Forget Success, Think Satisfaction

by Alli Polin on June 14, 2016

forget success think satisfaction

My client, Marc, and I had been working together for almost a year as he grew his business from an idea into a thriving consulting practice. At the start of every coaching conversation, I’d ask him for the agenda. This week’s was a surprise. “I don’t think I want to be a success.”

I didn’t overreact and bonk him on the head with everything he told me he wanted to create and how far he’d come. Instead, I invited him to unpack the agenda a bit. Clearly I was missing something.

“Tell me more.”

It turned out that he was at a conference the week before where everyone and their grandmother was asking him about his growth plans. When would he contract out some of the work, hire other employees, expand his offering? The pressure was enormous, but it’s pressure that turns a stone into a diamond.

Marc was clearer than ever.

“I left my corporate position because I was traveling non-stop and wanted to be there for my girls and my wife. I don’t want to create the next generation of the Firm I just left; I want to do work I love and create a robust life that’s well funded. That’s it.”

Aha! Marc’s definition of success was not the same as the other conference-goers who were primarily focused on expansion. Marc, on the other hand, was in it for the satisfaction.

Climbing the Ladder of Success

Most people want to get ahead and climb higher as if somehow, once they reach the right level, everything will fall into place.

I once had a client who told me that he was willing to sacrifice his family time now and make work his top priority so when his little kids are older, he’d already be a success, at the top of the org chart, and be able to have the time for them. It doesn’t work that way.

When I was promoted to VP, I didn’t have more time than when I was a manager. Title doesn’t equate to flexibility to live your life. Yes, I could work from home more easily but beyond that, work was go-go-go 24/7. If anything, I saw my family less and was on the road more.

There Is No Ladder of Satisfaction to Climb

For some, success is something that’s only recognized from the outside looking in at your title and accomplishments. Satisfaction is an inner game.

Marc realized that for him, bigger wasn’t better. He valued saying no to work that was out of his sweet spot, working with clients he loved and feeling stretched. He didn’t need CEO, SVP or Director of Awesomeness on his business card to do that.

Small business isn’t right for everyone, but the Success v. Satisfaction concept still applies even if you’re working within an organization.

Which statements resonate with you?

You feel great about your day-to-day work.
You are paid well but hate your day-to-day work.
You love your colleagues.
You hate your colleagues but just got a promotion, so it doesn’t matter.
Your boss hints that if you kick up your hours, good things are ahead.
You coach your child’s baseball team.
You go on amazing long vacations.
You go on luxury long weekends because you would never take off for a week.
You don’t long for something more.
You’re invited to the senior leadership team meeting.
You end every day with two Advil and a beer (or wine)
You sleep well.
You get to represent your boss on important conference calls.
You are trusted with a client relationship.
You’re challenged.
You lead a large team.
You make a difference to others daily.
You are viewed by others as a leader by virtue of your title.
You are a leader with your influence, confidence, and creativity.

Satisfaction is subjective and so is success. Yes, if you ask ten people for the definition of career success, a similar picture may emerge, but satisfaction is deeply personal. Only you know what makes you feel truly satisfied. Forget success in isolation, it’s time to reframe the conversation giving full weight to satisfaction.

It’s scary to think about making a change when you’ve been on the climb for years. It’s what you know. It makes sense, and everyone you know is doing it. It’s also easy to let other’s view of success become your own and not notice when your individual thinking becomes group-think.

Let’s drop the idea that the top of a ladder is the ultimate achievement in life. Imagine that when you get to the top you notice the ocean of possibilities that would bring you great personal satisfaction. You don’t have to wait – you can dive in now and have career success.

Much like the work-life balance conversation, it’s time openly have the satisfaction-success conversation with yourself and with others. Be brave enough to discover and own your answers to create a life of meaning and let go of achievement that’s measured exclusively on someone else’s scale.


What are you willing to tolerate? What are you willing to choose? What tradeoffs are you willing to make?

How do you define success?

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

John Thurlbeck June 14, 2016 at 7:08 am

Hi, Alli – loved the post. My only comment – I think I’d substitute the word ‘Happiness’ for ‘Satisfaction’.
Hoping all is well with you my friend?
I am enjoying a great balance between work and personal stuff.
Kind regards
John 🙂


Alli Polin June 14, 2016 at 8:04 am

Thanks, John! Very interesting. I definitely think they go hand in hand. You have me thinking and I’m grateful.

~ Alli


Terri Deuel June 14, 2016 at 8:55 am

Hi Alli,

Great points about the myth that satisfaction / happiness are tied to external success. Research suggests that only 10% of happiness comes from outcomes. Thus to your point, satisfaction / happiness has to be prioritized each day and not pursued as something to reach when X, Y and Z are accomplished.



Alli Polin June 14, 2016 at 10:11 am

That’s an important statistic on happiness. We like to hang our hats on outcomes but that’s not what’s going to have the biggest impact on our satisfaction or long-term happiness. Happiness and satisfaction are manifested in our daily choices – not something that maybe, possibly, we hope happen in the future.

Many thanks for adding your insight, Terri!

~ Alli


Terri Klass June 14, 2016 at 9:57 am

Loved your satisfaction vs success analysis because it is at the core of whether we are following our best life.

