Many people make the mistake of confusing their performance results with the trophy and their goal. Let me explain.
One of my favorite actresses is the legendary Meryl Streep. She has more Academy Award nominations than any other person in the history of planet earth — a total of 18 nominations.
She was nominated for her first Academy Award in 1978. Her most recent one was in 2013.
If you consider a nomination a kind of “trophy,” she is the most “trophied” person in Hollywood.
That is remarkable.
Unlike many actors or actresses who essentially play the same kind of character from one film to another, Streep’s performances are so different from one film to another.
I’ll never forget the time I saw her in The Devil Wears Prada. In one of the opening scenes, Streep gets off the elevator and walks to her office to sit down. Without saying a single word — merely raising an eyebrow, walking a particular way, and looking at people in an ever so specific way, she conveyed an entire character's backstory.
My words can’t do it justice. She is just that good.
When you listen to in-depth interviews of Streep, it quickly becomes clear that she is so heavily devoted to delivering the best possible PERFORMANCE.
Meryl Streep first met her co-star Anne Hathaway on the film The Devil Wears Prada. She introduced herself and told Anne how much she looked forward to acting across from her. She then explained (and apologized) that she would be “in character” 24x7 for the next 5 months.
In other words, even during filming breaks, at lunch, going to the restroom... she would be doing all of these activities as her character in the film (even when the camera was not on).
It was only after the very last take that the real Meryl Streep re-emerged.
She explained she needed to eat, sleep, and breathe as her character day and night in order to deliver the best performance possible.
When you see how Streep approaches her work, it’s clear that her GOAL is not the trophy. Her GOAL is the PERFORMANCE.
This may sound like semantics, but the distinction is profoundly important.
A trophy is a byproduct of the performance. When you focus on the trophy, you end up focusing on the wrong thing and you often do not get it. When you focus on the performance and do it well, often the trophy comes along with it.
When you look at your goals, are you focusing on performance or the trophy?
When CIBs write me saying they want to get a job offer from MBB, that job offer is the trophy. The performance is the case interview.
When my clients say they want to earn $1 million, $5 million or $10 million per year, those are trophies. The “performance” comes from finding some way to deliver enough value to other people that they gladly transfer $1 million, $5 million, or $10 million to you in exchange for the value you deliver.
Streep and other actresses who routinely work on improving their performance express dismay that many younger actresses today have a goal of being rich and famous.
They argue it’s the wrong focus. Fame and fortune are byproducts of being really good at what you do — in their case, delivering exceptional acting performances.
As you look at your own goals, I challenge you to question them critically.
Are you focused on the promotion (the trophy)? Or massively over-delivering what’s expected of you (the performance)?
Are you focused on making partner at MBB (the trophy)? Or delivering overwhelming value to your clients and your firm (the performance)?
While performance and trophies are correlated, the R-square is not 1.0 — it’s not perfect.
Sometimes whether or not you get a trophy depends on the subjective decision making of someone else — an external factor not within your control.
To create a career or life goal that depends upon the whim of someone else is a tough and anxiety-filled way to live.
But, to focus on delivering the best possible performance that YOU are capable of is entirely within your control.
Deliver outstanding performances consistently enough in the right circumstances, over a long enough period of time, and the trophies will come your way (in aggregate but not necessarily in any one specific instance).
In your life and career, are you focused on trophies or performance?
That’s my thought of the day.