A Kaleidoscope for Success

Harvard Business Review (HBR) researchers uncovered four components of lasting success:

  • Happiness
    (feelings of pleasure or contentment about your life)
  • Achievement
    (accomplishments that are valued and recognized by others)
  • Significance
    (the sense that you’ve made a positive impact on others)
  • Legacy
    (a way to establish your values or accomplishments so they help others in the future).

The researchers found that these four factors create the backbone of how people pursue and enjoy enduring success. They must be regularly integrated within the spheres of self, family, work, and community. If any one of the components is removed, it will no longer feel like “real” success.

People can create this interaction within a single event, or by juxtaposing activities. Shifting gears to take time for something enjoyable in the middle of a high-stress period or finding ways to give back to the community while pursuing a path of self-advancement can help us find this balance.

It is said that true success lies in “the reasoned pursuit of just enough.” This principle challenges the popular opinion that success is about breaking through limitations. Instead, those who experience real satisfaction actually do so by deliberately imposing limits. They can focus intensely on one task until it gives them a sense of satisfaction, then put it aside and jump to the next category with renewed energy.

Effective leaders (see Nonprofit Leadership Academy) can anticipate what is required in all four dimensions of success, despite pressures to deliver to the maximum in just one. The burned-out hedge-fund manager needs to realize that scaling back his achievement goals is not a paralyzing prospect of loss or failed productivity. Readjusting the level of energy he puts into that category is part of a larger picture that expands the other categories and enables more sustained productivity in the long run. It requires creative thought and versatility.

The HBR researchers compared this kind of vision of a successful life to a kaleidoscope.  Its four chambers—happiness, achievement, significance, and legacy—await the vivid pieces of our choices and fulfilled goals.  When these are put into motion, like the turning cylinder of the kaleidoscope, they create a pleasing vision of patterned proportionality. The kaleidoscope’s continued ability to delight relies on our holding the pattern up to the light and turning the chambers to allow the colorful chips to fall differently, just as we need to assess and make adjustments to our life to ensure that no chamber gets too much or too little of our attention.  Feeling deep satisfaction in each category strengthens the ability to turn away from one category when another needs attention because we aren’t anxious about having neglected any one of them for too long.