Although some of us are not able to jump off the hamster wheel in our careers, we certainly can bring meaning to our jobs. I think for me building deeper relationships at work is so helpful. People can help us gain perspective through sharing personal stories. If we can lead by not keeping our personal worlds so separate from our work worlds it may bring us more satisfaction. We are one person with many sides to share.

Thanks Alli and will share today!


Alli Polin June 14, 2016 at 10:14 am

I agree, Terri. For most people, it’s bringing meaning to where we are that will create the shift from chasing success to satisfaction and increased happiness where we are. I’m with you on the power of building personal relationships by sharing stories. When we have meaningful connections, it deepens our commitment and engagement. It feels great to work towards a shared goal with people we care about and care about us too. Satisfaction on the rise!

Thanks, Terri!

~ Alli


Gary Gruber June 14, 2016 at 10:13 am

Having “retired” about 5 years ago, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on what made my work life as satisfying as it was successful. I can’t honestly say that it was balance but more that I chose what I wanted to do, where and when at least most of the time. I followed my deep interests (passion) made sure that my values were intact and in practice with those places and people where I invested my time, energy and talent and finally that I had the courage to step off a few times into uncharted territory. It was a great ride and I wouldn’t trade it for much of anything that I know. Now it’s a different game and just as adventuresome and rewarding. Life is good!


Alli Polin June 14, 2016 at 10:18 am

Sounds pretty juicy and fabulous to me too, Gary. Here’s to creating a life of success and satisfaction moving forward too.

Appreciate the reminder about values as well. Hard to be satisfied or happy when our values are getting stomped on left and right. Standing with integrity is key.




John Bennett June 14, 2016 at 10:44 am

I’ve always believed that satisfaction has to precede success, a necessary component of success. The important consequence of the pursuit of satisfaction is that there are realities associated that pursuit. One that arises so often is the financial reality. My beliefs in this regard are most likely controversial for some: Keeping the pursuit of satisfaction first will likely impact the personal definition of financial success as well as the timeline for reaching financial success; but satisfaction is, as noted, such an important component – but never an absolute deterrent to – that financial success. As I also noted, controversial for some people…

I have no idea if this makes any sense to anyone else. It was difficult to put in words – but so honest and real for me!!!


Alli Polin June 14, 2016 at 10:59 am

Believe it or not, it makes a lot of sense. Financial success and personal and professional satisfaction are not mutually exclusive. We run into trouble when we chase $$ instead of creating meaning. When our life and work is meaningful, we lean into our experience in powerful ways and for some the dollars follow… and not for others. Still, in the end, we can be content with what we’ve created.

Thanks, John! Even though I wrote this piece, I’m continuing to ponder and your comments will be a part of my noodling.

~ Alli


Christopher June 14, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Hi all I have to comment is like your satifaction in what you do can influence people and drive you to success in other word success is just the way you make your work more attractive or impressionant to people and know what to give to your fan when they want It


Alli Polin June 14, 2016 at 7:03 pm

Greatly appreciate your comment, Christopher! Thanks for adding to the conversation.

~ Alli


LaRae Quy June 14, 2016 at 2:08 pm

LOVE this article, Alli! And this phrase: “For some, success is something that’s only recognized from the outside looking in at your title and accomplishments. Satisfaction is an inner game.”

So true! And it’s something that I’ve been working on myself…I have opportunities to write and publish books via a publisher with a huge marketing plan—but I love spending time with family, friends, and community. Do I want to undergo the stress and travel that a book promotion entails? Do I want to be a paid speaker and travel still more?

While success can look alluring from a distance, the real answer must come from within…


Alli Polin June 15, 2016 at 8:54 pm

I recently was contacted for a keynote speaking opportunity in the USA. I’d be speaking and on a panel for a total of 1.5 hours but would be away from my family, work and life for a minimum of 5-7 days (it takes a long time to get there and back and then there’s jet lag…). It would be fun, it would be good for my business, but not so much for my life. I declined.

I’m inspired by your story too. We have hard choices and without reflection, they’re impossible to make in service of living our best life.

Thanks, LaRae!

~ Alli


Jon Mertz June 14, 2016 at 9:36 pm


Trade-offs is what we make. Too often, we choose things that don’t deliver true satisfaction or happiness. A recent book makes this point, and the title says it all – “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?” We need to make that trade-offs that deliver happiness, and your statements provide a way to test ourselves.




Alli Polin June 15, 2016 at 8:55 pm

Yup. Trade-offs. Life is full of choices – like one big living flow chart. Everything takes us somewhere and it’s important to be clear on the destination.

Thanks for the book recommendation too!

~ Alli


Ingrid June 16, 2016 at 3:07 am

Loved this post Alli. The best thing I ever did was walk away from the traditional work force and the corporate 9-5, 24/7. I’m now doing what I love, writing for a living. And enjoying every moment of it, challenging as it can sometimes be.


Alli Polin June 16, 2016 at 3:56 am

Is it appropriate for me to say I’m jealous? Then again, if I don’t like my choices, the beauty is I get to choose again. 🙂

Thanks, Ingrid!

~ Alli


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