In her TED Talk "Stop Trying So Hard: Accomplish More by Doing Less," Bethany Butzer challenges the conventional belief that fulfillment and productivity require constant hustle, a never-ending to-do list, and striving for a type of success that looks shiny on the outside but may not feel good on the inside.
At Redmond, we’re not about that. Instead of the blood, sweat, and tears mentality and chasing accolades, we value Passion for Contribution, a long-term perspective, progress and momentum, and above all, pursuing our unique contribution. (We do this using a model called the Three Circles, which you can learn about here!)
Butzer proposes a values-based approach that asks you to do some reflection and look at whether you’re pursuing goals that are authentic for you, or chasing someone else’s idea of success.
- True success shouldn’t cost us our health and well-being.
- We wear our busyness as a badge of honor, but…it doesn’t really benefit us.
- Knowing your true values can help you decide what to say “yes” to and what to skip.
- Strive for downstream effort rather than upstream effort. (But know when upstream effort is necessary.)
- Sometimes, our authentic life choices contradict what others want for us.
Intrigued yet? Let’s explore those points in more detail.
How to Find Real Success
Success Shouldn’t Cost Our Health and Well-Being
Butzer begins the talk with a long list of her achievements, which include academic awards, degrees, and a prestigious job at the Harvard School of Medicine.
She was also depressed and stuck in a cycle of burnout and overwork.
Is that really success? She didn’t think so.
If your success is causing you to burn out, making you miserable, or harming you in any way, it’s probably not YOUR true version of success. Also, think about your workplace and the people you surround yourself with. This is a big reason why, at Redmond, we work to cultivate a culture that’s supportive of the whole person: body, heart, mind, and spirit.
Yes, sometimes our unique contribution is exhausting (hello, parenting) but it shouldn’t leave you chronically depleted or cause health problems, including mental illness like depression or anxiety.
As Butzer says, it’s all about “balancing effort with ease.” Life shouldn’t be a neverending uphill slog.
If your pursuit of success doesn’t actually feel like success, it might be time to make some changes.
Busyness as a Badge of Honor
“We wear our busyness like a badge of honor as if we don't feel like we're worthwhile human beings unless we're incredibly busy doing something.” - Bethany Butzer
Our society prizes busyness for busy’s sake. If you aren’t busy, everyone acts like you’re doing something wrong or you aren’t doing enough.
But what if we’re not meant to be busy all the time? What if we need some white space in our schedules? What if being unendingly busy is actually inhibiting real growth and progress?
We need time to spend with our loved ones and take care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually (around here, we call this Renewal). We need time to think, rest, and reflect. Without that time, we might end up running too fast in the wrong direction because we never stopped to ask ourselves what’s important or what we actually want.
It’s also helpful to eliminate busywork as much as possible. At Redmond, we’re constantly improving our processes and systems to reduce wasted time and effort. We don’t glorify hustle for hustle’s sake. We’re always looking for ways to multiply our efforts!
What Do You Truly Value?
If you only get one thing from this talk, we hope it’s this: know what you truly value and make sure everything you do is in line with that. This is why we set core values that guide us as an organization!
Take some time to really think about these questions. (Reflection comes in handy here.)
1: What is most important to you?
In order words, what are your values?
Butzer says, “Values are abstract goals or ideals that can be difficult to define, but there are things like freedom, authenticity, joy, happiness, stability. And we need to identify what we value because these values then serve as a North Star or a compass to help guide us in the direction of downstream effort in our lives.”
Take some time to think about your values and whether your life is currently compatible with those.
2: How do you want to feel each day?
Of course, you’re not going to feel absolutely amazing every single day no matter what you do. But generally, how do you want to feel? Fulfilled? Content? Engaged? Excited? Peaceful? Connected?
Focusing on this feeling is common among highly successful people. Butzer explains it this way:
“...these top performers had very specific ideas about how they wanted to feel every day. So, yes, they had a goal. They might have wanted to win a gold medal or a Grammy, but they were more focused on the process of getting towards that goal than the actual goal itself. …when they bumped up against obstacles towards their goals, they didn't try harder. So they didn't exert more effort. Instead, they took some time off for personal reflection and reminded themselves of how they wanted to feel every day. Newburg referred to this as ‘their dream.’ So reminding themselves of their dream then motivated them to continue towards their goals.” (emphasis added)
Moral of the story: when things aren’t going well, instead of pushing harder, take a step back to reflect on how you want to feel so you can course correct. If you are feeling burnt out, frustrated, or like your life is an uphill battle, ask yourself what's getting in the way. What values are you not being true to?
