I finished a series of projects this week, as did a number of my friends. We all work in the Indiana Statehouse in varying roles, and the legislative session just concluded.
The Statehouse is a unique place during the session, especially at the end. The interested parties in negotiations for the final versions of legislation can often make the rooms crowded. They include legislators, lobbyists, advocates, agencies, media, and occasionally even a member of the public or two.
It is important to note that every single person in these crowded rooms defines success differently. I believe this means that the winners are the ones that define success the best. Failure simultaneously is in the back of everyone’s mind, and avoiding that can cause people to do or say some regretful things.
I don’t think I hurt anyone’s feelings this year, but in case I did, I am truly sorry.
On the last day of the session, I started searching for some expert research and advice on how to define success and it didn’t take long to come across Shawn Achor. He is a Harvard educated researcher and New York Times best selling author of Before Happiness and The Happiness Advantage. I have not read his books yet, but his Ted X talk hooked me. It was a bit of an echo chamber talk for me, because I already subscribed to his theories for success, I just had not done the research. I think he may have done enough of that for all of us already.
His theory is that our most commonly held formula for success is broken. Most of us grow up thinking that following each accomplishment is where happiness resides. For example, if we get this great job or that big raise then we will finally be happy. More often though, such an achievement just leads to an almost immediate changing of the goal and therefore happiness is then moved just out of reach again.
The regular changing of our life’s goals for achievement, while assuming that achievement is what will make us happy is actually keeping happiness from us. A related common mistake is that our competitor’s failings have some value in enhancing our lives. Celebrating a loss by the New England Patriots is briefly enjoyable, but saying it brings me any lasting happiness is a bit of an overstatement.
Maya Angelou wrote “success is liking who you are, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” I won’t attempt to think for the famous poet, but what her words say to me is that success is actually more of a process, or a byproduct of living a life in happiness. If we start our life’s goals with being happy, success will follow.
Achor talks about the effect happiness has on our businesses and organizations as a strategy to improve creativity and productivity. He writes and talks about the dopamine that is produced in our bodies from positive thinking and how it leads individuals to simply perform better. He also has the evidence to back it up.
In his Ted X talk, Achor says “the absence of disease is not health.” This clarifying thought also struck me. It’s as if our “accomplishment” in this regard is the passive success or just plain dumb luck of not being physically unwell. What is often more accurate though is that striving to live healthy, physically and otherwise, will actually lead to many desirable outcomes. While the “absence of disease” is only one of a long list of them.
As my last week in the Statehouse unfolded, I had a significant setback on a project on Wednesday afternoon. By 3:00 that afternoon, I knew I only had until noon the next day to convince a large group of legislators to change their minds. Honestly, I didn’t really think it was possible. In fact, one of the first ones I convinced told me so that very night. But I told her not to be pessimistic and I kept working.
I just decided to do my best. That actually was how I was going to define success, no matter who I convinced or what the legislative outcome turned out to be. It turns out my best was good enough to achieve the original goal. The achievement came from the first decision though, not the outcome everyone else saw. That decision actually was all I could control in the first place.
I agree with Achor that happiness is the key to success. Not the other way around.
And seeing another legislative session end for the year doesn’t hurt either. Happy sine die Indiana!