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Young Millionaires: What Do They Know That You Don't? -Headline from cover of Entrepreneur magazine, November 2002
"Jane" is an attractive, bright, 30-year-old woman with a passion for life. We met her completely by chance at an isolated bed-and-breakfast in the middle of the southern Utah desert, where she was taking some time off from work to think about her life. She and her significant other, Joe, were hiking the back country near Monument Valley, on a spiritual quest to resolve an important question with very practical implications: Should Jane quit her successful job in software to pursue a career in sacred music?
She was fully qualified to do either. Jane had majored in music and math as an undergraduate, and then put herself through music seminary by playing the organ in a local church. Afterward, she'd taken a good job at a startup software firm in her college city. It was a fun and intense team-oriented experience. Her boss was very supportive of her and the tasks were both challenging and lucrative. But after four years on the job, the money and success didn't seem to make up for the stress she felt in this position. How could something so good feel so bad?
As she and Joe talked about the future, the possibility of marriage and kids, andtheir mutual love of outdoor adventures, Jane found herself torn between competing desires. The software job was a real ego-booster, the people terrific, and the pay high enough to subsidize an apartment in the city. The long hours were tough, though, and she missed having more time for friends. She reflected on all those concerts she wasn't attending, all those hours of problem solving at work that left her too tired to really enjoy her time with Joe. Her job was giving her a sense of real accomplishment, but something about it was wearing her down-especially when she thought about doing the same thing for another 20 years. Ironically, her problem wasn't that the job was wrong for her, but that it was right.
We asked Jane what bothered her the most about this situation. She fell silent, chewing on a piece of homemade bread to buy some time. Her face puckered, and she was clearly in distress. As last she said with a frown, "It's not just about time. It's about the whole picture-wanting to do different things and not knowing how to make it work." As we murmured encouragement, she suddenly said with dawning awareness, "There's an emotional element to this that the success books don't get at. I've done the right things. I already have 'success.' But it's not enough."
When Jane laid out all the pieces of her problem, we could see why she felt so troubled. Though she was succeeding at her job in software and had the right personality to become a star in her company, another part of her was longing to be involved in music, her true passion. Playing and listening to music provided a satisfaction that was very important and very different from what satisfied her about her software job. Jane missed the sense of contribution and significance that she'd had as a part-time church organist.
But realistically, as a person with high competitive standards, she believed she was actually more talented at solving business problems than as a professional musician. And what about her lifestyle? Her software job was financially lucrative. If she went into a career inside a church, she'd never be able to afford more than a one-room apartment in town. She did not want to live in the suburbs where she'd be isolated from her friends and the culture of the city.
She felt she had to have a certain amount of living space around her. In addition, nature was aesthetically and politically important to her, witness the hiking trip and her interest in the solar-powered hostelry where we conducted the interview-40 miles from the next town in the heart of a sacred space in the wilderness.
However she thought about these complaints, Jane couldn't seem to get control over the dissonance in her own makeup. Each aspect of her character generated a different but possible career or lifestyle. She felt as if she were wandering through a landscape of moving targets. Just as one goal seemed right and reachable, and she took aim to reach it, another popped up that seemed equally appealing and reachable. But try as she might, she could not make all of her interests and needs fit into one cohesive picture.
Intuitively, Jane knew this wasn't just a logistical problem of choosing the right job or recalibrating her financial goals. Her anxiety centered on the larger question of success itself.
Jane wanted to be a success, but not necessarily like the pumped-up entrepreneurs celebrated in the financial magazines and lionized at her fifth college reunion. However, she could find no magazines or models for the alternative success she was seeking. What did it look like? How did it feel? How could the choices she faced be framed to reflect the many aspects of her unique nature and still pave the way to success? What tactics should she use to achieve all the pieces of that puzzle? She felt in danger of becoming like the proverbial donkey who starved to death standing between two stacks of straw because he couldn't make up his mind which one to go after.
Too Many Choices
If Jane is ever going to leverage her talents into a positive outcome, she needs a base on which to stand. Before making a change, she needs a better understanding of where she is now. This process is partly associated with the domain of emotional intelligence that expert Daniel Goleman calls "self-awareness." But Jane needs to develop more than her emotional baseline; she needs to assess the concrete trajectories of her current situation or she may not be able to get what she wants. Why is this so difficult for her?
