Recipe for Success Is Not Hard Work
By Cindy Ivanac-Lillig, Director of Media Relations, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
From the moment we are held outside the womb, we receive society’s messages on what success looks like and what life choices are valued by others. These messages come from our family, our friends, school, movies, etc. These norms stare at us from our Facebook feeds and haunt us as we make “good” and “bad” decisions in the little and big parts of our lives. These messages are powerful because they are invisible and well-intentioned. Only, they don’t hold the true secret to success.
If we are lucky enough to go to college, we are told that there are good careers to explore for a balanced family life, for job stability, for different lifestyles, for money, and even for overcoming our families’ generational struggles. Since we try to plan our lives to ensure some level of happiness, we want to make “good” choices. It makes sense that we are programmed to internalize the value of all of these “good” decisions. It is only after almost two decades of work that I have found most of these truths to be untrue. I have met women with children who are pilots and investment bankers; and unlike in the movies, they aren’t panging for balance. People who are truly successful exude joy, challenge, and connection. They are likely better parents, employees, and fellow citizens because of it.
When I was younger, I used to think that if you work hard and make “good” choices early on, you would reap the fruit of that labor in happiness and success later in life. After all, who could argue with the saying, hard work pays off, right? The issue is that your own success is not an objective assessment about what is valuable to others. Success is a very intimate thing; it isn’t something others can observe. The earlier you begin to recognize those things that bring you joy, meet people that challenge you, and read stories that challenge your understanding of the world, the better. If success is some mixture of joy, challenge, and connection to others, it may be harder to achieve than simply making the “right” choices but has a greater chance of success—pun intended.
So, what practical things can you do now to help you be successful in life and in your life’s work? Pursue those things in school and outside of school that challenge you. Look for the things that are hard for you. Ask your advisors and professors what they think would challenge your skillset. Ask for help even when you don’t think you need it. You will need the practice in order to overcome the fear of asking when the time comes that you really need it. Meet new people and network to learn what they do and what brings them joy. Network not only for a job, but for a different perspective. Read a novel with rich characters, who will allow you to learn about your own inner truths as you process their struggles and inherent human contradictions.
There are plenty of jobs out there, but we need you to uncover your truths and add your talents to the world in ways that challenge you and that challenges all of us and what we believe. You have everything you need to be a great success. In fact, we are all counting on it.
Posted February 28, 2020
Career Conversations is presented by the Stuart School of Business Career Management Center.