During the 20 years that I worked in Corporate America, I constantly focused on how to be successful. I believed that by working hard, managing my team well, and achieving the desired business results, personal and professional success would follow.
Success in Corporate America is defined mostly by tangible elements: salary, bonus, stock options, promotions, the size of one’s team, a parking spot in the garage, a seat at the executive table. But success is determined — and ultimately rewarded — by clearing an unknown number of hurdles or hitting constantly changing targets.
One of my bosses once told me that promotions were merely temptations meant to keep everyone in their same place but always wanting more. He was also one of those “happiness is in your paycheck” kind of guys.
I found that many of my top skills — most notably people leadership, for which I was consistently considered a top performer — were actually undervalued by top executives and prevented me from being successful. Indeed, I saw many people get promoted that weren’t at all skilled in leading a team, working well with their peers, or inspiring people to give it their all. Instead, they were good at something else entirely: office politics.
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On one memorable occasion, I remember having a conversation with a colleague about how some people were consistently — and inexplicably — successful, getting a promotion every year while the rest of us just got empty promises.
This colleague told me that the way to get the CMO’s attention was to do a “drive-by” — casually walking past her office at 5:30 when most people had gone home, and then starting up a conversation. She’d invite you into her office for a chat, and then you were golden.
I spent weeks building up the nerve to attempt such a ridiculous stunt, ensuring I had a valid business reason to be randomly walking by her office after hours. When I finally decided to try it, I walked to the CMO’s office only to find that person who had been promoted every year already sitting for a chat. I just kept walking.
That incident should have been my hint that office politics were not my particular forte, but I stayed in Corporate America and learned how to be successful in other ways for many more years.
Today, as a solopreneur, my perspective of how to be successful has completely shifted.
I used to joke that I could measure my job satisfaction by the number of times I hit “snooze” on the alarm clock, since I’m not a morning person. Now on most mornings I’m up quickly and excited to get to work.
I used to constantly focus on my next promotion or bonus. Now I revel in the fact that I love what I do every day (helping companies and executives create remarkable customer experiences that become their best sales and marketing strategy) and that I am genuinely happy at work.
I used to wonder how and why my boss made it to his or her position, and if I even wanted that job. Now I tell people that I like working for The Dan much more than I liked working for The Man.
Sure, I still like making money (and you can help with that by hiring me to speak or coach, or by buying my book and CX course). But job satisfaction, mental health, overall happiness, and making a real difference contribute so much more now to feeling successful.
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It’s not easy work; I’m always on (I once booked a speaking engagement by responding almost immediately to an email inquiry that arrived at 10 PM on a Saturday night), always hustling, always networking, always creating and curating content (including my blog, newsletter, and podcast) and always delivering value for my clients. But you know what? I am having a ton of fun.
Don’t worry so much about your title. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get that promotion or if your year-end bonus isn’t as big as you hoped it would be. And don’t concern yourself with petty office politics like a “drive-by” to kiss up to the CMO.
Instead, do what you love, follow your passion, help others, enjoy every moment, and then pay it forward.
With a new perspective on how to be successful, that success will ultimately be yours.