Home     Blogs     For Clients     Contact Us
« I’m a bully … and so are you! | Main | Sufficiency Mindset »

Re-Defining Success to Fit our Busy World

"Success is Liking Yourself, Liking What you Do, and Liking How You Do it."
     -- Maya Angelou

The time has come for each of us to re-define what success looks like in this modern world. We are on an unsustainable course, and I’m not talking about the environment, here. It’s time to stop playing today’s game according to old rules that no longer apply.

We live in a world of performance expectations that fly in the face of reason. It is unreasonable to expect ourselves – or each other, our kids or our colleagues -- to achieve mastery in multiple aspects of our lives, much less nearly every aspect. And yet, we do.

A few years ago, Dr. David Rock wrote in Psychology Today, “People everywhere seem to be experiencing an epidemic of overwhelm.” He points to two factors for explanation: the volume of information we process, and the cost of distractions. 

Think about it. We process something like 70,000 thoughts per day, exposed to excessive amounts of new information in an interrupt-driven environment of social media and technology. Dr. Rock explained, “I read somewhere that The New York Times on Sunday contains more information than the average 18th century French Nobleman learned in his lifetime (now, if only I could remember where I read that...)” Add to that the distractions of new technologies and a “limited supply of attention each day,” and it makes us “far less effective if we need to do deeper thinking work.”

Somehow we continue to try to live according to Ozzie & Harriet’s perfect standards, while functioning in a world moving at a speed even George & Jane Jetson could not have fathomed. Can you even imagine the slower pace of life that allowed for the kind of ideal perfectionism of “Father Knows Best”? What DID it take for June Cleaver to have those boys clean, ready for dinner, with their homework completed, all the while donning pearls and a starched dress? 

Honestly, June had a relatively limited repertoire. Of course, she might have been socially isolated (that’s another discussion -- this is not a social commentary on women at home before the women’s movement!), but her job description for the week was a small fraction – what would you say, 25% ? -- of what we expect of ourselves in a given day!

We are moving as fast as lightning throughout our days, trying to respond to all the stimuli that are coming at us. Break-neck speed is an unsustainable course.

Over the years I’ve worked hard to step out of what I like to call the "Achievement Elite." It’s not that I don’t want my kids or me to be successful. It’s just that, to be honest, life in the 21st century -- with all of our time-saving technologies and socially isolating communication networks – feels like we’re constantly playing Dodge Ball while being expected to serve the perfect game of tennis, all on the same court.

As I was talking to my husband about this topic, Edie Brickell’s lyrics came to my mind: “I quit, I give up, nothing’s good enough for anybody else, it seems.” I’ve begun to feel that way. I’m tired of trying to “do it all” and keep all those darn plates spinning in the air (while the dodge balls are being lobbed in my direction).

I know, life is busy. There are dozens of extenuating circumstances that take our typical stressors and put them on steroids. But the truth is, my life is no different yours! We’re all feeling it. It is the realm of unreasonable expectation. 

It’s almost as if we are setting ourselves up for failure, and then shocked to find that as a possible outcome.

So what DOES it look like to re-define success in this age? It means…

   … letting things go
   … getting clear on what’s really important in order to pursue excellence 
   … embracing good-enough for the rest
   … choosing the “juicy No” over obligatory actions
   … loosening up on things that just don’t matter in the grand scheme
   … selecting where to put our attention, instead of assuming we should pay attention to everything, and then chiding ourselves for falling short.


Set Yourself Up for Success:
 » Where do you set unrealistic expectations?
 » How does "overwhelm" leave you feeling stuck?
 » What do you want to change?

Here's the hard, beautiful truth: at every moment, you are at choice.

Ultimately, re-defining success means setting our own expectations, instead of looking to the outside world to define it for us. And it means basing those expectations on something real – on our values, on our passions – rather than on some prescribed societal norms that tell us what it is that we are ‘supposed’ to do.

I can’t say that I’ve achieved this goal for myself, though I’ve certainly been moving in this direction for several years. What I CAN say is that I accept this dilemma as an ongoing struggle.

I’m consciously calling a time-out on that game of dodge ball as I walk across the gym floor. Will some errant ball still get lobbed in my direction? Most certainly. But the stress of playing the game – constantly bracing myself for the impact – is significantly reduced.

I do believe Harriet, June & Jane would be proud.


Elaine Taylor-Klaus is a Life, Leadership and Parenting Coach and the founder of Touchstone Coaching and ImpactADHD™.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.
Editor Permission Required
You must have editing permission for this entry in order to post comments. Please direct your questions to David@TouchstoneCoaching.com