It's Not About What You Want—It's About Why You Want It

by admin 26. June 2013 10:36

It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere. — Agnes Repplier

BY DEBRA SNIDER

When you decide to Suit Yourself, you have not only a strategy, but a process—a protocol for making the decisions and taking the actions that will lead you to career success and personal satisfaction.  

The first step is identifying and articulating what matters most to you.

You don’t succeed by wasting time and energy (scarce resources, both) on whining or misery or flurries of misdirected busyness. Once you understand what will make you happy, enthusiastic, inspired and glad to be alive, you can spend your time and energy far more profitably on going after it. You can prioritize. Where satisfaction and identifying our priorities are concerned, it’s not the pot of gold that’s important. It’s following the rainbow. It’s the joy of the hunt and, if it happens, the successful outcome.  Satisfaction is an ongoing thing, a way of feeling, a pursuit. It’s not a means to an end. Satisfaction is the end, and it is what must be prioritized.

You can’t be single-minded about the form your satisfaction will take. A former law partner of mine, for example, loves getting new clients for the law firm, but not for the reasons you—or he—might think.  One morning, he was talking to a prospective client on the phone. He listened carefully, talked briefly about the firm, then suggested the prospect give the firm even a small piece of business. She evidently agreed, for he thanked her, hung up the phone, leaned back in his chair, grinned, and said, "I love to get a piece of business in the morning!"

This is a man who loves the thrill of the hunt and the validation of bagging a piece of business. Sure, that led to prominence in the firm as well as revenue and all the other good outcomes of achieving a specific objective. What made him happy, though, was the deep sense of personal satisfaction emanating from the conversation and its successful outcome.

Do you see the difference? In this respect, my former partner is not someone who should prioritize making money for the firm or even doing legal work for the client.

He should prioritize the hunt.

The more time he spends seeking new clients and honing his hunting skills, the happier he will be and the more clients he will get. He might be just as satisfied hunting new customers for a business as new clients for his law firm. He might also find satisfaction in becoming a safari photographer or even an actual hunter.

Examine the Why

The point is to separate the elements of satisfaction (the thrill and validation of the successful hunt) from the form the pursuit takes at any given time (acquiring new law firm clients). You have to get under the tangible specifics—the things you think you want—to uncover the elements of satisfaction—why you want them, what about them will make you happy. 

Here are some tricks for teasing out those elements that have worked for me:

     1.  When you have a decision to make and you're agonizing over it, flip a coin. Not because you'll let the coin decide for you, but because as that coin is falling, I guarantee you’ll know which side you want it to land on. Having thus tricked yourself into revealing what you want, you can analyze why and extrapolate the analysis to other decisions.

     2.1  Make a list of everything you've loved about your jobs, from "Feeling like a star" to "The free Coke machine" to "Really interesting work that made the time fly" to "Being able to Maybe the perfect job is one that doesn't land you in a conference room. Or maybe it is.leave at 5 p.m." to "Not having to wear pantyhose." Don't consider anything too grandiose or too mundane for the list. Include everything. Don't edit or try to impress anyone. This list is for you. You can shred it when you're done if you don't want it laying around. Then, do the same for everything you've hated about your jobs. This isn't a test; just write down everything you can think of in both categories. (If you want to do the same two lists for your life outside of work, feel free.)

     2.2  When your lists are done, read them over and look for themes, patterns, and conclusions you can draw. You may think you want to be a big-time senior partner, but if the pattern that includes "no pantyhose" and "leaving at 5 p.m." is prominent on your Things I've Loved list, then you really don't. If the theme that includes "managing other people" and "waking up in a cold sweat" is woven throughout your Things I’ve Hated list, then you really, really don’t. My lists will help you recognize the difference between what will truly satisfy you and what you'd merely like to possess or achieve, all other things being equal.

     3.  Ask yourself these three questions all the time: Whose rules are these? Why? Why not?  The purpose of these questions is to help you shut out the confusion that comes from the world’s nonstop (usually misogynistic) attempts to get you off-track by telling you what you should want.

Personal satisfaction is not fixed or rigid.  It will take on different forms at different times. It will evolve. The key is to find for yourself the touch points that will tell you where you are and what to prioritize, no matter the particular form your pursuit takes at any particular time.  Once you do, you can consistently position yourself to achieve the only kind of success that matters: the kind that makes you happy.

Next month: more on balance.

Debra Snider is an author, speaker, no-longer-practicing lawyer, former senior executive, blackjack player, and mother of two grown children. Her published works include two nonfiction business books, one specifically for lawyers, and the novel A MERGER OF EQUALS, which readers have called “one of the most enlightening and true works of fiction about corporate life and love” and “virtually impossible to put down.”  A Chicagoan until 2005, Debra and her husband of 36 years now live in Nevada.  Click here for more info on her biography, books, and appearances.

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