Jane's dilemma is not unusual today, nor are her problems confined to her generation. In an era that proudly proclaims "no limits," it is commonplace to feel trapped between contradictory possibilities, paralyzed by moving targets and unable to accommodate or even order all the opportunities. Even retiring workers entertain urges to start another business, improve their golf, develop a long-neglected interest, or do something wholly new. Parents with careers hit many moments of reassessment in the course of raising children. Their decisions are not just about time management but about who they want to be in the deepest sense of the word. Some use this self-awareness to reposition their careers toward family needs. Others transform their nurturing inclinations into positions of greater responsibility in their companies.
Such moments of personal reinvention can be liberating, but without some disciplining framework, they can quickly deteriorate into a sense of bondage to the evolving "more." For example, consider two young friends who seek financial wealth by starting a public relations firm. They vow to each other that they'll consider themselves satisfied when they have a $1 million in the bank. The first has a meteoric success and moves his stopping point to $10 million. The other, also successful, has spending habits that delay him from reaching his original goal. Neither is able to develop a sense of mastery over the many possibilities that they see for themselves: things, jobs, relations, fun, status. As a current MBA student put it, in thinking about what his ideal life would be 10 years from now:
The truth of the matter is that I have no idea how I will make all of this work. I want to be a superhero-to run a company, have children, keep a beautiful home, and have a loving spouse. I want to take a grand vacation in Italy. I want to be a leader who contributes to the well being of society. I want to sit on boards of nonprofit and for-profit organizations.
I want to be the boss. I want to win. I want to be recognized in the newspaper and to be the recipient of numerous accolades and awards.... As a result, I have a hard time stepping out of my fantasy world to predict what will truly happen in the future. But the one lesson that I have learned from the past is to be careful of what you wish for, because it just might come true.
In this poignant moment of truth, we see a person excited about having many targets but self-mocking because it is so unlikely that he'll be able to reach all of them and also because he's not sure where to go first-and clearly, that's not the typical platform from which greatness is achieved. He has no conception of a middle ground where multiple steps could be taken in pursuit of the things he thinks he might want out of success. He wants many things on a grand scale; but unlike his cohorts who eagerly signed up to kill themselves on a predictable fast-track position after business school, he hasn't yet chosen to pursue even one of his ambitions. Dripping with irony, he puts a good face on the prospect before him: enduring the path to a success he's not sure he wants.
When Success Feels Just Out of Reach
When we looked at the future goals of an entire MBA class that was about to graduate, we were struck by how frequently these students accept the idea that they are destined to be two entirely different people in life: the one their cohorts know, who will find a lucrative position in a Hobbesian world of self-interested accomplishment, and the future self whom no one knew: the person who would make a larger contribution to society, be a surprisingly good parent, and maybe even master the guitar. It's as if they are standing on the edge of a cliff, sure of their footing now, and planning a future leap to the other side. Except that there is no bridge between here and there.
You may think of this as a choice to be made later, when you have the time, but for most people that idealized future self represents values that are being put on the line now. Some will keep moving fast enough to ignore the signs when they become hardened to their own best impulses. Others, like Jane, will be so sensitive to the trade-offs and sense of loss that they jeopardize their chances of reaching any goal in the face of their own indecision.
At one time this problem would simply have been described as the cost of success. But we've become accustomed to entertaining simultaneous, multiple meanings about ourselves and our environment. We accept incoherency as normalcy, preferring to hope for it all rather than make a choice. We accept that focus is good and bad (as when it keeps you from going home at night). Our educational systems frequently don't prepare us for this complexity, especially for the problem of resolving noncomparable choices. When you're practicing to make the varsity soccer team, you're feeling guilty about not doing your all for your grade point average.
Success Isn't a Tease-It's a Moving Target
When William James famously called success a "bitch goddess" that the world gives and takes away,2 he was referring to that peculiarly powerful combination of desire and dread that money and making it provokes in our culture. You see an ad in the subway that proclaims: "An Acme Diploma will help you achieve the success you deserve!" What can this be about but financial success, the American dream of the one sure path to personal transcendence? Raise your material circumstances and great things will follow-unless, of course, you lose your head and your conscience. In which case, your meteoric rise to the top, complete with stock options, may end up in a perp walk. Or, like a recent editor of the New York Times, your lifelong dream to create a great newspaper goes up in smoke after you bend the rules to meet your other organizational goals. Or, through no fault of your own, you simply experience the first really unstable negative market in 20 years and you become one of the 175 formerly hot Internet firms that went out of business in 2000, or one of the bottom 80 percent of today's dot-coms predicted to fail within the next 12 months. Reality strikes everyone: One member of the Young President's Organization attending a Harvard session estimated that he and his friends in Silicon Valley collectively lost $150 billion in market value in the previous year.
