“Don’t just be the best. Be the only.” — Kevin Kelly (heard during an interview with Tim Ferriss)
We strive for both fulfillment and success. In our personal and professional lives.
In the professional arena, the conventional wisdom is that these two goals are at odds with each other. I disagree.
Prioritize fulfillment and you will find success. And have more fun along the way.
The Components of Fulfillment
There is no direct route to fulfillment. Instead lean into these three areas. The indirect result will be fulfillment.
Make three lists. Keep adding to them over time. Talk about them with friends, family and colleagues to get their inputs. Find activities at the intersection of these three things.
- My Strengths: What am I really good at? It doesn’t need to be something where you are in the top 1% in the world, but instead in the top 20% of people you know, at your stage in the professional journey. Identify a combination of skills that you possess that reinforce each other. Many people might have one, but many fewer will have your mixture of three or four. How might those who ask for recommendations and references speak about you if given the chance to describe without a specific prompt? A useful resource is the VIA Survey of Character Strengths created by Christopher Petersen and Martin Seligman. More details on the list of 24 strengths and virtues is found here.
- My Passions: What brings me joy? Can you think of times when you got so absorbed in an activity that you felt time slowed down or you forgot the passage of time. Are there activities you want to do without having to be pushed to do? Think about “pro-social” activities you do when you are procrastinating. Where does your curiosity lead you? What do you care about enough to listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, read articles about, take a class on etc.?
- Contribution to Others: What activities create meaning for me? How do I matter to others? How can I make a difference in the world? Start by thinking small. Ways you make a positive difference on the wellbeing of others. Reflect on times when you have received feedback from others on being a positive contributor. What did you do? How did you show up? When might people call you up for advice or ask that you just listen to them?
Focus on a Few Things and Put in The Time
Once you figure out your strengths, what you enjoy doing, and what provides meaning, lean into these. Focus on improving your strengths while ignoring most of your weaknesses. Be ok with being below average in a number of areas. The only way to be really good in some aspects of life is to be ok with being below average in other arenas.
Focus on what matters to you rather than getting distracted by what others (or society at large) says you should be good at or matters.
Small sustained efforts will compound over time, even though in the short term progress may seem really slow.
Being Different is a Good Thing
Success in the professional journey comes from being different rather than simply better. Focus on the things that matter to you, and not those which your parents or friends or social media pundits call out as important.
When I think of people I know well whose professional success I admire deeply, it usually revolves around how they were different from most of the others in their field.
You Will Face Adversity
Life is filled with struggle. It is primarily through these struggles that we find meaning. The path to fulfillment will not be easy, nor should you expect it to be. If everything were easy, there would be much less fulfillment at the end. Overcoming obstacles helps us find meaning.
In the short-term being different will likely lead to more adversity. And in the long-term it will cause you to stand out.
Be Able to Tell ‘Your’ Story
Figure out what you find fulfilling and work on clearly articulating that to others. Once you get good at it, you will stand-out. Sometimes being the “only” will be a turn-off. At other times it will resonate, and convince others of your value.
And that ability to stand out in certain specific areas will lead to success — including being paid for the value you bring and getting public recognition.
We achieve success by not focusing on it as the goal.