowing that you’re not alone, you may be experiencing deep anxiety if that reality hits too close to home.

Millions of resumes are posted to job sites every month by job seekers who convince themselves that being happy at work simply means finding a new job at a different company where the career grass will be greener. But, the moment we turn over responsibility for our lives to someone or something else, we might as well be six feet under that perceived greener grass. If we are not following our passion and continuously developing and using our own gifts and talents to create and control the life we are entitled to and meant to lead, then, in the words of Shakespeare, “the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”

The only real job security comes from creating your own life and career using your real talents and abilities. You can always lose your job but you can never lose your passion unless you give it away. In this era of episodic careers, true advancement comes from developing your own abilities, which, in turn, materialize your true calling so that you serve up your life’s work on your own terms. When you live, breathe and commit to going after your personal brass ring, the sky’s the limit as to how far you can take your talents.

We need to become successful career chameleons by being open to new possibilities and directing our talents and abilities toward our life’s purpose and not simply the next paycheck. Only by doing so can we know the true security of controlling our own destiny and protecting ourselves from the vicissitudes of a changing economy.

Right now, at this moment for perhaps the first time in history, we live in a time when contemporary society values authenticity more than in any previous generation. You can be audacious at any age, reinvent yourself and find new joy in the work you do. Having worked with The Rolling Stones during my London Records days, I can smile today when I see them recording and rocking stages around the world in their golden years along with other artists I’ve known. Even the word “career” appears to be facing replacement by “gig.” You simply can’t afford not to take risks in today’s economy.

Like Elvis, “playing it safe” left the building decades ago.
Because career reinvention is iterative and ongoing, classic definitions of success don’t apply. Our parents taught us the linear approach to success: Do well in school, land a job, be loyal to your employer, and the rewards and retirement will come. But careers in the 21st century are anything but safe or constant, and that applies to the outdated notion that careers are linear and that if you follow a prescribed path, you’ll reach occupational Oz.

Success is the added value, not the target, of career reinvention. If you live what you truly are meant to do with your life, success will not only come and bring with it the happiness you deserve, but you will enjoy and embrace the process as it evolves. Being present in the simple act of doing meaningful work is rewarding in and of itself without meeting some external requirements for it to be deemed “successful.” Because there are over 7.6 billion people in the world, I can confidently guarantee you that there will always be someone somewhere with more money, a bigger house, and a hotter car than yours. True success requires not calculating your worth by societal benchmarks but rather feeling success in actualizing your authentic self and the benefits it brings to others.

And, without failure, there can be no success. The learning that comes with falling short of a goal actually propels us forward. Unfortunately, it is drilled into our heads in school that failing is something we want to avoid at all costs — that failing is a bad thing because we didn’t study hard enough or, worse, that somewhere we are just not smart enough to succeed. To reinvent our career, we must not only redefine how we will define success in our new life but also how we will rethink and relate to failure. To learn, we must embrace failure.

My son, Christopher, had a wise coach when he was learning to play youth hockey. He told him, “falling is not failing.” Those words are as profound for a 50-year-old as they are for a child. It’s no easy task to rid ourselves of the feeling of pain that comes with falling short. After all, we’re human. But we can accept both the pain as well as the progress that comes with failing, and not only move on from it, but grow.

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