Connecticut College Magazine · Winter 2005


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Principal, Roosevelt School, Bridgeport, Conn.

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Actor, Showtime´s "Queer As Folk"

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Just enough: A new measure of success

Just enough: A new measure of success
Author Laura Nash ´70 and her daughter Corinna Nash Beale ´05.

Whether or not you achieve success depends on how you balance four areas of your life, according to Laura Nash ’70, senior research fellow at Harvard University and author of a new book.

by Barbara Nagy

What makes for lasting success? That’s a question Laura Nash ’70 and P’05 has been asking since her days studying classics as an undergraduate at Connecticut College.

Nash and Howard Stevenson, colleagues at the Harvard Business School, attempt to provide answers in Just Enough: Tools for Creating Success in Your Work and Life (Wiley, 2004, 290 pages). More accurately, the authors guide readers through an examination of their motives, convictions and attitudes so they can find their own truths.

“What is a good life? What is a richly deserved success?” Nash asked in a recent interview during a visit to campus. “People have not lost the impulse to care about these questions.” Answers are harder to find, though, because the pace of American life is increasingly frenetic. The bar that measures success rises constantly, and popular culture equates happiness with material wealth.

Nash, who grew up in West Hartford, was drawn to the classics by such perennial questions. The same questions piqued her interest in business. She got a summer job at the Harvard Business Review after her junior year, went on to grad school in the classics at Harvard after graduation, and then wrote for the Harvard Business Review after teaching Greek for several years. Later Nash became a senior research fellow at Harvard. Her specialty is business ethics.

“Right from the start I was straddling two worlds,” Nash said. She enjoyed grappling with the life-defining issues that the half-human, half-divine Greek heroes struggled with in literature. And she saw those same patterns of delusion played out in American society in many ways, from corporate culture to U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

“Business leadership faced all the issues I saw,” Nash said. “It was the same moral principle that Pericles faced in thinking about Athens’ role in the golden age: Might is important, but does might equal right?”

Just Enough evolved from Nash’s 25 years of research on corporate ethics, the role of business in defining social issues and the effects of religious values on the way people make decisions at work. She and her co-author also conducted new surveys and interviews on the experience of success.

Nash and Stevenson suggest that success is a matter of balancing fulfillment in each of four key areas of life: happiness, achievement, significance and legacy.

Happiness is a feeling of pleasure or contentment in and about your life.

Achievement is an accomplishment that compares favorably against similar goals others strive for.

Significance means having a positive effect on people you care about.

Legacy means establishing your values or accomplishments in ways that help others find success.

People need to feel some level of accomplishment and satisfaction in each area, and long-term business success depends on the same capacities. Since each category is very different, the secret is to find “just enough” accomplishment in all four, rather than over-achieving in one.

Nash and Stevenson suggest readers view each activity as a “chip” that helps to create the beautiful kaleidoscopic image that is their lives. No one activity can create the entire image. No single “win” will get it all — and that’s just fine, Nash said. “For most people I think it’s been a question of having too many choices and no sense of pattern or framework to their lives,” she said.

But how much is “enough?” Shouldn’t goals change with circumstances and experience? How can the four areas be balanced? Answering those questions, Nash said, takes some difficult soul searching. “Your benchmarks will change,” she said. “It’s messy.”

Just Enough aims to change readers’ perspectives on success and help them devise tactics for becoming satisfied while still growing. Readers sort through the four areas of success; they set stretch goals but with reachable limits. Nash and Stevenson explain how to become more attentive to various forms of satisfaction, rather than going after “never enough” targets. They suggest that readers direct their resources toward each area as part of a complex balancing of choices.

The 90s illusion

Nash became particularly interested in success toward the end of the 1990s. The stock market was enjoying a meteoric rise, business executives were celebrities and Americans were consumed by the pursuit of material wealth. The optimistic expansion seemed illusory.

“I thought it was crazy,” Nash said. “Value was not being created. It was a kind of lottery approach to the economy.” For someone whose background was in ethics, the focus on limitless working, consuming and getting more was troubling.

She and Stevenson, whose background is in entrepreneurship and business management, began talking about lasting success and how to achieve it. Both knew that people who build lasting businesses didn’t do it the way many of the bottom-line-oriented managers of the late ’90s were doing it. They decided to team up on a book about how individuals or groups could find enduring success by making choices and leveraging their strengths.
Then came 9/11 — and new questions.

A turning point

“They say every person finds God in the trenches,” Nash said. “On 9/11 we faced our own mortality as a nation.” Many people began looking for new meaning in their lives. They asked fundamental questions about relationships, purpose, priorities — even in business.

Nash believes 9/11 helped Americans broaden their view of the world, but said they still want to believe they can have fairy-tale success if they just put in enough hours on the front end of their career.

People say they want a simpler life, but they have difficulty establishing that as a priority when it comes to the choices they make, Nash said. They want a career and family, but they go after their goal by buying more goods and services rather than by cutting back their work hours or travel. They look to their employers for risk-free solutions as they try to balance work and family, and employers look to them for a full commitment to their jobs. As long as a culture of fear continues to dominate business and education, the concept of “just enough” is unthinkable, Nash said.

“There’s always someone faster, richer, quicker,” she said. “There is no time for self-reflection. The world will pass you by.” Such a frenzied pace can’t be sustained, Nash said, if people want to stop and be there for others, or experience contentment in their lives. To do that requires a more sophisticated view of success and satisfaction.

Nash is equivocal when asked about the future. She is both pessimistic and optimistic about our ability to commit to that more sophisticated, richer view.

“Some people will despair. Others will innovate,” she said. Trends tend to balance out over time, so there could be societal pressure for a correction in the form of a healthy suspicion about ultra-wealth, “genius” solutions and workaholism, Nash added. And corporations may push for change if they believe it is in their interest to cultivate employees who are sensitive to others’ needs and can draw the line on limitless self-interest, she said. Nash is also optimistic because so many people seem to be searching for balance and purpose, despite pressures to reduce life to a single large material goal.

But Nash worries what will happen if people can’t or won’t ask the right questions, or if they aren’t strong enough to resist the lure of ever-increasing material wealth. The challenge for business, she said, is to create a way for people to align their personal values with their work values.

Her advice: Don’t lose sight of your best self. Be prepared to need all four kinds of satisfaction, and practice them. Stretch yourself but also know how to set limits. Every day, Nash suggests, work toward a goal in each area. Never lose sight of the bigger questions: What makes me happy? Am I happy with my life?

“See it as a long journey,” Nash said, but “attend to it now.”

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