Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Success, achievement, results

I have been wondering about the words success, results, and achievement.  Which do you think best describes what you have accomplished when you get what you want?

I think people like the word success because it takes the stress off the action and places it on the person. this corresponds to the way most people think. When we succeed, we feel that it is because of something we have done, but also it is somehow because we deserve to succeed. When other people succeed, we look more closely at the way a situation rewarded an action, and sometimes that leads us back to the conclusion that success is a matter of personal quality. Some people are just lucky. We deserve success because we are good and we do good work. These attitudes are so basic to human beings that they are called the fundamental attribution error.

It's useful to believe that we deserve our success: it encourages us to persist in our efforts until we get a result we like. It keeps us motivated, and that increases our chances to live and procreate and be an evolutionary success. Even when we do the analysis and understand that success is often the result of being in the right place at the right time, we live better by believing that we are the kind of people who shape our own lives and make our own success.

Results are the products of our actions. They are real: you can observe them and often you can measure them. Businesses like results: they emphasize that what matters is what is produced (not the amount of effort or the quality of the intention). People are a little skeptical of results. We all know that there are times in our lives when we get great results without working very hard and other times when we are clear and intentional and make big efforts and the results are not what we hope.  We would like to believe that we can control our results, but we always have experiences that in our instincts and unconscious processes and remind us that maybe we cannot control our results. So we want to buy in to other people's promises of results, but we are a little hesitant to promise results of our own.

Achievement is the scariest word. Achievement sounds like a success that is somehow more permanent than other good results. Achievement sounds like a success that means something to us and also means something to other people. It is a result that lines up with values and beliefs. People are often asked what they have achieved and almost everyone is thrown a little by the question.  When they are honest with themselves, they are not sure that any of their results is important enough or reliable enough to be called an achievement.

I am looking for a word that means having an idea and using it to make something change. We do that all the time: we think of something we want and then we make it or find it or acquire it. Getting a good cup of tea might not seem like an achievement (although I remember one late night in Paris when I really, really needed a good cup of tea. . .) but it is something that starts as an idea and ends up as something that can be seen or heard or felt in a real, physical way. It begins as a suggestion you give the world and ends up as feedback the world gives you.

This is what I do: I help people make it more likely that the real, tangible feedback they get from the world will line up better with the idea they put out into the world.


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