“Success can be written only by you.” ~ Bruce Feiler
I’ve been thinking and writing about what’s being framed as The Age of Personalization. I initially came across the term in, Dark Horse: Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfillment, (Amazon Kindle link) by Todd Rose & Ogi Ogas. They profiled people who triumphed against the odds of life and their professions. They were dark horses — “winners nobody saw coming.”
While the stories of these dark horses were fascinating, what stood out, for me, was the discussion on how an emerging Age of Personalization — where individuality matters — is transforming the way we think about success. Rose and Ogas note that we’re moving away from wealth and status in favor of personalized “happiness and achievement,” or the choice to pursue fulfillment.
I’ve been fascinated — maybe even obsessed — with the idea that the Age of Personalization flips the concept of success to where the pursuit of personal fulfillment is the primary indicator of success in our work.
In the Age of Personalization, individuality matters. The circumstances providing fulfillment differ for each individual — there’s no such thing as one-size fits all fulfillment.
The Kaleidoscope of Success
Bruce Feiler in The Search: Finding Meaningful Work in a Post-Career World (Amazon Kindle link — no affiliation) reinforces the importance of fulfillment in our work. He notes that “the story of success we’ve been telling in America is terribly outdated.” That in fact, there is an “emerging kaleidoscope” of success that is multidimensional and multishaped, which accounts for the dynamics of the workforce and the changing nature of jobs and careers.
Feller argues for a new way to talk about work that focuses on the individualization of our experiences, rather than their generalization. This new framework occurs in a “narrative career construction,” which provides understanding of the underlying themes of our lives, and helps us write our own stories of success.
A Road Map to Finding Our Practice
Fortunately, Feller provides a tool kit to help us discover our own work stories — our practice. The heart of this tool kit are six questions to provide insight into the story of our worklives.
- Who is your who? How do we complete the sentance: “I want to be the kind of person who ______________.” Feller notes that we come across a lot of influencers throughout our lives — people whose personalities and values shaped our own outlooks. These are the characters that shape our narrative. Who are those people? How did they affect us? How do we reflect their influences?
- What is your what? I want to do work that ___________. This becomes the plot of our narrative. There’s rarely a single what; they are a collective response to key needs that drive our choices and guide our next steps. We need to pinpoint those motivations to achieve the meaning we’re seeking.
- When is your when? I’m at a moment in my life when ___________. This is the forgotten element of most work stories. Most of us rely on the outdated and linear “plan-then-implement” model of seeking work, in which we basically replace one job with the next. This assumes that we are fully formed selves that renew and improve with each opportunity. In fact, our work selves are constantly changing in response to our environment and to our internal clocks, which can toll when least expected. Our response to this question determines whether we stay where we are, or we go somewhere else.
- Where is your where? I want to be in a place that __________. This question is the setting of our work stories. All good stories are bound in place. What are the places where we thrive? Where is the ideal setting for our work stories?
- Why is your why? My purpose right now is to ______________. What is our underlying motivation? What have we been wrestling with since childhood? What is the problem we’ve been trying to solve?
- How is your how? The best advice I have for myself right now is ______________. This is the most important of the six questions. It’s how the others get operationalized — how things happen; how we’ll get from here to there. The irony is that if we answer how too soon, we’ll be trapped in the same situation as before. We won’t be fulfilled because we haven’t taken the time to self reflect and understand what actually makes us fulfilled. Only after exploring the who, what, when, and why are we ready to focus on how we actualize them.
Feller notes that the greatest impediment to a meaningful life is not what we don’t know about work, but what we don’t know about ourselves. His six question roadmap provides a way to achieve a better understanding of ourselves and our motivations.
Do the who, what, when, where, why and how questions above provide clarity in terms of meaning and fulfillment for you?
Where do your responses lead you?
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