September is a month of fresh starts, a time when we embark on new paths in pursuit of success. Whether you have secured a promotion, new role, college or university place, the doors are open for you to achieve, but what does success look like? As a business psychologist, I am curious about the difference between a fleeting sense of achievement and long-term success.
Why Are We Driven to Pursue Success?
Continuously learning and developing is the route to personal growth, yet it is also hard work. To set and achieve goals, we have to embrace the unfamiliar, tackle challenges and face adversity. Therefore, it is not an easy option. So, why are we driven to pursue success?
In part, our motivation comes from social motives:
· Firstly, we want to distance ourselves from the perceived negativities of not achieving. These include shame, inferiority and failure, which are associated with the risk of not being respected, accepted or loved.
· Secondly, society values status and financial gains, so there is acceptance when we go for that promotion, achieve great grades in exams or have a prestigious job title. We are praised when we reach our goals and this promotes the release of dopamine, the feel-good chemical, in the brain.
However, when goals are predominantly driven by external factors and expectations, the sense of achievement and success can be short-lived. We might have worked for years to pass an exam, get selected or beat a record, but the reward is fleeting. Within a day or two, people are asking what’s next. With this in mind, we need to understand what it takes to achieve long-term success.
How To Achieve Long-Term Success
The key to accomplishments that endure is to discover your internal motivation.
Harvard Business School (HBS) research* revealed that those with a long-lasting sense of success were following a path that they were passionate about. Their achievements were determined by things that brought them a sense of worth, which can be quite different to society’s expectations. As a result, they have to set aside the opinions of others.
This internal drive made them more determined to fully execute their ideas, tackle challenges, overcome adversity and think creatively. Their perseverance and commitment were strong because the goal was their own, rather than something imposed on them.
Four Pillars of Success
HBS also reported four pillars of success; all of which had to be present and balanced for success to be long-lasting:
Happiness – A feeling of contentment and enjoyment. This includes job satisfaction, belonging to an effective and supportive team, having a good work-life balance, being healthy and having opportunities to pursue ambitions.
Achievement – You have, or can acquire, the skills and resources to realise your goals to a high standard. In addition, you value the process and what is gained along the way, as well as the outcomes.
Significance – Your achievements make a positive impact on what you care about. This could include advances in your industry, building a stronger community, bettering life for your family, or having a positive impact on the environment.
Legacy – Your success inspires or involves others to achieve. People learn about what you are doing and, if driven by the same goals, they want to be part of it. Your work encourages them to engage and make a difference.
Achieving this balance can mean turning down offers that others view as crazy. That promotion may boost your financial wealth and status, but is it in keeping with your priorities? Do you place more weight on time with your family, maintaining your health or making a difference?
What matters to you?
September is a time for fresh starts and if you want to get the most out of your new pursuit, it is worth exploring what you want to achieve.
Focus solely on hitting a target, getting a top grade or securing a promotion and your success will be short-lived. Alternatively, optimise the opportunity to master a skill, encourage others, drive change, make connections, seek out fresh thinking and build resilience. Then you will reap the rewards of enduring success.