You’re more successful than you think

Posted on December 14, 2015 by Eleanor McKenzie
Woman with Arms in Air

I’m sure I’m not the only person who looks at what I’ve done up to now and thinks that perhaps I could have done better, maybe a lot better. But, according to executive career coach Zena Everett, I could turn this idea that I’ve fallen short of success around, simply by changing my perspective in three important ways and as a result of doing so, discover that I’m much better than I think. Want to find out how you and I can do that?

The element of failure

Everywhere you turn, there’s a newspaper article or something on the Internet about career successes. Most of these successes are usually quite phenomenal and they often come with an element of failure included. Indeed, Zena Everett says that failure is now being touted as an essential precursor of success, but she adds, the role models of success that we are being presented with are exceptions rather than the rule. For example, writer J.K. Rowling received numerous rejections before signing a publishing deal for her Harry Potter books, and we all know that this waved a magic wand over her career and finances. The majority of people will neither reach the heights of her success, but nor will they be complete failures.

Average failure

Most of us are somewhere in the middle. We do OK and we tell ourselves that we’re content with our house or car and with our holidays and clothes. But, from somewhere inside, a gremlin pops up, sits on our shoulder and whispers in our ears: “You could have done better!” And, that feeling of failure surfaces into consciousness. When you’re in your 50s, there’s also the feeling that it will now be impossible to complete whatever it is that will give us that feeling of success.

According to Zena, most of us are in the ‘Average Failure’ zone. What she seems to be saying is that people who have huge failures can swing to the opposite extreme and have a major success, whereas when you only have an average failure, you only end up with middling success. Somehow that makes sense to me, because if you’re not pushed to rock bottom, there’s no incentive to really give everything you’ve got to a project. You’re happy to make do.  However, Zena also adds that most of our feelings about our failure are based on an irrational way of looking at things, and it’s our thoughts that we need to change.

Thought 1 – Over ambitious goals

You’ve got the ‘big picture’ for the project that’s going to make you feel successful, and you know it’s long term. However, somewhere along the way you lose interest in it, and perhaps you give up on it completely. The answer is to break down any long-term aim into short-term goals that keep you motivated. Charting a series of small steps, means you can achieve those, tick them off and that keeps your energy going. Whether it’s to get a particular job at a company or start your own business, make a list of the steps you need to take to achieve that and follow them.


Couple laughing on a Couch

Thought 2 – We’re too comfortable

There’s a lot of talk about the need to challenge ourselves in order to be successful and so many of us ‘average’ people feel that we should have done a bit more of this and that perhaps we liked our comfort zone a bit too much. Zena’s answer to this is that we’ve become a bit too obsessed with this ‘challenge’ idea and that it is a real achievement to have stuck to one area and become an expert in it. As she says: “I see greater performance from people who do a few things brilliantly and aren’t frightened to stick with something to get it perfect.” The only thing to watch out for is the fear of trying something new, but even then we should stick with our gut instinct and only go for it when the time seems right.

Thought 3 – We’re guided by someone else’s definition of success

One of the first questions we all ask when we meet somebody is: “What do you do?” As popular philosopher Alain de Botton says, we’re all ‘job snobs’ and we either envy, or look down on people according to their answer. Instead of using other people’s benchmarks of success, including those of our parents, we should realign our thinking and decide what we value. Always make sure that your goals are in line with your values and priorities, or you’ll always struggle to achieve them.

And remember, when you feel a failure, there are probably people all around you who think you are a total success. So, get rid of the self-doubt, chuck out the feelings of failure and count all your victories, no matter how small, because you are more successful than you think you are!

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.