Success By Another Definition

Achieving the success we want is probably one of the most difficult challenges we’ll ever face in our lifetime. For most of us, success is often a moving target. Our current perception of our needs almost always sits center stage, giving direction to our internal focus. I say perception because we do relinquish our definition of “enough” at times and listen to others who tell us success requires more than what we have. Unfortunately, we are influenced by our surroundings. Some give in to external stressors and blame them for our inability to achieve our goals. This is known as external orientation. When we drive our own success or failure by our own actions, we call that internal orientation. Research indicates that people with a high internal locus of control, optimism and self-esteem tend to be happier and are able to deal with life difficulties in a healthier way.

In the corporate world, we often see the pursuit of success through changes in our career. Some leave their company and go to another one. Some change fields of expertise entirely, such as an engineer who becomes a manager. For one reason or another, we become dissatisfied with an aspect of our career enough to force ourselves to change it. How we perceive our locus of control has a huge impact on the direction we take in resolving the issue.

To understand this a little better, I sought out the expertise of Mark Sanborn, the author of “Up , Down or Sideways.” Below, you’ll see his analysis of why individuals engage in job change. This is only a portion of the interview, as the remainder of this interview will be woven into our next ebook, The MBA Guide to Career Change (to be released this summer).

Now, on with the interview.

Todd: Why do you think professionals are so restless?

Mark: If you’re not happy where you are, you aren’t happy where you are going. I think that one of the big career dangers is the belief that happiness is dependent on external circumstances. Research shows that happiness is based on our orientation towards life rather than what life throws at us. Shawn Achor, in his wonderful book “The Happiness Advantage,” says that we are not happy because we are successful, we are successful because we are happy. This may sound like a cute little bromide but it is based on research that shows that people who are positive and have an orientation that looks at life in a positive manner make the most of their situation and tend to perform better. They sell more, succeed more and achieve more at higher levels.

I would suggest that anybody thinking about doing a different job first think about whether they might be better served by doing the job they have now differently. This is not to say that we don’t ever need to switch employers. There are always toxic employers and jobs that don’t align with our values or skills but I think it is more often that we are suffering under the delusion that a different job is going to make us happy. I think it is about our internal orientation more than our external circumstances.

So, why are we restless? Well, the American dream is about moving onward and upward to better your lot in life. We are optimistic and want to believe there is a better opportunity out there. This is not bad but it is when our search for a better opportunity outweighs our ability to take advantage of our current opportunity. The other issue is that we use other people’s definition of success. We are either buying into a cultural definition which says a better job is one where you make more money, have more people under your authority or you travel more (or less). It’s really important for an individual to understand their own values and what success means to them. Even if you get to the top of the ladder, you may realize that you were successful but you were leaning your ladder on the wrong wall. You were successful by someone else’s definition. At the end of the day, you must be clear on what’s important to you because it will make you a little less restless potentially. Lastly, when you are searching for a new job, it will keep you focused on what you are looking for.

Thanks, Mr. Sanborn!

If you’d like to learn more about Mark Sanborn and his work, please read on.
Mark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio for leadership development. He is an award-winning speaker and the author of the bestselling books, The Fred Factor: How Passion In Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary Into the Extraordinary, You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader: How Anyone Anywhere Can Make a Positive Difference and The Encore Effect: How to Achieve Remarkable Performance in Anything You Do. His book Up, Down or Sideways: How to Succeed When Times are Good, Bad or In Between will be released by Tyndale October 2011.

To obtain additional information for growing yourself, your people and your business (including free articles),
Visit,, and To book Mark at your next event, call Helen Broder at 703-757-1204.

Guest Expert:

Todd Rhoad, MSEE, MBA is Director at BT Consulting, a career consulting firm in Altanta, and author of “Blitz The Ladder” and the soon to be released “MBA Owner’s Manual.” Todd can be reached at

We are grateful to all of the industry career experts for the top advice and experience they share with our MBA professionals. MBA Highway wouldn't be where it is today without them and their contributions.

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