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Success That Lasts

The Idea in Brief

Chasing after success is like entering a landscape of moving targets: Every time you hit one, five more pop up from another direction. There's always more work to be done, more money to make, a bigger house to buy. Is it any wonder we're stressed?

To get a fresh perspective, think about success in terms of its four distinct components: happiness, achievement, significance (positively affecting those you care about), and legacy (helping others find future success). Unless you regularly hit on all four categories, any one win will be unsatisfying. So instead of relentlessly pursuing one goal (be it making partner by 30 or being the world's best soccer mom), focus on racking up victories in all areas. To maintain a steady flow of wins, however, you'll need to set limits on the time you spend on any one activity. In other words, you've got to figure out how much is "just enough"--the amount you need to accomplish before you feel comfortable putting down one task and moving to another.

Real success is emotionally renewing, not anxiety provoking. By actively making choices and setting limits, you'll be able to reach your goals, tally up more "wins," and truly enjoy all the successes you achieve.

The Idea in Practice

The Kaleidoscope Strategy

Accomplish great things for yourself and your organization by adopting a kaleidoscope strategy:

Imagine the four components of success--happiness, achievement, significance, and legacy--to be four chambers of a kaleidoscope. Each goal you reach adds another brilliantly colored chip to a chamber, enriching your unique pattern over a lifetime. But if most of your chips fall in only one or two chambers, your whole picture will look lopsided. Only by setting and achieving goals in each area will you create a well-balanced mix.

Create Your Own Kaleidoscope

Draw four intersecting circles and label them happiness, achievement, significance, and legacy. In each circle, jot down examples of your successes. Take your college degree, for instance. If your degree represents to you a mastery of skills, then write "college" in your achievement chamber. But if it holds special significance because you were the first person in your family to go to college, you might put it in your significance chamber. The point is not to compulsively divide your life into little circles and lists. Rather, it is to help you assess the various types of satisfactions you have already experienced and see what they add up to.

Analyze Your Success Patterns

Metaphorically speaking, hold your kaleidoscope up to the light by asking such questions as:

  • Are some of the chambers empty?

  • Are others too full?

  • Where am I devoting most of my time?

  • Is that in line with the goals I want to achieve?

Organizing your achievements and goals in this framework will help you understand what you're seeking from a certain activity. You can stop measuring a job only by how happy it makes you or calculating a business success only in terms of your ability to achieve mastery. Instead, you'll see how one task fits into a larger context. And you'll be able to gauge what kind of emotional rewards you can realistically expect from an activity. If you expect your achievement goals to bring you happiness, you'll stunt your performance from the start. If you don't put achievement in its place, however, you'll trap yourself in workaholic restlessness.

"Just Enough" Success

By regularly assessing the picture you're creating, you can quickly spot which places need more attention and when you've achieved "just enough" success in a category so that you can focus your efforts on a different chamber of your kaleidoscope.

Copyright 2004 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

Further Reading


When Everything Isn't Half Enough

Harvard Business Review

March-April 2000

by Suzy Wetlaufer

What happens when you ignore one or more of the components of enduring success? It's not a pretty picture. This fictional case study explores the hollowness of one-dimensional success: CEO Norman Spencer, wildly successful by financial measures, is depressed. He's spent his life racking up one achievement after another, but even though he's got a thriving business, a mansion, a yacht--the finest things money can buy--he never feels fulfilled. If we applied the kaleidoscope strategy to his life, we'd find that his happiness, legacy, and significance chambers are practically empty, and that he's never cultivated a sense of "just enough." Commentators don't use the kaleidoscope metaphor, but their advice has close parallels. In the words of one, "What is so hard about achieving huge success? If you're not careful, it can knock out your better judgment. The relentless pursuit of more in one area will steer you away from enough in others."

Managing Oneself

Harvard Business Review

March-April 1999

by Peter F. Drucker

Like "Success That Lasts," "Managing Oneself" can be used as a tool to generate greater self-awareness. This article will help you evaluate your strengths, your values, your learning style, and even your best options for a second career. Armed with this knowledge, you'll be able to put yourself in positions where you can make the greatest contribution--where there's the best fit between your passion and what the situation demands.


Just Enough: Tools for Creating Success in Your Work and Life

John Wiley and Sons

February 2004

by Howard Stevenson and Laura Nash

Just Enough, from which "Success That Lasts" was adapted, delivers a more in-depth exploration of success. Nash and Stevenson take a closer look at what constitutes real, enduring success and why so many people today find success anxiety-provoking rather than satisfying. The book also offers a more nuanced look at the kaleidoscope strategy and the talent of "switching and linking." Filled with more examples and greater detail, this book extends readers' ability to determine how much is just enough, both for today and for the future.

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