Taking Stock

I heard from an old friend and former colleague of mine last week. We had not communicated in at least four years and her electronic “Are You Still Out There?” call was most welcome. We did the usual catching up, sharing the latest on family, work, hobbies. As I updated her on my life and career these past few years, the years in which I left Corporate America to start my own business, I found myself honestly amazed at my recent history. By all objective measure, I’ve accomplished a great deal since striking out on my own. I don’t write this to brag. Looking back leaves me truly amazed at all that has transpired, especially because I spend most of my time thinking about what I haven’t achieved…yet.

Yet.

It’s a dangerous word, one that often captures an underlying vein of disappointment and dissatisfaction. Yet keeps one from taking stock, reflexively downplaying the current situation while secretly protecting oneself from perceived future pain. Yet is a misguided emotional insurance policy.

“I love my job yet…”

“I am happy with my progress yet…”

“I’m in a good place, focusing on what I have yet to do…”

Each utterance adds a flavor of lack to what could be stated clearly as a positive. “I love my job.” “I am happy with my progress.” “I’m in a good place.”

Why do we do this?

Ambition is a tricky thing; too little and your dreams remain only dreams, too much and you never allow yourself the simple satisfaction of recognizing a job well done. Ambition without satisfaction is like hiking in the woods with a phantom bear at your heel. How can you enjoy the hike if you are constantly on the run?

We professionals believe deeply in the virtue of ambition, mythologizing the “fire-in-the-belly” that leads to success. Quite simply, mediocrity feels bad. Success, on the other hand, feels pretty damn good. If success feels so good, why do we allot more time to driving forward than we do to reflecting back? Why don’t we give ourselves the gift of satisfaction every once in a while? As Minda Zetlin, business and technology writer, noted in Inc., celebrating the achievement of goals – even, and especially smaller ones – keeps you in balance. As Zetlin observes, there is no final endpoint to ambition so you should carve out space to observe your progress along the way. In other words, keep your ambition in balance.

The danger of “yet” is hitting me at a particularly timely point. Hours from now I’ll usher in another new year, and quite honestly I am looking forward to it. This past year has had its share of unfulfilled ambitions, for honest and necessary reasons. I’m sure that’s why “yet” feels slightly sour on my tongue. I’ve been working at my ambitions long enough to know that the realization of my plans does not lie entirely in my own hands. It shouldn’t take a message to an old friend to remind me that ambition is met with hard work, planning, a healthy dose of luck and good timing.  In truth, even with setbacks, my ambitions are met far more often than I realize. “Yet” protects me from nothing, save my ability to realize my ambitions unencumbered.

Facing down a new year, I’m ready to take up the hike again, knowing it takes a while from base camp to summit. I’ll leave the phantom bear in the car as I wonder at the hidden lakes, glorious ridges and silent forests I’ll encounter along the way. I’ll make sure to take breaks to refuel, rest and enjoy the scenery, taking regular stock of where I am, where I’ve been and, happily, where I still want to travel. All this, without a single “yet” in sight.

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Doret Pool January 13, 2016 Reply

    I have no doubt that you will continue to be successful, Kristina. The growth I see from when we worked together is phenomenal. In addition, I’m glad you are planning on taking time to “smell the roses” and enjoy your accomplishments.

    To add to the “yet,” I think one of the things that I have learned is how I measure my accomplishments. As a retiree and outside of the work world, I’m learning to not let the numbers of a scale or electronic devise tell me how I’m doing in being healthy. Rather, I’m letting the baggy pants, extra energy, and new places I visit support my feeling of wellness. That feeling has allowed me to let the “yet” go and move forward to the next adventure.

  2. Author

    Doret – Thank you so much for your wonderful comment. I applaud your determination to live your life, measure your health and realize your happiness intrinsically rather than through external markers. It’s the ability to “know” when something is right, and celebrate it, that brings the truest sense of satisfaction. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and insight.

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