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Owning your own success

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In today’s world of always being connected it is hard to escape images portraying success. Whether it is a job promotion announced on LinkedIn, a tweet announcing a new business venture or Facebook photos of a dream vacation we are faced with a constant stream of success stories. How does this make us feel?

The answer to that is “stressed” according to Dr David Keane, an international expert on human achievement and success and an Executive Education facilitator. The carefully curated images of success that we are presented with rarely represent the full story of someone’s life. They represent “being seen to be successful” says David and not success that is personal and owned. Seeing these images leaves us with a sense that success comes with working harder, having more possessions or having better luck.

Success presented in this way is a future state. It is something that we are yet to achieve and as soon as we think that we may have achieved success the goalposts move. It is unsurprising then, David says, that so many people today report feeling high levels of stress and that stress in the workplace has become a concern for many organisations.

So what does success look like? Thirty years ago David became fascinated with the lives of successful people and began an intense research project to find out their characteristics. He noticed that people experiencing real success did not seem too highly stressed or busy. They were very deliberate in the choices that they made in life and this contributed to their ability to experience success.

David explains that “while we are highly qualified in the technical aspects of our role, for most people our self-management around success is haphazard”. There are three things that impact on our ability to self-manage success in our life – stress, happiness and busyness.

While a small amount of stress or pressure is considered to be a positive thing in life, for many, stress has become a major and sometimes debilitating issue. “When you delve deeper into what is causing stress it becomes apparent that it is the way in which we react to potentially stressful situations rather than the situation itself that causes us to feel stressed.” Our reaction is something that we can make deliberate choices about.

Happiness in life is something that we all seek. Happiness, however, is a momentary feeling often based on something that has happened and is then quickly replaced by other feelings. To be driven by the pursuit of happiness is to be always “seeking the next high” says David. A healthier approach is to see happiness as a result of living your life with a purpose and not as a goal to be achieved.

The third thing that impacts on our ability to self-manage is the wide social acceptance of constantly being busy. “We have adopted the belief that busy is best and that not to be busy is to be unproductive.” However David’s extensive research on the characteristics of successful people shows that they are not in a state of constantly being busy. “Instead they make conscious and purposeful choices about what they will be busy with and do not take on tasks for the sake of being busy.”

From an organisational perspective, employees who manage their own success have good self-management skills and are more productive. They have a clear sight to organisational goals, are not easily distracted and are more resilient when things get challenging.

The consequence of high levels of stress in the workplace are high employee turnover and low productivity both of which impact on the profitability of an organisation. As a result of increasing concern about employee stress, enlightened organisations are looking at how they can improve the wellbeing of their employees.

Corporates, government and non-profit organisations have sent their staff on David’s Executive Education courses. Kiwibank offered the course as a gift to their employees with a focus on improving employee wellbeing and sense of purpose.

“Knowing what real success means on a personal level gives a sense of purpose to your personal and professional life in a way that is truly profound.” No longer are you feeling frustrated chasing other people’s dreams. You can then focus on improving your skills so that you get better and better at what you do. “The truly successful person is acutely curious about what they can do to improve themselves.”

David Keane facilitates the course:

Managing Yourself for Success




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