There's a lot we humans don't understand about success and most of our biggest misconceptions are about ourselves. We can't look at our own work or achievements objectively. We fail to recognize our own accomplishments and successes when we reach them. And most of the time, we think we're less successful than we really are.
Here are some of the biggest mistakes you're probably making about success:
1. You dismiss your goals once you've reached them.
This is so universal I'm willing to bet you've done it. How many times have you put huge energy and effort into working toward what seemed like an important goal--only to get there and realize that that it was only an interim step toward a bigger goal? I myself have done this over and over again going back to the very beginning of my career. From being paid for writing, to being paid a living wage for writing, to publishing my first book, to becoming president of ASJA...all my life I've stacked up goals that from far away looked like success. As I got closer, they seemed like not such a big deal. Once I'd done them, they seemed downright mundane as I refocused my attention on more distant and more important-seeming goals.
There's nothing wrong with moving on to a new goal the moment you reach an old one--that's how careers are made. The mistake is changing your definition of success every time you change goals. Have you ever had a goal that you thought would make you a success, and then achieved that goal? If so, guess what? You're a success.
2. You focus on the negative.
This is a profound part of human nature that likely goes back to our evolution as a species. And again, it's so universal I'm willing to bet you've done it. For example, you completed a project on time and under budget and won praise from nine of your colleagues. The tenth colleague criticized your effort, claiming you'd gotten some important aspects of the project wrong. Which of these comments got your most focused attention?
If it was the one negative comment, that just confirms that you're human. But if you're focused on the negative and you're self-critical, odds are you're more successful than you know.
3. You expect success to change you.
This is one of the biggest mistakes we humans tend to make. We expect the achievement of our goals to turn us into completely different people from who we were before. You know the kind of thing I mean. "If only I could lose 10 pounds, then I'd be more self-confident, and then I would meet someone and be happy." "If only I could earn another $10,000 (or $20,000, or $2 million) a year, then I'd have all the money I need and I would never worry about anything." "If only I land this one big customer, then my business will be established and I'll be secure."
The problem with all these if/then statements is that when you do achieve the "if," the "then" rarely follows. Reaching a goal is simply reaching a goal. It likely won't change our whole lives, but we think it will, and we're inevitably disappointed when it doesn't.
4. You think of success as place to get to and stay.
Most of us think of success as a destination. We'll work for years and someday we'll arrive there. And once we arrive, we will build a house, move in, and never leave. But as Bel Pesce explains in her wonderful TED Talk, success is a fleeting moment most of us encounter repeatedly during our lives. And then, like a hiker who reaches the top of a mountain, takes a few pictures, and then heads down the trail again, we move on.
This is why it's so important to stop, acknowledge, and celebrate every single time you reach a goal. Because, guess what? That's success. You've been there many times. And you'll be back again sometime soon.