Whenever Joyce Roche talks about what it takes to succeed, the CEO of Girls Inc. recalls her days as an aspiring marketing executive at Avon.
“There were only three other women in the department, and our mistakes were legendary,” Roche says. “At first we dressed like, talked like, and, to a great extent, acted like the men who were in power.
“I’ll never forget this one woman who had the worst mouth I had ever heard on anyone in my life. Obviously, she was emulating more of a rough male demeanor, but it was so offensive that, ultimately, she was [fired].”
Roche’s cautionary tale is a perfect example of how our best attempts at self-improvement or self-empowerment can sometimes yield the results of our worst nightmares. It’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but, as Roche’s example illustrates, it can also be the fastest road to misery if, in the process of modeling your life after another, you lose the very best facets of yourself.
Trying to achieve success on someone else’s terms (even if that someone is a worthy mentor or role model) is just one of the ways we can sabatoge our own efforts to negotiate challenges and achieve objectives. One of the most important keys to achieving external success is to be internally directed and aware4to be able to gaze unflinchingly into the mirror of our minds, in order to recognize and take steps to correct those difficulties that lie not without, but within us.
Sandra Steen, president of her own San Antonio-based consulting firm, Sandra Steen & Associates Inc., shares several other approaches to life and work that, if we’re not very careful, can do us more harm than good:
Living by default, instead of by design. “The bottom line on living a fulfilled life is that you consciously design it,” says Steen. “Having a clear purpose is like having an efficient day planner. It prioritizes our actions, it’s an alarm clock that wakes us up to our passions and to what really matters to us. It also tells us what to say no to, which is important because when we don’t know that, we spend our days in a whirlwind of wasted time.”
Not understanding the critical difference between criticism and appraisal. Self-appraisal lifts you up; self-criticism drags you down. When we evaluate ourselves, we often think about everything we’re doing wrong, and try to change only those things. That’s a big mistake. “We have to realize that improvement doesn’t come with the elimination of our weaknesses. It comes with the expansion of our strengths.”
Confusing being “successful” with living with purpose. We tend to assume that people who drive nice cars, live in nice houses, and have expensive things are living with purpose. But one has nothing to do with the other. If there’s a core disconnect between what you’re doing and how you feel doing it, you’re missing your purpose.
“I once talked to a very successful pastor who was unhappy, and he confided to me that