The Three Phases (and Songs) of Success

excerpted from The Ladders Newsletter
September 3, 2005

By Barry Zweibel

What's your definition of success? How's it working for you? How could you redefine what success means to you? What would that enable you to do? These are just some of the questions I ask clients to consider as we look at - and clarify - what's really important to them. From these discussions, and my own research, I've come to realize that there are three distinct phases of success. And each phase has its own song title, too!

"Ain't No Mountain High Enough ..." (Ashford and Simpson)

Phase One -- Striving for Success typically occurs early in life, but it's not limited to just the young . It's the time when you know that you want to achieve something important, even if you don't know quite what "that" is just yet. Regardless, you're willing to work hard, do what you're told, and "do what it takes" to make good things happen. Phase One tends to be driven by big dreams, bigger energy, and a stick-to-it persistence that just can't be beat. In phase one, it's not a question of if you'll be successful; it's a matter of when!

Congratulations, your hard work is paying off. You landed that new job or whatever you were after, and made the grade! For some, this translates into a fancy car, a great place to live or incredible vacations. For others it might translate into being able to take a mid-day walk around town or spending some quality time with family and friends. For many, this is a time of pure enjoyment. But for most, it comes at an increasing cost.

"I'm Free, Free Fallin'..." (Tom Petty)

Phase Two -- Sustaining Success. A vague, but growing concern starts developing in you about what it will take to maintain your success. As a result, many people become increasingly risk-averse in their business planning and decision-making so as not to mess up a good thing. To those around them, they become more wedded to the status quo. But, on the inside, they start questioning whether what they're doing is really what they want to do. They may feel like they're working too hard, like they're living someone else's life. Their challenges start to become increasingly about "endurance" and the stresses and strains of the job continue to escalate.

Perhaps you know of someone in this situation. Maybe you were there once yourself.

"I Can See Clearly Now ..." (Johnny Nash)

When you start feeling that you don't like what's going on, you start Phase Three -- Redefining Success. This is when you start listening to your inner voice -- the one that tells you how you're really feeling and what you really want. After all, peace of mind begins when you listen to your heart.

You also start recognizing that you have many more choices than you previously realized. You can choose a whole new path if you'd like. Or you can confirm that the path you're on is where you want to stay... for a while longer... or forever.

More than likely, however, you'll see this time as an opportunity to redefine, or at least augment, your own brand of success. You'll look to bring yourself more in balance with your new views. Maybe you'll start deciding things in different ways. Maybe you'll start having different conversations and feel more at peace with yourself and those around you. Your mood will soften. And you'll start loving the life you live and living a life you love.

Not that it's always going to be free and easy. But that's okay -- you're still up for a challenge. Your approach to challenges, however, will probably be stronger and more grounded. You'll know what you want, be ready to find it, and be better able to help it find you.

"The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades ..." (Timbuk3)

When's the last time you looked at how you're defining success? How might you redefine it to reinvigorate your job search? What might you do differently?

© 2005, The Ladders

Barry Zweibel, MBA | Master Certified Coach, is president of LeadershipTraction. He can be reached at 847-291-9735,, or

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