What’s your measure for success at work?
Somewhere in the back of my mind I carry around a little scorecard for success at work. “How was your day today?” my husband will ask me over dinner. To answer his question, I take out my little mental scorecard and review how many boxes I’ve checked. There’s one box marked “productivity.” How many documents did I complete today? How many emails did I send? If the answer was “a lot” then I say I had a pretty good day.
Another box is titled “performance.” So I think back to my interactions on the job today. Did a colleague respond to my email with an “Awesome, thanks”? Did my boss like the suggestions I made in staff meeting? If my performance is high, then it’s been a good day.
Work Isn’t Always Neat and Tidy
The problem with my scorecard is that the most important work I do doesn’t fit neatly into boxes.
For example, my day may start with a difficult conversation about my company’s strategic direction. A colleague may challenge me to rethink my assumptions. Maybe I need to scrap the project I’ve spent months working on and start over at the drawing board.
If that’s been my day, then certainly something productive happened. But I didn’t finish any documents or fire off any emails. My scorecard is left blank. I feel unaccomplished, and maybe even a little empty when I recount my activities over dinner.
Or what if my morning meeting begins with a coworker breaking down because she doesn’t know how she can get her project done? What if I spend an hour listening to her concerns and brainstorming resources to help her? If I spend my day patting someone else’s back rather than getting pats on mine for good performance, my “performance” column falls dangerously low. At dinnertime I’ll think, “I need to be more successful tomorrow.”
Maybe it’s not my work activities that need to change. Maybe if I want to feel more successful at work, I need to reevaluate my scorecard.
A New Scorecard for Success
I recently spoke with author Nicholas Pearce, whose new book, The Purpose Path: A Guide to Pursuing Your Authentic Life’s Work, encourages readers to develop a new scorecard for success. Over his career as both a pastor and an executive coach, Pearce has observed the way people define success for themselves impacts both their career choices and their ultimate enjoyment of work.
“Defining success is a critical question against which the rest of our lives are built,” he told me. “It is the question of: How are we trying to score points? Many of us are using society’s definition of success as our metrics. We’re thinking about larger homes, faster cars — all these sorts of things that we use to measure our success vis-à-vis other people.”
Unfortunately, these metrics don’t add up to more fulfillment in our lives. When we’re always striving for the next trophy, our scorecard is never filled, and we’re rarely satisfied.
“What I’ve seen in many of the leaders I’ve had the opportunity to work with is that they were successful in climbing ladders quickly, but those ladders were leaning against the wrong walls,” Pearce warned. “They spent so much time trying to score points on other people’s metrics, and they were successful in doing so. But one day they woke up and looked at themselves in the mirror and recognized that against the scorecard of their own soul, they had done absolutely nothing.”
According to Pearce, creating a new scorecard for success is the foundation of finding meaning in your work. If your scorecard isn’t measuring the things that make a difference, it’s time to trade in your old way of counting for a new one.
Creating New Measurements
Exchanging old benchmarks for better ones is a fundamental concept in the Bible. “The last will be first and the first will be last” Jesus said, telling his followers to throw away their old concepts of what made for success (Matt 20:16).
When the boxes marked material gain weren’t bringing people peace, Jesus told them to prioritize “the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33).
Similarly, the author of the letter to the Romans asked his listeners to replace common definitions of performance with new standards from God.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).
A renewed mind means a different scorecard for success. So, what might a new scorecard look like?
“My approach to success is all about faithful stewardship of what God has given,” Pearce said of the metrics he’s identified for himself. Each person’s scorecard will be influenced by their own unique circumstance, gifts, and the issues God puts on their hearts. For Pearce, his major question is whether he’s used the circumstances of his life, “the opportunities, the favor, the influence, the access,” and done the best that he could with these resources each day.
Pursuing People and Peace
My conversation with him inspired me to rethink my metrics of “productivity” and “performance,” and add more God-inspired checkboxes to my scorecard.
One area that was notably absent from my original scorecard was relationships. Relationships are so important that Jesus put “Love your neighbor as yourself” right up there on his priority list with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Matt 22:37–39).
Using the relationship benchmark, a successful day for me now includes connecting with other people and listening to their concerns. If I’m building up the people around me so we can all succeed, then according to my new scorecard my work has been a success.
Another metric that was absent from my original scorecard was peace.
Romans 14:19 says “Let us then pursue what makes for peace.” But rarely did I put peace first in my list of priorities.
When I ran around chasing productivity goals, every day was about meeting deadlines, forestalling emergencies, and worrying “What am I forgetting? What else do I need to get done today?”
Adding peace to my mental scorecard means I now take time to pause, reflect, and pray when I’m transitioning from one work task to another. I make it as important to invite God into the start of my work as celebrating when any given project is finished. There’s no quick box I can check for “getting my success scorecard right.” It’s an ongoing process of reexamining my old benchmarks and asking whether I’m measuring what I really want to achieve. But, in the end, if I’m successful at anything I want to be successful at this. I want to score on what really matters.