SBM Articles


When Winning Turns Into Losing

by Judy Ryan

My daughter, a practicing attorney, was recently offered a great job in a small boutique law firm and was enjoying the process of getting to know the staff, partners and work. A week later, she received interest from a larger, more prestigious firm. This stirred paradoxical feelings in her. All of a sudden, rather than enjoying her new job, she found herself focused on possible missed opportunities. What was her joy one day became a source of some dissatisfaction the next even though the circumstances of her life were exactly the same.

In many people I see a phenomenon in which they unconsciously equate happiness and self-worth with perceptions about their position on a mythical ladder of success. I say mythical because success is often assumed as a collective ideal, narrowly described as someone with an undefined but crucial quantity of talent, luck, money and attractiveness. This description of success sets many people up to focus on a false idea of what is important. I see them achieve greater success only to grow worried about what is next, or the “couldas,” “shouldas” and “wouldas” they fear missing if they are not vigilant to watch for any potential proverbial greener grass.

Today I met an executive who described the satisfaction she experiences by developing other female business leaders. But she noticed that once these women gain greater recognition and perceived success, they often become stunted in their development. She reported that most started their journey enjoying the process of discovering, growing and using their gifts and talents only to find that over time, their fear of losing ground began to take hold. For many of them the more “successful” they were, the more they became fearful and experienced decreased task satisfaction, wonder and creativity. They engaged in a cycle of chasing success or trying to hold on to it. This very identification with success was the source of growing dissatisfaction and burnout.

That’s because whenever we take our eye off the inspiring and meaningful reasons for doing something, we humans generally focus on limitations and fears. We begin striving, comparing and proving. We fixate on status, looking good and appearing invulnerable and then wonder why we feel more stress, less joy and a nagging sense that there is always more required. The success we thought would suffice doesn’t fully satisfy. This is the hold extrinsic motivation fixes upon us. Extrinsic motivation is focused on the idea that we need acceptance and approval from others. It is whenever we look to and lean on others to be the catalyst for our thoughts, feelings and actions. And while we all want connection, striving and proving to get validation from others actually disconnects us from them. It blocks our pure potentiality and diminishes our contributions. In contrast, intrinsic motivation, or loving what we do from centeredness, fuels creativity and provides meaningful reasons and personal rewards for doing tasks and enjoying accomplishments.

When my daughter called me, she wanted to better understand her feelings: relief that she was in demand, fear of a too-hasty decision and sadness about possible losses. I told her I was glad she was experiencing her emotions because they provided her with an opportunity to recognize how easy it is to forget her innate value and the gifts she and all of us provide just by being alive. She, like so many, had begun to forget that no matter how much money, beauty, talent or luck we have or don’t have, we are priceless beyond measure, could never be paid to reflect our true worth, and that our greatest success is doing work we love, with caring people, and helping the world in authentic ways. As you grow successful in your life and work, keep your eye on the meaningfulness of your tasks and the importance of your being so that you will know, savor happiness and genuine success beyond your wildest dreams.

Owners, community leaders and educators hire Judy Ryan and Lifework Systems because they want the advantages of an extraordinary workplace. Judy’s book, “What’s the Deal With Workplace Culture Change?” is available FREE at You can also contact Judy at 314-239-4727.

Submitted 8 years 86 days ago
Categories: categoryThe Extraordinary Workplace
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