The Paradox of Success_01

In 2015, I’m convinced ‘focus’ is a concept that is getting harder to grapple with for many people.

There’s a lot of pressure on us to juggle multiple priorities at once when we know the best results come from when we focus on one at a time. If you add in ease of internet access through technology, there’s a perfect storm of priorities that pull our attention in multiple directions.

The result for many people is a millimetre of success in many directions, rather than a great leap forward in one direction.

I put it down to the Paradox of Success, which I read about recently in a book called Essentialism — The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

When I start a new project, the feeling of clarity and excitement is intoxicating.

I think a lot of people feel this.

We do the right thing; we identify and pursue that which will add the most value in order to get momentum for our project. Then the path to success becomes more obvious. New opportunities arise, we meet new people and we feel like we’re moving forward.

This sounds great. This sounds like progress.

But there’s a cost.

These opportunities unintentionally distract us from what’s essential. They tempt us to experiment and we lose clarity. All of a sudden we’re spread too thin.

When I read this I couldn’t help think about all the times when I pursued an opportunity that was really a distraction.

All those new projects that went nowhere, clients I shouldn’t have bothered with, events I got nothing out of and people who simply wasted my time. If only I had spent that time focussed on what was essential, imagine how far down the path I could be now!

I think a lot of our decisions are made on autopilot, yet they have negative consequences over time, including stress and anxiety. We feel that to be successful we need to work long hours, catch up with everyone, eat out a lot, watch this show, see this movie and more. This equals perceived success for many people, not just in our own eyes but in the eyes of others.

I’m starting to realise that a lot of people, including myself, forget that we have a choice. We accept the way things are and don’t feel like change is even an option.

What if we said “no” to 80% of the opportunities that demanded our attention and just pursued the 20% that will make the best impact to our lives? What happens if we double down on what really matters and say no to the rest?

“sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do

Over the past few months I’ve been trying to craft my life around this essentialist way of thinking.

The biggest change I’ve felt is how much space I have to think and reflect. I feel that through my choices (which include saying no to a lot of seemingly great opportunities), I have created an environment that is free of distractions. This means I can be more focussed on one activity in the moment.

At home I read more, I journal more and feel more relaxed. My stress has dropped dramatically. A weight has been lifted.

A surprising result has been my improved work performance. In the past I have always always agreed with the mantra that if you work hard you get more success. There’s a lot of support for this this concept in the startup community, and so we work long hours believing that we’re getting ahead of the pack.

I don’t think this is true anymore.

I am now adding more value through choosing ‘less but better’ work, and am working fewer hours. I go home on time with a clear head, which means I can seriously enjoy my home time.

We have the power to say “no” more often than we think, and the space it creates has changed me for the better.