For some, it’s rising to the top of the C-suite or being able to afford that luxury item. For others, it’s achieving a healthy work-life balance or mastering a new skill. Our professional lives are mapped out by these achievements and every big success attained is the product of many tiny successes along the way. As such, success is what motivates us and keeps us disciplined.
But how do we know if we’re pursuing the right goals? The good news is, you determine what success means to you. There is no wrong answer. Your goals are valid, no matter what anyone else says. What we all need to work on, however, is how we measure that success.
Some successes are easy to measure–for example, exceeding your monthly sales target. Having numbers or a physical product makes your success more visible to everyone in your organization. But less tangible successes, such as increasing a sense of belonging in your team, are harder to demonstrate and more taxing on your morale. As McKinsey’s “Women in The Workplace” report states: “Spending time and energy on work [like DEI initiatives] that isn’t recognized could make it harder for women leaders to advance. It also means that women leaders are stretched thinner than men in leadership.”
In both cases, we rely heavily on the validation of others. A fact borne out in a study by The A Effect and The Globe and Mail, which found that 68% of respondents identified recognition from others as important to defining success. However, the expectation that we’ll be rewarded for our work is a rabbit hole that can lead to comparisons, anxiety, competition… and burnout can’t be far behind. Especially when research shows that women don’t get as much validation as men.
According to the Harvard Business Review, higher-ups are doling out praise, but women are not the main recipients: “If corporate recognition and rewards focus on those behaviors [pulling all-nighters or for networking their way through the golf course to land the big account], women feel less able, let alone motivated to try, to make it to the top.”
This lack of feedback is clearly corroding our ambitions and overall performance. The HBR research also concluded that “women who had more than two years on the job, aspiration and confidence plummeted 60% and nearly 50%, respectively”, as compared to men, who experienced only a 10% dip in confidence.
So how can we learn to rely less on feedback that our organizations cannot provide and focus more on the successes that will drive our ambitions forward?
First, write down your goals, so that you can better identify when you’ve achieved them. You can even break down big goals into a series of steps, so that you have even more milestones to celebrate the success of.
If you’re not getting the feedback you need, give it to yourself. Take a moment every week to review your successes—no matter how small—and celebrate the progress that’s been made. Also, remember that the only person you’re competing against is yourself. When reviewing your successes, benchmark it against your previous performance to note where you’ve gained new skills, optimized your workflow or were able to successfully pivot. This information has equal sway when it comes to evaluation time.
There is also something very empowering in giving recognition to others. Not because we expect something in return, but giving others regular feedback will further demarcate our exceptional leadership skills and solidify ties with our teams.
Lastly, it’s natural to want the validation of others. Our successes are sweeter when celebrated with those who matter most. But don’t let a lack of validation slow you down. If some aren’t able to celebrate your goals with you, recognizing your own growth, strength and resilience will inspire you and pay off in other ways.