Today, my friend Christine sent me a link to this Quora post: What are the reasons some people get promoted and others don’t? I was happy she sent it, since I’m only in my second month at my first “real” job, post-startup attempt, but a thought crept up on me: I hadn’t even thought about a promotion.
And then after lingering perhaps a little too long on twitter, I also realized that I think my generation, including myself, is confused about what it means to be accomplished. And I think we’re even more confused about what we want to accomplish… especially when we talk about our careers. I can think of plenty of scenarios in which the verb makes sense: “I accomplished going to the gym 5 times this week” or “I accomplished answering all my emails.” But no one says “I accomplished a career.”
When we use this phrase as a signifier of advancement and/or status in career, we automatically place people on that invisible ladder we all picture in our mind’s little illustrator. But “accomplished”, to me, is a little murky. What do we mean when we refer to other people as “accomplished?” If someone exits his/her company, does that make him/her accomplished? If a woman has three higher degrees, is she considered an accomplished person? Does having certain bylines qualify a writer as accomplished? What separates the rest of us from the accomplished ones?
Good ol’ dependable Merriam-Webster says to “accomplish” is:
1 : to bring about (a result) by effort <have much toaccomplish today
2: to bring to completion :fulfill <accomplish a job
3: to succeed in reaching (a stage in a progression) <would starve before accomplishing half the distance — W. H. Hudson †1922>
That second definition stuck out as odd. I don’t think I’ve ever said or heard other people ever say they “accomplished a job” unless they had successfully followed through on an order for a hit. And yet, most of us –– the lucky ones, anyway –– have jobs, whether corporate, startup, freelance or otherwise. What are we doing there? What is the big End Goal? (And if you say retirement, get up and walk out of whatever job you’re at. NOW). Because that last definition, number 3, is the one that I can’t stop reading. It basically tells us that to accomplish something, we should have arrived at a stage in a progression; somewhere further along or higher above where we were before, on our way to some end result.
WHAT IS THE END RESULT? That’s the question I’m asking myself and I want to ask you, because I’m genuinely curious.
What is your End Goal: to make gobs and boatloads of money? To be known and to leave a legacy? To have lots of Twitter followers and get invited to cool parties? To have a title that involves / starts with the letter C? (By the way, I used to think the “C-suite” was a real place). Because back in the 50s, to be “accomplished” meant to settle comfortably into the “American dream”, an illusion that kept everyone coloring inside the lines. Find a spouse, get married, have some kids, work 9-5, buy a car and keep your opinions to yourself.
Our generation is the antithesis of this, so now we’re all scrambling to redefine success and our path to it. And while some of us are never satisfied, others are quick to look at our Twitter follower counts or reblogs as a quantifier of importance and (the now overused word) “influence”. External validation ≠ accomplishment.
I currently struggle with my own ideas of accomplishment. In fact, I keep trying to materialize lists or ideas of what Success looks like to me, but I honestly just don’t know. I just want to feel like the 3rd definition: I want to accomplish SOMETHING that moves me forward, that pushes me further, that does not exist in a vacuum or a dark corner, but that also involves other people, that advances myself but also other people. ‘Cause counting money in a hammock on an exotic island would be fun for like, a day. So I’m constantly thinking about what this is and how I can do it and who will be there. I probably need to chill out.
I’ve repeatedly lusted after and daydreamed about each of the above example End Goals, but none of them tempt me enough to take action to get there (money, notoriety, a title, a legacy). I want to be so motivated by curiosity and passion and challenge that I have no other choice but to climb, kick, research, ask and force my way up that imaginary rung or next level. And that’s when I realized: a promotion, whether for the accolades or the bonus, just doesn’t get me excited on its own, and I have to be ok with that. There has to be more behind it.But maybe I’m the odd one out. Is a promotion, money, or social cool points enough to get you to NOT press snooze in the morning? If so, please share.
As cliche as it sounds, I do think that being “accomplished” means you get to wake up and go do shit you LOVE. This doesn’t mean your every day is filled with fun and smiles and happy sunshine fuzzy feelings, but that’s the beauty of passion: if you’re motivated to be better at <insert your passion> and solve problems and create, there is no End. There’s just more “stages of progression” to reach, forever and ever, amen. So maybe accomplishment just means you never stop moving.