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Why You Must Celebrate Small Successes

Constantly asking "Are we there yet?" means you're missing all the sights along the way.

Do you know what success looks like, and will you recognize it if you get there?

Last month, I did something I've always wanted to do. I read an essay of mine out loud for broadcast on the local public radio station. I've published essays in print and been interviewed on the radio, but there was always something about that on-air commentary form I've found especially powerful. So when I got the chance to broadcast my essay about the use (or overuse?) of Facebook on 51% The Women's Perspective, I carefully polished my prose and then practiced reading it out loud several times. Then I recorded take after take. My husband, Bill, a musician with recording experience, lent me a digital recorder and coached me.

When the evening came for the piece to be broadcast, we sat in our living room, listening intently. As soon as it was done, we dove right into our critique.

"Next time, I'll hold the mic closer to my mouth," I said. "I won't worry about making noise when I turn pages." It turns out these can be edited out, something I hadn't known when I made the recording. Bill planned some technical changes for next time as well, and suggested I shorten the pauses between my sentences.

The following day, I started hearing from my friends, including some I hadn't heard from for a long time, but who got in touch to tell me they had liked the essay. Though all I could hear were the flaws, they thought it sounded great. "Concise and smart," said one, and "neatly swerved when I thought I knew where it was going." Eventually, it dawned on me. I had fulfilled a long-time dream and not even paused to enjoy it.

I do that kind of thing way too often. No sooner do I get somewhere I've been working a long time to be, than I start focusing on the next goal and the next plan. I'm not sure that's a bad thing--there's a lot to be said for staying focused and driven. But it's a problem that I often don't stop to enjoy the successes I have. I'm like a child who constantly asks "Are we there yet?" and misses seeing all the sights along the way.

If you're an entrepreneur, or have other career ambitions, chances are you're the same, always striving toward something better, never satisfied with where you are. Striving is good, but never being satisfied is bad. Is it possible to do both--aim for higher achievement while still taking time to enjoy the achievements you've attained?

I believe it is. Maybe this is how to get there:

1. Set small goals as well as big ones.

You have to have a grand vision for what you and your company can achieve. But it's just as important to parcel the journey out into the smaller steps you'll take along the way. If, for instance, your goal is to get to $5 million in annual sales within 10 years, and you're currently at $200,000, then reaching $400,000 might be a good benchmark. Or maybe entering three new markets. The point is to set a goal that you can achieve in the short term.

2. Then celebrate when you reach one.

Whenever you hit one of those benchmarks, stop for a while to enjoy that fact. Give yourself and your company a day off. Go to a ball game or have a party. If you and your employees all know that each step along the way will be an occasion to have fun, both you and they will be that much more motivated to get to the next achievement.

3. Brag.

In addition to celebrating achievements within your company, let the world know. Issue a press release, send a letter to your college alumni magazine, or write an article for your trade association's newsletter. Letting your colleagues and community know about what you've achieved will force you to take those achievements seriously. It will raise your profile, which is always a good thing.

Besides, the surest way to see that your accomplishments get the recognition they deserve is to begin by recognizing them yourself.

4. Think back to where you started.

What did you hope to achieve? Maybe you've already met those goals, or maybe those goals have changed. Either way, remembering where and who you were when you launched your company or started your career may help you take stock of how far you've come.

5. Feel lucky.

Because you are. An entrepreneur friend and I were discussing how neither one of us seems to have enough time and we both feel overwhelmed. "But really, I know I'm lucky to be busy," I said.

She nodded. "I have two friends with Stage Four cancer," she said. That really helped put things in perspective. If you run your own company or have a job you love, if you have plenty of work, if you're healthy, if your family is well, then like me, you have a lot to be thankful for and a lot of reasons to enjoy every day.

6. Remember, there's no "there."

I'm convinced that for most of us, there's no magic moment when we finally feel we're successful. Astronauts, Presidents, and billionaire entrepreneurs all have unfulfilled dreams. So will you and I.

It's fine to keep going after those dreams, but it's a bad idea to keep waiting till we reach some magical ideal before we can feel fulfilled or satisfied. We might wind up waiting forever.

7. Think beyond your career.

It will end someday, although none of us likes to think about that. (I certainly don't.) When that day comes, will you look back on a time that you enjoyed as much as you could? Or will you just remember a collection of moments trying to get where you wanted to go next?

It's a choice each of us has to make, and I don't want to make the wrong one. So the next time I reach a goal or get to do something I really care about, I plan to make sure that I stop long enough to savor the moment.

What about you?

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Last updated: Apr 8, 2014

MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, 'The Geek Gap'

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Like this post? Sign up here for a once-a-week email and you'll never miss her columns.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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