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How do you define success when you’re not winning?

Either we win or we don’t win. James Carse talked about this in his book, Finite and infinite games. There are two ways to play: people play to win and people play to keep playing. Finite or infinite games. Simon Sinek picked up and ran with this theme in his own version of the title that applies to business. The concept is about the joy of playing, an intrinsic reward, versus the joy of winning, a temporary extrinsic reward.

When I interviewed Cameron Schwab, former chief executive of the Richmond Football Club, he said he had to face this question: “What is it like to win when you’re not winning?” He faced many challenges during his time at Richmond. If you are not winning the premiership, how do you define success?

This is the question I often ask leaders: How do you define success? How we respond defines how we feel about our efforts and our results.

I’ve come to realize that success is really two things: It’s the results we produce, and it’s how we feel about the process. It is an internal as well as an external measure. They are finite AND infinite games. It is the game, and the joy of playing.

I recommend all my clients to keep a success journal. In it they should record their efforts for the day and how they felt about it (the joy of playing). They can also record any goals achieved (the joy of winning). From the joy of playing we get serotonin (the neurochemical of well-being), and from the joy of winning, or reaching our goals, we get dopamine (another happy neurochemical).

The only thing that interferes with our ability to feel successful is our own mental focus. So, faced with insurmountable odds, faced with epic challenges, how do we define success?

When things are bleak, the ‘game’ feels less fun. And yet, if we wake up each day, find beauty and joy in the little moments, connect and be of service to others, then this is a good starting point to stay in the game without losing hope.

Play the game for the hell of it and savor the wins when they happen.


Related Posts:

  • How to develop a motto for your culture
  • Leadership without limits: the trap of success
  • Boundless Leadership: Why Sports Is the Worst Analogy for Leadership


PS And when you’re ready, here are three ways I can help:

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