How to Leverage Success Intelligently

It feels awesome to accomplish something audacious. After weeks, months, or even years of hard work and it all finally comes together into a successful product or event you are probably riding a seriously intense wave of adrenaline and excitement. Assuming it went well, you'll probably feel like you're on top of the world, the bee's knees, or the cat's pajamas. I applaud you, I congratulate you, and I want to shake your hand.

What I don't want you to do, however, is start making plans for your next project.

Maybe it feels like a waste to not utilize this surge of motivation and excitement. What better time to plan than when you're already feeling great about yourself and your abilities? And to that I answer, "Almost any other time."

Making decisions about your future when you're on an emotional high is a good way to set yourself up for unattainable expectations and burnout. It also sets you up to neglect other areas of your life that probably need attention after the period of intense focus and dedication your current accomplishment required. Instead of launching right into the planning process of something new, I encourage you to do one, or more, of the following:

  1. Reflect: Before blindly blundering into a new project give yourself some time to reflect. Let a little bit of time lapse so you can look back at the entire process with a somewhat more objective view. What went well? What challenges were faced and how were they handled? What would you do differently next time? Give yourself time to sit and observe these reflections so you can incorporate them into future projects and endeavors. Everything you do, successful or otherwise, provides data that can be used to improve the way you go about future work.
  2. Refocus: In the weeks and days leading up to a major accomplishment you often have to narrow your focus. When the first TEDx conference I organized was getting very close to happening I had to put a lot of other normal concerns on the back burner in order to give it my full attention. I delayed hanging out with friends that I'd normally see more often. I called my family less. I put forth the minimum amount of effort to get by in my classes. The end result was that the conference was a great success and everything went well but I had to make some sacrifices in the process. It was important for me to relax afterward and identify the conscious and subconscious decisions I had made in the weeks leading up to it regarding my other commitments. I had to reach out to friends, to family, and re-dedicate myself to my academic work. In a word, I had to refocus and regain some balance to my life.
  3. Recharge: Accomplishing major projects and milestones can be exhausting. While that exhaustion is often masked by the adrenaline and euphoria of accomplishment, eventually you'll come down from that high and the true state of your mental and physical health will hit you. That's why it's important to embrace rejuvenation immediately after a major success instead of immediately launching into a new endeavor.

This basic concept should be applied to both ends of the emotional spectrum. Just as it's a bad idea to make major decisions when you're emotionally high, making decisions when you're feeling abnormally low is also a recipe for disaster. That's not to say there's anything wrong with feeling particularly positive or particularly negative -- it's a fact of being human that you will vascillate between emotional states over time. However, because these are transient states they don't necessarily provide the surest foundation for important decisions. Making a decision when you're emotionally high is likely to result in unrealistic expectations while making a major decision when you're emotionally low is likely to result in overly pessimistic and negative expectations.

Embrace your success but don't let it set you up for failure. Embrace your sadness but don't let it hold you back. Find your center and use it to make realistic, optimistic, and attainable goals for your future.

Photo by jimmiehomeschoolmom