Success vs. You? Is There a Win-Win?

The story our business culture tells us about success in business is that you can either be successful or you can have a life – but not both. The discussion storm around Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “having it all” article is swirling because it’s now apparent that this belief is not held by everyone. This is the glass-half-full way of viewing the issue, of course, because there are still plenty of people who do – thus the debate.

But in the middle of all the discussion – and I’m very grateful to Professor Slaughter for sparking it – we individuals still have to pick our way through the tough choices of doing our best work at home and giving our best selves at the office – and visa versa. Work-life balance is still a tough job and women still take the brunt of the tough choices overall. I believe this is why it is women who will begin to recraft the language around what success looks like at work and at home. But to do that, we have to stop believing the stories we’re told and decide which stories we want to tell.

That’s why I found these two short videos by successful women interesting – individually and together – as they reveal complex ways of looking at success. Ursula Burns, first black female CEO and first female CEO to succeed a female CEO does a masterful job at distinguishing between the success and fame. She declares that success is “about everybody else,” which she goes on to explain means, “being associated with greatness, not about being great.” One read of this would be that she is denying her own role in creating a great company, and yet I do not hear or sense that she’s really saying that. She is a strong and good CEO who evaluates her success by what she is producing in the world – a great company. She cannot lead a great company through the reinvention XEROX needs without calling on her own power and asserting herself to guide the way. She does not speak of putting the interests of the company ahead of or at the expense of her own. In this video she is embodying the reality that they coexist.

Arrianna Huffington, Founder of the Huffington Post, addresses this topic from a different direction when she calls on women to redefine the testosterone-saturated culture of success resulting from sleep deprivation. She does not reference it as “beauty sleep” but points out that restfulness is the secret to unlocking dormant ideas, energy and productivity within us. She calls on women everywhere to “sleep our way to the top, literally.” Like Burns, Huffington is exploring a deeper dimension of success than the knee-jerk “work harder, go higher” cultural stories would tell us. She asserts that in her experience and reality that self-care is a critical ingredient to creating great things in the world.

I enjoyed these videos from real, powerful feminine leaders who demonstrate by who they choose to be what success truly looks like. If success is anything, it is not simple and it does not fit into any of the stories culture tells us about it. As soon as you become “successful” according to cultural stories, you will discover that knot within you that has yet to be satisfied or happy, and following that clue leads you onto true success. I am enjoying my journey – what about you?

PS-One thing I really loved about Huffington’s short presentation is that it is a masterful pitch, encouraging a double-win for “type A women” and a world in crisis. She is using this small idea, getting more sleep, that might seem petty in someone else’s care, to be large and momentous for us individually and for the world. I plan to use her argument as an example of how to create influencial power through the development of good “pitching skills” in my free webinar – check it out!

Dana Theus is a leadership and change management consultant by day and an eCoach by night. She is also the founder of InPower Women and InPower Consulting, Inc., exploring The Woman Effect and the opportunities created by gender-balanced leadership styles and gender-partnered leadership teams. Contact Dana.


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