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Why Having ‘Just Enough’ is Key to Success

just-enough2Harvard professors Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson have discovered the recipe for success in their joint effort “Just Enough: Tools for Creating Success in Your Work and Life” (Wiley, 2004), and it entails a commonly sidestepped concept: having just enough.

In the first chapter, we meet Jane, a 30-year-old who is contemplating leaving her successful career in software to pursue a career in music. As an undergraduate, Jane majored in music and math, so she was qualified to work in both fields. When she steered her professional path toward the software industry, her passion for music was left on the back burner. After four years of enjoying the money, success and sense of accomplishment that came with her software job, Jane starts to feel as if something is amiss. As she tells Nash and Stevenson, “I’ve done things right. I already have ‘success.’ But it’s not enough.”

Jane is not alone in feeling unhappy, despite having what many define as success. In a society where less is bore and people are constantly striving for more, why does happiness seem so elusive? And why are not more people content with having just enough?

Laura Nash

Nash and Stevenson blame part of it on the cult of celebrity. When Hollywood stars rake in million-dollar paychecks and celebrity CEOs lead extravagant lifestyles, it’s no wonder that some executives feel as if they do not measure up. In an interview with The New York Times, Nash mentions how very few people understand that being a celebrity CEO is not all hunky dory. Point in case: former Tyco International CEO L. Dennis Kozlowski, whose lavish lifestyle was envied by many, but whose arrest and trial on charges of securities fraud and theft, were envied by none. Another example Nash brings forth is former chairman of General Electrics, John F. Welch Jr., whose time in the spotlight was divided by his accolades and his messy divorce.

Howard Stevenson

According to Nash and Stevenson, it is when the comparison to celebrities starts that the troubles begin. Competing against a celebrity is not only damaging for one’s pursuit of happiness but also pointless at best. It is that perpetual hunger for more that often results in constant stress and no contentment, the authors conclude And as they point out, “there is always someone out there who’s richer and more powerful … even Bill Gates has his Sultan of Brunei for comparison!”

According to Nash and Stevenson, it’s not the money that defines success; one has to be actively working on achieving the four other goals of happiness, achievement, significance and legacy. When achieving these goals, success will feel worthwhile and satisfying, the authors say.

With more than 60 interviews with young professionals and a survey of 90 top executives attending Harvard Business School, and examples drawn from celebrities, non-celebrities and ancient philosophers, the authors demonstrate how success is neither about one thing, nor an abundance of things; it’s simply about having just enough.

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