The “Disappointment” of Success!

image via Dollarclub Photo
image via Dollarclub Photo

Have you ever aspired to something, achieved the goal and then been disappointed with how the final outcome felt?

Take buying a car you’ve always desired. You finally arrive at a time in your life when you can afford to buy it. You arrive at the garage, the car is in the centre of the showroom, you finalise the paperwork and you sit in your new car for the first time. The look, the feel, the smell. It’s all exactly how you imagined it. You drive out of the showroom feeling on top of the world.

Fast forward 3 to 6 months’. The car is the same, but it’s more lived in, a little dirty, the new car smell has gone to be replaced by the smell of the kids or the pets and the leather seats have a few scuffs on them. You still enjoy your car but it’s become more…..familiar, part of the norm and it’s lost its wow factor. Your aspiration has been achieved and you loved getting there but now the thrill of the car is not quite the same, almost disappointing. I believe achieving your goals in business can deliver a similar feeling.

We all have career goals and aspirations. They differ for us all, for some they are financial and reward driven, for others it is career growth and promotion. Some are emotional connections, a sense of achievement from doing what we do. With all of these, especially by really driven individuals who are always aspiring to improve, there can be a sense of disappointment when they achieve success.

While I class myself as a reasonably successful bloke, people who knew me as a teenager may say I’ve achieved more than I deserve, having been academically lazy and never studied at University, but I have worked hard at doing whatever my role was at any one time to progress my knowledge and my career. If I am honest though I never really had any career aspirations when I was young.

I fell into Quantity Surveying by luck and circumstance and after 10 years in the field I started a small building company, but it was just something I fancied doing rather than a planned career move.

In truth, it wasn’t until I hit the age of 30 that I started to think about what my job could lead to in terms of mapping out a career plan. I’d been working for an amazing small company and we were bought by a very successful multidisciplinary consultancy service, arguably the best. Unbeknown to me at the time, that company was to change my life. It was a very forward thinking company and opened up huge opportunity in terms of career growth with the ultimate goal being to become a director and owner.

Mapping out a career plan is important and can be started at any age, never too early and never too late. It helps focus the mind and your choices. Obviously plans can change, and need to be revised and refocused, but that’s half the fun. Promotion through the ranks is great, so are pay rises, but unless true responsibility comes with the promotion a lot of what we do doesn’t really change. Although proud and sometimes even euphoric at the time of a promotion, a lack of change in your level of responsibility can definitely bring a realisation and maybe disappointment. Especially if the role doesn’t really change or we are not set goals by the leadership team, so although we are making career progression we can feel a little rudderless.

In 2004 I took the opportunity to move to Australia, again not part of the bigger career plan but a great opportunity. I worked hard to achieve my aspiration to become a Director and an owner of the consultancy.

I must say, the thrill of those two opportunities was euphoric but again after a short period of time I became disappointed that maybe it didn’t quite live up to my expectation. This time disappointed was the wrong term but I knew I needed to drive my career further and started to seek out what’s next in terms of career progression within this business I loved. In 2010 we sold our business for a nine figure sum, that’s a lot of zero’s!!! I’m proud to say there are not many people that have owned and sold a private business of that size. Even though my ownership percentage was relatively small, I had a seat at the table and was part of the deal process. The experience was so educational, but again a few months after the sale when we realised that our business wasn’t going to thrive under its new owners as it had under our guidance and leadership, a huge amount of disappointment was felt.

I moved job, and with the Board experience I’d previously gained, I was fortunate that my new role allowed me access to sit on another Board. The thrill of sitting on a Board, setting direction, procedure and governance is something I’ve always strived to be part of. But again I sat there and after a few meetings, thought, is this it? It was a perfectly functioning board, but nothing or anyone around the table really excited me. It lacked any innovative thinking, any ideas, any spark. It was safe and business as usual. Once again I’d achieved a goal and was soon disappointed.

On reflection, disappointment may be the wrong term. Maybe it’s frustration or a sense of being underwhelmed. So why is it that we feel underwhelmed once we’ve achieved the success we are seeking? For me I think it’s that the goal has not satisfied the ambition of what I thought it would look and feel like. Maybe I put goals on a pedestal that can never meet what I expect of them. I’m then faced with the ‘what’s next?’ factor. Through every experience I always learn and with the amazing opportunities I’ve been fortunate enough to be given, I have definitely initially savoured the success. I know I get easily bored and I’m always looking for the next opportunity and challenge. I’ve learnt to manage the disappointments and I believe that any frustrations I have felt are what drive me to greater achievements. I’ve actually come to realise that being underwhelmed is a good thing, as it drives me towards the next adventure and my success of the future.

I think that’s true for a lot of leaders. I’m guessing here, but I assume entrepreneurs like Richard Branson are driven by the chase of success and he’s always looking for the next challenge. But maybe once he has succeeded, its disappointment that drives him to his next endeavour!!!

Let me know if you agree or disagree with my theory in ‘The “Disappointment” of Success?’

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