This word “success” and the difference between “successful” and achieving your highest potential

I changed the title of my blog inspired by the original article on LinkedIn, which is titled “The Difference Between Successful and Very Successful People.” Great article but I have a hangup about this word “success.” By using that very word of “success,” the myths this article break is already inherent.

One of the myths this article breaks is that pseudo-bragging of “I’m so busy” which is not that impressive. If you keep rebuffing friends and family with that excuse, it’s dismissive, possibly rude, and definitely not bond-forming.

Truly successful people make time for those things that are important to them. And I would add, important to them at a given time. Although attention should always be paid to these parts of your life, sometimes your marriage or relationship needs more attention than usual, sometimes your children do, sometimes a deadline forces you to work later hours, and sometimes your health must take priority. But it can’t be one thing all the time, all day and night. Learn to say “no,” learn to delegate, learn to let go.


Another myth broken in that article is the “too busy to sleep.” Studies show that the most successful people sleep well. They may take several naps and then sleep 6 hours or take 8 to 8.5 hours of a full night’s sleep but they sleep. Sleep is critical to keep the brain at its highest efficiency. You are doing yourself a disservice if you think that somehow sleeping less is proving anything. It will ruin your health and make you perform less than your best.

Finally, what’s not stated in that article is the definition of success. Study after study shows that those who live in stable countries and aren’t worrying about this month’s rent (I always have to add that caveat because those two groups constitute most of the world), show remarked happiness by doing something meaningful. As a writer, I would’ve long ago given up if success meant my own TV show or an Oscar or a best seller. If writers hinged their perception of talent or merit or hard work on that type of result, most writers would be not successful. But we know that’s not true for writers or any other artist, activist, etc.

It’s more productive, and actually scientifically and socially proven to lead to a healthier and more fulfilled life, if you define success as having purpose or meaning. People leave high powered jobs to be a full time parent. Their success now is defined by being their for their children and (hopefully) their community — that is what they define as being meaningful.

success-happiness-streetsignsThe New York Times today has an article by a philosophy professor, Daniel Haybron, “Happiness and its Discontents,” citing this relationship between happiness, and purpose. There are people, the author states, suffering in countries with governments stomping on human rights but they believe their work is meaningful. There are poor people, millions of them, he adds, living and having families and finding their corner of happiness.

I mention this article because success is only important because it promises happiness. Financial stability gives healthcare and buys homes and enables retirement plans and affords a vacation here and there. Success legitimizes unique talent or power or skill in addition to financial prowess. But more than that, it promises that we will be happy. Notice though that in Mr. Haybron’s article nor in any study on happiness, success is never mentioned. Rarely is financial prowess even. Worth keeping in mind as you navigate your definition of success.


A successful pitch could depend on the pitch of your voice

woman_speakingMost professions have male dominated professional spaces, so I loathe to write about modulating your voice. However…

There is now some basis for having a lower pitch in professional settings. In this New York Times article, “She Turned Her Upspeak Down a Notch,” the author, Jessica Grose, notes that her 31 year old self had a 12 year old voice mainly because all her sentences sounded like questions (an upspeak). This translates not only in sounding younger but in sounding uncertain, which is professionally damaging.  It made the author more accepted by others because it conveyed friendliness but wasn’t perceived as sounding authoritative.

In “Why you need to pitch it right,”  a 2013 study by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business showed that deeper voices are considered more effective or better for leadership roles (see Darth Vader). So much so that CEO’s with deeper voices got more pay, longer tenures, and larger assets.

So is it time to start drinking whiskey and smoke cigarettes? Not quite.

Women are a bit screwed because though low voices are great professionally – depending, of course on your profession – most women don’t have deeper voices and don’t want them on a personal level. Most women have higher voices and it has physiological as well as societal reasons. Babies and kids find more comfort with higher voices (hello Elmo). Men tend to regard higher voices as being more maternal (see previous sentence) and more feminine, which aids and abets the courting process for heterosexuals.

Being considerate of others or asking opinions is also viewed as less than, yet it’s highly desirable in social relations where women excel. The director Penny Marshall, with a string of Oscar nominated films and box office hits like “Big” to her name, said that she’d ask opinions of others around her, not because she didn’t know what she wanted but that was just her approach. She quickly stopped doing that when she became AWARE that it was viewed as being indecisive.

The key here is BALANCE.  Ms. Grouse went to an executive speech coach who created AWARENESS in her. She got rid of fillers (the “um’s” and “you know’s”). She did adapt her voice but didn’t change it so much as to get rid of what she valued, i.e. her enthusiasm and passion for a topic.

Two decades as the only female leader in the Western world. Learn to love the shrill.
Two decades as the only female leader in the Western world. Learn to love the shrill. 

Even the Iron Lady herself, the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, went to the Royal National Theatre’s speech coach when she was told by her team that her voice came off as too “shrill.”

Sadly, there are actually not enough female CEO’s to even have a study on them, but whether you’re trying to get something done from contractors and vendors to run your family and home or you’re running a Fortune 100 company, the Livemint article notes one gem to tuck away:

A simple tip to achieve a deeper tone and a better voice presence is offered by Kedar Dunakhe, who is voice trainer at the Pune-based Indian Voice-Overs. “Always speak slowly, no matter what.”

Slow, steady, no fillers, and no upspeak — and knowing what the hell you’re talking about — will win the race. And the pitch.