by Rick Brenner
When we have successes that surprise us, we do feel good, but beyond that, our reactions are sometimes self-defeating. What happens when we experience unanticipated success, and how can we handle it better?
Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia. Painting by Charles Marion Russell.
You've just learned that something you've been working on is a success — an astonishing success. You probably feel great, and at the same time, you might feel troubled. Maybe you worry that the success isn't real, or that something bad is about to happen, or that from now on, they'll expect much more of you.
These worries can undermine the very natural sense of triumph you might otherwise have. What are these paradoxical feelings, and what can you do to put them to rest?
Here are some examples of the feelings some of us have when we succeed.
- I don't deserve it
- The concept of "deserving" probably doesn't apply to success. Success isn't necessarily the result of a decision by a panel of judges. Most often, success follows real achievement or random chance or both. Deserving has nothing to do with it.
- What if they find out the truth about me?
- If you have a low assessment of your own contributions or self-worth, others can sense it, and they adjust their assessments of you accordingly. It's your own view of yourself, rather than the discovery of truth, that leads to the readjustment by others.
Success is not a sign
that something bad
is about to happen.
doesn't keep score.
- Something bad is about to happen
- The universe doesn't keep score. No known mechanism is at work to "even things out."
- I'm completely responsible for this success
- Almost everything that happens in the modern workplace is a group effort. Feelings of superiority and total responsibility for success aren't likely to be rooted in objective reality.
And here are some perspectives that help allay the anxiety-producing concerns above.
- Neither success nor failure is wholly earned
- There's an element of chance (or the hand of the divine, depending on your point of view) in all things.
- Express your appreciation
- If the astonishing success is your own, you probably know some people who helped. Express your appreciation. When the success isn't your own, express your appreciation to those experiencing success. These appreciations feel good, both to the givers and to the receivers.
- A sense of Chaos is common
- Astonishing success can be a "foreign element" in the sense of the Satir Change Model. Because a foreign element can throw you into Chaos, the better you are at dealing with Change, the better you will be at coping with success.
- Expect the fall
- After the immediate success experience, many people experience a feeling of relative letdown. Learning to manage these feelings can be very helpful. See "After the Accolades: You Are Still You," Point Lookout for February 13, 2002, for more.
- More success is on the way
- If you've worked to achieve success, and you've achieved it, then it's more likely to happen again. Your work contributed. Get ready for more success.
Sometimes, my reality does exceed my dreams. But dreams are supposed to be beyond reality — that's what makes them dreams. When they aren't, I remind myself to dream bigger. Can you dream bigger? Top Next Issue
For more on achieving and inspiring goals, see "Corrales Mentales," Point Lookout for July 4, 2001; "Commitment Makes It Easier," Point Lookout for October 16, 2002; "Beyond WIIFM," Point Lookout for August 13, 2003; "Your Wishing Wand," Point Lookout for October 8, 2003; "Give It Your All," Point Lookout for May 19, 2004; "Knowing Where You're Going," Point Lookout for April 20, 2005; "Workplace Myths: Motivating People," Point Lookout for July 19, 2006; and "Achieving Goals: Inspiring Passion and Action," Point Lookout for February 14, 2007.
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