Chasing the Look of Success

Part one of a two-part article on my six-year journey chasing the concept of modern-day success: wanting more, achieving more, and having more and the price that came with it.

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It was 4:12 p.m. when I opened the file folder on my desk. Inside were three pages describing in painful detail how I was failing and what I needed to do in the next 90 days if I wanted to avoid termination. The document in my hand was known as a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP for short), and I was in shock. I’d encountered many PIPs in my career but never imagined I’d be on the receiving end of one. I wanted to cry and scream but composed myself for appearances. Later, as I pulled out of the parking lot, I took a deep breath and burst into tears.

I am a high-achieving, high-performing female. I built my life around succeeding. How did this happen?

My dad drove a tractor-trailer for a Central Florida dairy distributor called Velda Farms. Every day, he’d wake up at four in the morning to deliver dairy products to the Orlando International Airport. One morning as my dad poured his coffee, I mustered up the courage to ask him, “Why do you wake up so early?”

Without turning around, he replied, “Those who wake up early and work hard are the ones who keep food on the table and make a life for themselves.”

From that moment forward, I equated long hours and determination with success.

A few years later, we moved to California, where he taught me a different life lesson. Every Sunday, my father left the house two hours before church to pick up other church members without access to transportation. Some of his passengers were older, some had disabilities, and some didn’t own a car. My father wanted to make sure everyone who wanted to come to church could.

My father was my model for what it meant to work hard, serve others, and contribute to something bigger than ourselves.

For most of my life, I took pride in working hard, getting things done quickly, and doing it all exceptionally well. At 24, I made the leap from service industry jobs to the corporate world and continued to find a great deal of personal satisfaction from this direct and logical model of success. And my employers and managers seemed to like my work hard, work long, work well mindset, too.

Just before my 29th birthday, I moved to Colorado and joined a $14B organization with 16,800 employees. With a never-ending supply of mission-critical initiatives and urgent projects, this was the perfect environment to prove just how hard and fast I could work.

Over the next six years, I was promoted four times before eventually landing a national director-level position – that I was confident at the time was my “dream job.” In this new role, I oversaw more than 2,000 annual hires, was responsible for multi-million dollar projects, and had more than 40 people reporting to me. I was proud of myself, and this considerable level of power and responsibility. But more than anything, I wished I could share this accomplishment with my father, who had passed just three years earlier, and who I knew would be incredibly proud.

It wasn’t long before I began to suspect the tools and thinking that had served me for so long might not be as effective at this high level. No matter how hard I worked, there was always more work to be done. Small wins were expected and no longer acknowledged. Significant successes were quickly forgotten and replaced with something else more important that needed to be tackled or moved down the field.

As someone accustomed to thriving on doing more and accumulating accolades, I began to worry. I had the dream job I’d worked so hard for, my team was incredible, and we produced excellent work. On the outside, everything looked good, but it didn’t feel good on the inside. No matter how hard I tried, I was unable to do more and impress everyone – including myself – the way I had for so many years.

It wasn’t an easy realization, but it was undeniable. I needed a new strategy. I looked for prioritization, started to ask difficult questions, and pushed back on the number of initiatives and projects thrust on our department. I placed boundaries and started letting things slide.

For the past six years, I had always found a way to do more. Now, I no longer took immediate action on initiatives sent my way. This new behavior was not well received by leadership, unsurprisingly.

I’d been given this position because I had sold myself as someone who could always do “more,” and now my inability to do so caused friction between myself and leadership, culminating on the day I was presented with my dreaded PIP.

I realized that up to this point, I had been chasing the concept of modern-day success: wanting more, achieving more, and having more and doing this had come with a price.

Something had to change.

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