Bring that down to human scale and it's about young college kids and long-term professionals suddenly discovering that the success talents that were clear winners just a few short years ago are now considered incompetencies. Corporations and people are told they must constantly "reinvent" themselves, which raises a really interesting question: When do you get to enjoy and thrive on who you are now?
The escalating choices in all our lives-at least as suggested by what others seem to have or do-has also escalated the instability relating to knowing what you should actually pursue and be satisfied in completing. The last week of May 2003 was one of those moments when it became particularly clear that we all live in a world of moving targets and that they are changing at an ever more rapid pace. In that week, two important sports events took place: the fiftieth anniversary of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's ascent of Mt. Everest, and the entry of Annika Sorenstam in the Colonial Country Club's LPGA tournament. Scores of climbers raced to break records at the top of the world, while Sorenstam moved out of women's competitions to challenge the longstanding male markers of golf success. Both events featured only the most experienced and talented athletes. Success couldn't be simpler, right?
Well, not quite. In fact, the markers kept changing. Whereas only a few days earlier winning the Colonial was the measure of success, once Sorenstam entered, it was about making the final cut or even just getting through the opening rounds without becoming spooked by the media attention. Meanwhile, on Everest, a number of records were made and broken with lightning speed. In one week new targets were set for oldest, youngest, fastest (set again a few days later), and most frequent climbers.
But it's not happening just in sports. Everyone seems to be struggling with the Tantalus effect. This mythological character was punished with an eternal, raging thirst. To make things worse, he was placed in the middle of a magic lake whose waters receded every time he tried to take a drink. So, too, just as you seem to reach a tantalizing success or goal, your position of competitive dominance is snatched away-or you change the target yourself! We break up 30-year marriages to start life over; we abandon successful careers to take time for ourselves. In such an environment, it's natural to wonder whether our past 30 years were really a success or an illusion of success.
Excerpted from Just Enough by Laura Nash Howard Stevenson Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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PART ONE: MOVING TARGETS.
1. Stress! Excess! Success?
2. The Dangers of Going for the Max.
3. The Satisfactions of Just Enough Success.
PART TWO: THE KALEIDOSCOPE STRATEGY.
4. Your Success Profile.
5. Who Are You? And Why Are You Doing That?
6. Complex Patterns in Real Life.
PART THREE: JUST ENOUGH.
7. Making Successful Choices.
8. Further Calibrations of Enough.
9. Just Enough for a Lifetime.
About the Authors.
Posted December 27, 2005
Everyone wants to succeed. But in a world where corporate CEOs carve out multimillion dollar contracts and Britney Spears is front-page news, society¿s view of success is entirely skewed. Authors and Harvard faculty members Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson take a hard look at idealized celebrity success and adopt a view that is the opposite of the popular attitude that promotes going for the maximum. Instead, they advocate learning how to be satisfied with 'just enough.' Through careful self-examination and structured fulfillment exercises, the authors explain how to obtain success in four main areas of your personal and professional life: happiness, achievement, satisfaction and legacy. Ironically, for a book titled `Just Enough,¿ it supplies way too much verbiage and analysis. But we find the topic timely and well researched. Those who are striving for balance and just the right amount of success will find this self-help book extremely useful, although those who deeply want it all may be tougher to dissuade.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 7, 2005
I received the book as a gift. Initially, i perceived it as a 'tough' read, but only after you reflect on the power of what is being offered, it began to made sense to me. I identified myself with 'Jane', one of the main characters profiled in the book, focused primarily on career achievements. The book introduces the concept of 'there is more to life' than success in the workplace and that resonated deeply with me. The book makes you stop and think about how fulfilling your life is, where you place priorities, how fast you can move between different aspects of your life. It teaches about the value of 'having enough' and 'Being enough' at a time where we are told 'we can be anything and everything we want to be'. Thank you for this awesome exercise in self-reflection.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.