Recently, Success Magazine culled through 500 newly published books touting the keys to business success, and came up with its list of the top 25 titles. Their criteria? Those most likely to make you rich in dollars and status the fastest. Every day we hear: if we can reach this or that outcome, everything will be ours, with “everything” defined clearly as higher pay, a better title, and a higher-spending lifestyle. We set lofty achievement landmarks on high pinnacles, then we grit our teeth and make the attainment of these goals a driving reason for working each day. That misstep almost invariably leads to a career filled with compounding frustration.
There is no positive proof that a relentless focus on outcomes in any way brings fulfillment to you faster or that it reduces the amount of stress in your life.
Well, you might argue, all of us have seen others succeed who do have such a relentless focus on outcomes, and on the surface it can appear that it was the focus that drove the success. But is that really always the case? And what of examples of where success did not follow such a focus?
I remember in 1997 when Tiger Woods served notice on the golfing world as the record-setting 21-year-old winner of the Masters. At the time much of the talk was about how Tiger’s father Earl famously laid a golf club in his crib and how at age three (three!) Tiger was on the Mike Douglas Show hitting a ball with a perfect swing. Thousands of fathers (and some mothers) across the world began training their sons and daughters in the Earl Woods method of total golf absorption, which included aspects that could be most politely defined as unpleasant, such as Earl shouting derogatory things at Tiger while he was putting in order to teach him to concentrate and ignore all distractions.
Now here we are seventeen years later, and while there are some exceptional teenage golfing talents in the world, there are no obvious Tiger equivalents. And of those thousands of sons and daughters, how many of them had their upbringings damaged by their overzealous parents, or were pushed into living a sport for which perhaps they had little aptitude? How many were confused and kept away from discovering their true best talents and attributes? The fact is we really do not know for sure if Tiger Woods would have become the greatest golfer of his era regardless of his father’s role. Maybe he would have discovered the game on his own; maybe a coach or teacher would have introduced him to it or maybe a friend.
Outcome obsession is in many ways the safe route; no one can say you are not trying to succeed if you strive toward specific goals that represent having “arrived” to the rest of the world. But any belief that achieving success and fulfillment requires a specific focus on outcomes that represent success or a fulfilled life cannot be true.
So if we do not focus on outcomes, then what? I invite you to proceed toward career fulfillment beginning with the joy found within each day’s efforts. Business, in the end, is all about building: yourself, your company, and the useful entities that result from both.
Part two of “Outcome Obsession” coming soon.