Avoid the Clarity Paradox of Success

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I have long been interested in achieving greater success and helping others to do the same – however each person defines success. I am blessed to have achieved significant success in my life – I have a loving family and great friends, I am financially comfortable, I am still in good health, and I am able to pursue many things that I am passionate about, like travel, photography, writing and speaking. If that’s not success, I don’t know what is!


Even though I am not discontent with my life and success, I still desire to challenge myself to achieve even greater success, and I’m sure the same is true for almost anyone who is already successful. Why stop here? Why become complacent? Stay active, keep going, and achieve greater success!


I recently read a very interesting article published by the Harvard Business Review titled “The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” written by Greg McKeown. The author starts by describing what he calls “the clarity paradox,” a four-part progression that many successful people and organizations find themselves inadvertently drawn into:


Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.

Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities.

Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts.

Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.


As someone who has had lots of options and opportunities opened to me as a result of the success I’ve achieved, I can understand and relate to this “clarity paradox” very well! It is very tempting to pursue all of the “great” opportunities, ideas, and possibilities that are available at this time in my life. However, I’ve found (often the hard way), that saying, “yes” to every good thing that comes my way results in mediocrity.


While each individual idea or opportunity might be really great, when pursued simultaneously with a slew of others, the potential quickly fades.


When my attention and efforts are diffused over a broad spectrum of pursuits, nothing gets done with true focus and excellence.


So how do we avoid “the clarity paradox” of success? McKeown offers three suggestions:


Use more extreme criteria. Don’t just look for and accept “good opportunities,” ask yourself questions like “What am I deeply passionate about? What taps my talent? What meets a significant need in the world?” Just as you’ll have more luck cleaning out your closet if you avoid the question “Will I ever wear this again?” and instead ask, “Do I absolutely love this?” – so you should also treat the good or great opportunities in your life.


Ask, “What is essential?” and eliminate the rest. We don’t try to create clutter, it happens naturally – both on top of our desk and within the schedule of our busy lives. Give yourself permission to get rid of the non-essentials. Whether cleaning out your closet at home or adjusting your daily pursuits, it’s always a good idea to eliminate one old thing before adding a new one.


Beware of the endowment effect. This refers to our tendency to value an item more once we own it. We’ve all experienced this when faced with the decision whether or not to give away some old clothes or books we haven’t used in years. Suddenly we’re not so sure we want to part with them. However, if we didn’t have them, how much would we pay to obtain them? The same question can be asked in regard to activities and opportunities – not “How much do I value the opportunity,” but “How much would I be willing to sacrifice in order to obtain it?”


Great advice for myself and for anyone who has ever fallen prey to “the clarity paradox!”


Which of the above suggestions can you apply today to achieve greater clarity – and therefore greater success – in your life?



To read the full article by Greg McKeown on the HBR blog, please click here.

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I am a leader, speaker, and author who is passionate about Leadership Excellence and Achieiving Greater Success. I am the author of the books Be An Inspirational Leader(2016) and Presidential Leadership (2013), and deliver keynote presentations on those topics and several others.

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