“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” — Marilyn Strathern
There is a law in statistics known as Goodhart’s law, named after the economist Charles Goodhart, which proposes that people often focus on the wrong target, mistakenly believing it was the right metric.
As an example, a manager of a call center may make the target the number of calls made, believing that the number of calls made will translate to sales.
The people who make the most calls then are the ones awarded, even though a sheer number of calls may or may not translate to the real goal: which may be pleasing the customer or number of sales.
This is rewarding A while trying to get B.
Why does this matter?
According to Dan Sullivan, the founder of Strategic Coach, the reason most people don’t succeed long-term is that they are more interested in status than growth.
Be honest with yourself.
Why do you really want what you want?
Why do you put in all of the hours?
Most people, if they are honest with themselves, want “success” because of some form of status it will give them.
They won’t admit this to you, but deep down, the status is what matters.
It is for this reason that success is generally short-lived for most people. Once they achieve a certain degree of status, their motivation for doing the work goes away.
When your focus is on status, your job becomes to create and maintain that status. This is particularly common in today’s social media world where everyone is attempting to be famous for one thing or another.
Growth often comes at the expense of status.
In order to keep growing, you’ll need to risk the status and success of your past for something new and better. Of course, you’re not afraid of status. But that status is uninteresting and unimportant to you.
The reason most writers will never succeed is that ultimately, what they really want is status. Yet, deep down, they also feel this strange belief that they need to be “pure” to their art, so they don’t want to do it for money.
People who go on to become successful at something are not afraid of success. They aren’t afraid of making money. But money inherently isn’t interesting to them. They are fascinated by growth and pushing their own boundaries. They can never actually quantify “success” because, for them, that very idea is continuously changing.
They’ve never arrived, and they never intend to arrive.
They don’t care about their previous achievements. They don’t care about their status.
Do they have a status? Of course! When growth is your focus, status generally comes. But that status doesn’t matter. There’s no attachment to it. And there’s certainly no fear about losing that status.
People seeking growth are willing to embrace the unknown. They’re willing to fail. They’re willing to attempt stuff that may not work. Actually, when true growth — seeing how far you can actually go — is your only true measure of success, then you’re willing to risk everything you’ve previously built to attempt what you want or believe you should do.
Status is not what you should be measuring
How do we often measure a person’s success?
It’s by their status.
Status, then, can become our measure of success. And when the measure becomes the target, then it is no longer a useful measure.
If a status is what you’re seeking, then you’re long-term growth is screwed. Once you get what you want, all of your motivation will evaporate. You’ll run out of future to pursue. You’ll stop being willing to disrupt your lifestyle or status in order to pursue something bigger and better.
Status should be used as a means, not an end
Don’t be afraid to obtain a status and leverage it to move forward. Don’t be afraid of people calling you a sell-out.
Don’t be afraid of people being jealous of you and stealing your work.
If growth is your focus and true motive, then you’ll do some powerfully innovative stuff. You’ll be an “industry transformer” who doesn’t merely play the game, but changes and creates the game.
In due process, you’ll develop status and success. And you won’t be afraid of that. In fact, you’ll often seek various statuses as a means of pursuing greater and greater growth. But the status itself means absolutely nothing to you. And the moment that particular status becomes a hindrance to the growth you’re seeking, you eliminate that status from your life.
You don’t hold on to it.
You’re willing to destroy what you were for what you will become.
You never over-attach to a particular identity or status.
You use them to move forward. But status is far from your target. It’s a measure, not a target. And you don’t have those two things confused.
As a result, you never get derailed by failure or success. You’re fluid, not fixed. You are always pushing your own boundaries, always re-inventing yourself, always pushing your own limits of what is possible.
Because you don’t care about status, you always create new and more compelling statuses. You have what other people want, and what their measure of success is. And you never cared about it in the first place.
To quote Viktor Frankl from Man’s Search for Meaning: “Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it… Success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”
When growth is your true goal, you have no real competition. You know that most of the competition, at some point or another, will achieve some status and eventually seek solely to maintain that status. And when your ultimate goal is simply to maintain where you are, then you’re well on your way to falling completely apart.
Ready to upgrade?
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This article first appeared on Medium.