December 31, 2020

The Psychology of Success: Count on Purpose Instead

The psychology of success is unique phenomenon. There comes a time in many of my high-performing clients’ lives when they’re ready to leave behind the safety of their known careers and seek out their dreams. Sometimes this happens around the age of retirement, but, increasingly, I’m seeing it in men and women as young as 40.

In a career context, this desire for change can be daunting, particularly with the country plagued by both the Covid-19 pandemic and political unrest. And career change, like most things worth doing in life, takes time. Even my most ambitious, can-do clients have expressed frustration about the time it takes to build another career from scratch; some of them want to give up faster than they might have expected. When talking about the psychology of success, this is where endurance comes in.

Angela Duckworth’s best-selling book, Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success, sheds light on the power of fortitude in a career change. “Grit,” she writes, “is about working on something you care about so much that you are willing to stay loyal to it.” Drawing a comparison to the world of romance, she observes that grit is “doing what you love, but not just falling in love—staying in love.”

Duckworth enumerates four key characteristics that comprise the development of career-change endurance:

  1. Love what you do. Succeeding at a career requires mastery, and mastery takes time. In order to put in the kind of time required, it helps to go in with passion for the endeavor—especially when there are roadblocks and challenges, as there always are.This enjoyment can manifest in the actual tasks you perform in a new role, the tasks you perform in order to get there, or even the people you work with. In career transition, we can reset our course for something that fires us up and imbues our lives with meaning. Whatever inspires you, loving and truly enjoying what you do makes it easier to walk the road ahead.
  2. Practice. As you approach a career transition, it is crucial that you have the opportunity to hone your craft. While there is no consensus as to the precise amount of time needed to achieve mastery, any level of expertise will come with a substantial time commitment. In this regard, the pandemic and associated quarantines can work in your favor. More than ever before, people are enjoying the efficiencies of working from home, affording more free time and autonomy. Instead of filling this autonomy with death-scrolling and text-messaging, many now have at least a couple spare hours a day to practice for the coming change.
  3. Identify your purpose. It is vital that our work has meaning, that it in some way serves a purpose higher than ourselves. Employee engagement rates are so abysmal that it is clear many of us need more purpose in our lives. This sea change in our society at large suggests now may be a great time to reach for the stars.
  4. Deploy optimism. Hope keeps us going when things seem most bleak. In any career transition, there will be setbacks, frustrations, even times you want to give up. Hope buoys you in the face of despair—allowing you to return to optimism and cling to the belief that your dreams are possible.

Remember: purpose doesn’t have to be lofty or altruistic; from a mile-high perspective, it is as valid to be passionate about building custom racecars as it is to cure cancer. What matters is that your purpose be important to you. After all, it was pleasing others and assuming limitations that probably caused you to detour from pursuing your passions in the first place.

Finally, if you’re used to being at the top of your field and must now start lower down, be prepared to exhibit a lot of humility. With grit and determination, you can and will rise to the top of whatever you pursue. It just takes time and a won’t-take-no-for-an-answer attitude. Armed with this newfound knowledge of the psychology of success, the sky’s the limit.