People we, as a culture, hold up as being successful are often miserable. Why is that?
“(S)uccess is not about one thing nor an infinite number of things; it is about "just enough." We found that reaching this state requires your active engagement in four very different kinds of goals: Happiness, Achievement, Significance, and Legacy.” Just Enough: Tools for Creating Success in Your Work and Life. Laura Nash & Howard Stephenson
Life is not about sequencing those forms of success—First, I work real hard on my job. Then, when I have my wealth, I give it back to society. That would require putting aspects of your life on hold. Joy or contentment comes from achieving some balance throughout your life.
The forms of success vary based on whether you or others define the goals, and on who derives the benefit.
- Achievement is goals we set in comparison with others but where the impact is in the external world.
- Significance is goals oriented to others but aligned with your internal values. The impact is also external.
- Happiness is about you. You decide what makes you happy, and the impact of happiness is on you.
- Legacy is creating accomplishments that others will carry forward after you. The impact that you create with that legacy is something you may not even be able to recognize in the moment.
People who are making some version of these contributions experience more joy in their lives. It is a form of work/life balance to seek these forms of success for yourself in the proportions that make sense for you.
In 2016, Gallup published a research report on job performance.
In numerous job functions, the best and worst performers share traits. The best and worst salespeople both have called reluctance. The mediocre performers don’t. The best and worst nurses had a personal connection with their patients in the mediocre, nurses stayed aloof. [From First, Break All The Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, by Gallup (Gallup Press, 2016)]
Top performers use strong emotional links to empower and motivate themselves. Poor performers shrink away from effective action.
The same factors that make one person exceptional can make another a poor performer.
In an attempt to avoid the worst outcomes, organizations have stripped away the very things that make people exceptional. Nurses can burn out from the emotional burden of their patients’ suffering. To prevent that, some hospitals arranged shifts so that nurses would not engage with the same patients over time. This made it less likely they would build one-on-one relationships with patients. That prevented the exceptional nurses from being exceptional. That led to poorer patient outcomes.
Achievement becomes more likely if we maintain an emotional commitment to our clients and the problems they are trying to solve. That is why at Stride we are building our mission around clients who care about people and are trying to make a positive impact.
In 2008, the Center for Work-Life Policy published a research report through the Harvard Business Review called The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering, and Technology. It identifies reasons why women are underrepresented in STEM, particularly software engineering—why fewer enter the profession as compared to other fields, and why many women leave jobs in STEM mid-career.
The researchers surveyed STEM students and professionals on their motivations. For women, the top motivator was knowing that their work contributed to society. The researchers then showed that STEM students do not believe software engineering meets this need.
For our purposes, I’d note that men care about contributing to society, too. It’s actually the second most important motivator for men in STEM careers. And I would argue that it is plausibly more true of men now than it was in 2008, and particularly true of Striders.
That’s why it’s important for us to build a Stride where we know our work contributes to society—not only what we do on the side, but also the work we do day-to-day with clients.
In one study, people who maintained an equilibrium between benefiting themselves and others achieved significant increases in happiness and life satisfaction. [From Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, by Adam Grant (Penguin Publishing Group, 2013)]
The premise of Adam Grant’s book Give and Take is that people relate to their work as givers, takers, or transactionally. Givers’ predominant source of motivation is helping their colleagues and customers. Takers extract from their environment to build up their own careers, their own egos. Transactional workers give with a direct connection to what they can get back.
Grant found that the most successful people are self-aware givers. Their motivation in their approach to others is giving, but they do so sustainably. They know what they want to achieve for themselves and will ask for help and advice when needed. Their generosity builds trust and long-lasting relationships. People are happy to help them and more likely to introduce them to other people who might help them or need their help.
So as we’re talking about making the world better, we have to do it in a self-aware way. I’m not saying we aren’t making some trade-offs; we could all make more money somewhere else. But we’re not sacrificing in some unsustainable way. We are trying to achieve balance. We have personal and professional goals that we’re going to achieve, as well.
There’s a series of monographs focusing on education called What’s Worth Fighting For, by Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan. Seven years’ worth of writing. Teaching is such a positive thing in the world. Educational systems often destroy teachers.
The fundamental takeaway is, Don’t do that.
Make your organizations positive by design. Don’t allow your organizations to be negative by design… Positive organizations empower people to love, to care, to serve, and to learn. They allow people to feel passion, emotion, and hope. [From What’s Worth Fighting For Out There, by Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan (Teachers College Press 1998)]
That is the kind of company I want to be a part of. That is the drive behind our mission and purpose and goals. To build a Stride that helps us
- develop and express our talent
- achieve our personal goals
- build landmark software
- make a positive impact in tech and in the world
In balancing those types of success, we can find joy.