Redefine Your Criteria for Success

Recently, I attended a conversation meetup, which holds group discussions on intellectual topics. The meeting was held at a restaurant, so when I arrived, I looked around to see if I recognized anyone.

I had never met the guy who was running this event, so I logged into my meetup account through my phone to refer to his profile picture. Scanning the room, I noticed a stocky man who looked very similar to the one in the picture, eating alone at a large rectangular table in the center of the room.

I looked down at the photo on my phone, and then back over at him. I did this a few times, but I still didn’t feel certain that he was the organizer. Although I wanted to approach this stranger to ask if he was with the meetup group, I felt nervous. Instead, I walked up to the counter, ordered food, and then sat at a small table by myself.

But as soon as I sat down and looked over at him again, my gut told me that he had to be from the meetup. Finally, I walked over and asked, and it turned out that he was the organizer. After I explained what had happened, he responded that he had seen me walk in, and that if I thought he might be with the meetup, then I should’ve came over and asked!

I felt embarrassed for not having done so. As I considered what he said, I thought to myself, what’s the worst thing that would’ve happened if I had approached him and it turned out that he wasn’t with the meetup? Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been that bad.

Beyond this, I was so anxious and in my head that I hadn’t picked up on other clues. In addition to the fact that he look liked the man in the profile picture, he was sitting at the largest table, in the center of the room, surrounded by booklets laid out on the table for the attendees.

As I drove home after the event, I was still picking myself apart over my “mistake.” That’s when it finally occurred to me: Why was I being so hard on myself over a slight misjudgement? In the broader picture, I should’ve been rewarding myself. I had gone out by myself to a new event, met new people, had a new experience, and had some stimulating conversations. Honestly, what more could I want from myself?

In addition, I had taken another step in my journey towards improving myself and my social skills, a goal I’d been damn consistent with for several weeks now.

This internal dialogue made me realize that it might be time to redefine my criteria for success. Instead of ruminating over every little negative or embarrassing thing that happens, I should focus on my values and how much progress I’m actually making towards living them.

As I considered this idea, I thought about how I might do this. That’s when I developed three questions, that I now ask myself after every social event. I chose these three questions because they move me towards my goals of meeting new people, gaining new experiences, and growing as a human being:

  1. What did I learn about myself?
  2. What did I learn about someone I met?
  3. What did I learn beyond myself and someone I met?

I realized that if I could answer all three of these questions well, then I was living within my values and moving towards my goals, and thus was successful! In this case, I could clearly answer these questions.

What did I learn about myself?

I learned that the next time I see someone who even slightly resembles a person that I’m supposed to meet, then I won’t overthink it. Instead, I’ll just go over and ask.

What did I learn about someone I met?

I met several people at the meetup, including the discussion organizer, who happened to be a lawyer and is involved in politics.

I find politics fascinating, so we were able to connect and have an interesting conversation. We also exchanged contact information so that he could send me information about other meetups as well as some of the projects that he’s involved in. It ended up being a great networking experience.

What did I learn beyond myself and someone I met?

During the discussion, we touched on immigration, economics, and related topics. There were some bright people there, and through the conversation I learned about all the considerations that come into play when legislators craft immigration policy.

My point is, when life doesn’t run as smoothly as you hope, asking questions such as the ones listed above can be incredibly helpful, because it allows you to redefine your criteria for success.

By asking yourself the right questions after every experience, it will keep you focused on the positives, and will keep you from getting brought down by the negatives. In other words, don’t be too hard on yourself. As long as you’re going out, applying yourself, and learning from your experiences, then you’re making progress.



Mike is a 2014 Craft of Charisma intern.

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