3: What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?
Morbid? Maybe. But this sheds a lot of light on how you want to live and the legacy you want to leave.
Another great resource here is Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, specifically Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind. This habit helps you figure out what’s most important to you and create a personal mission statement that will guide you throughout your life. Give it a read!
When you meet an opportunity or have a choice to make, come back to your values and ask “Does this fit with what I care about?” This will help you strive for authentic success and goals, and (mostly) filter out the stuff that will ultimately drain you.
Downstream vs Upstream Effort
Have you ever had an hour, day, week, or season of life where even the smallest things felt difficult? When you had to fight to eke out any progress and any forward movement took Herculean effort? When you were struggling, unengaged, overscheduled, or when you felt like you were paddling a boat upstream against the current, and everything was just so HARD?
That’s what Butzer calls “upstream” effort.
Conversely, have you ever had an hour, a day, or even a period in your life when things flowed and felt easy? When everything seemed to line up perfectly and stuff just HAPPENED, and your effort seemed to yield huge results? Or when you enjoyed what you were doing so much that it didn’t even feel like work?
Butzer calls that feeling “downstream effort,” when you’re working with the flow of life, and in a sweet spot where you can reach a state of flow.
“When we're engaged in downstream effort, we're still engaged in effort. We're still trying, we're rowing a boat, but we're paddling that boat downstream with the current of the water, or with the flow of life.” -Bethany Butzer
Our society bombards us with inspiring stories of blood, sweat, and tears, so we think that accomplishments must be hard-won to be worth it.
Hard work and grueling effort are not valuable in themselves. They’re only valuable if it creates results equal to or greater than the degree of effort.
Working hard to work hard is just…dumb. (Sorry, but we had to say it.)
The most effective thing to do is to put yourself in a position where your effort will yield maximum results. (By the way, “results” can be tangible things like income or items checked off a to-do list, but they can also be enjoyment, fulfillment, health, and the quality of your relationships.)
We believe that the more in line you are with your unique contribution, the easier life will feel. Work won’t feel like work. You’ll get way more progress and momentum for your efforts, and enjoy your life so much more. This doesn’t mean you’ll never be exhausted at the end of the day, but it DOES mean you’ll be excited to get up and do it again tomorrow!
When our authentic life choices contradict others’ definition of “success”
Not everyone will come around to the idea that success isn’t one-size-fits-all. Those closest to us might not understand our version of success and think we should be doing something else.
It’s easy to latch onto the approval, accolades, and admiration we might get from achieving conventional success like a big salary, a fancy title, or a corner office. (There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these things, but if the fulfillment they bring doesn’t last, are they really THAT fulfilling? they don’t actually fulfill you, what’s the point?)
Around here, there are no positions that are rewarded with executive bathrooms, or special parking spots. We don’t subscribe to the idea of the corporate ladder or narrow success tracks that only a few can follow. Instead, we encourage associates to find where they’re most helpful, because that’s where they’ll be most fulfilled.
Part of living an authentic life is learning to deal with the external pressure and do what’s right for you anyway.
“...when we engage in effort towards goals that are personally meaningful for us, our trying doesn't feel like trying, and our success feels successful regardless of what it looks like to people on the outside.” -Bethany Butzer
Trust that you know what’s best for you. When your success comes in conflict with what others want for you, ask yourself: do you want to live a truly fulfilling life, where you’re helpful to those around you and where you can make your highest contribution, or a life that looks good to someone else? Because a life that looks good doesn’t mean we’re actually making an impact.
“To Thine Own Self Be True” from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 3
Pursuing your own version of success won’t necessarily be easy, especially when you’re going against our culture’s version of success and obsession with blood, sweat, and tears.
A good place to start finding your unique contribution (rather than a pre-manufactured version of success) is by exploring your 3 Circles, which is the intersection of where you’re most helpful, what you’re wired for, and what truly fills your cup (and it's usually most helpful when done in that order!).
But living a life that’s true to YOU is the only way to live a life that’s truly meaningful and fulfilling, and where you can make a positive impact.
It’s worth it!
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