The achiever's dilemma
For achievers, the desire for success never ebbs - it only evolves. As a new year dawns, here's looking at what drives the victorious ON and how they chart the way forward
Have you ever been pushed - really pushed - to achieve something? A grade, a medal, a supply order, a position, a certain number on the scales. The 'top' has always been designated the place 'to be': the ultimate goal. our individual Everests, if you will. But after the celebrations die down and the back-slapping has ceased, there's almost a sense of anti-climax, because what follows is the inevitable question: what next? Where do you go when you're already at the top? Sardonic replies suggest "there's no other way but down, of course" - but consistent achievers beg to differ. To paraphrase Loren Allred in her utterly captivating The Greatest Showman vocal performance, the achiever's bent is this: it's never enough. There's always more that can be done.
US-based Dr Carl Beuke says as much in his Psychology Today post, when he notes that high achievers are "often marked, unsurprisingly, by a strong motive to achieve". It was certainly a unanimous perspective among all the folks we spoke to for this piece: all their lives, they can attest to a constant desire to succeed.
Jordanian expat Helen Al Uzaizi recalls how, even when she was at school, she wanted to "do more" than the other kids and "go beyond what was expected". It might come as a bit of a surprise, therefore, that the CEO of Bizworld UAE (who was also named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in the Arab World by Arabian Business last year) was an average student who struggled through both school and university. If there's anything she's learnt over the years, it's that attitude is everything. "I don't consider myself to be 'at the top'," she says, self-effacingly. In fact, she adds, throwing in an altogether alternate perspective: "There's no such thing as 'the top'. There's always going to be someone better than you, and the only thing that can keep you grounded, despite achievements, is having the humility to acknowledge that you don't know it all - and that there's always something to learn."
GUNNING FOR THE TOP: (from left to right) Helen Al Uzaizi, Dr Rohit Kumar, Reem Al Marzouqi, Katie Pattison-Hart
The road to where she is today has been "very twisted, with lots of ups and downs". The 37-year-old says she can't think of a single year that "wasn't a rollercoaster" - but she has learnt to embrace the journey. "When you're younger, the rollercoaster feels like a hurdle. But as you grow and appreciate the learning you get from each experience, you see it as an opportunity to explore something new. Personally, I've come out stronger each time, with a lot more insight into who I am and what I can do to impact the community and society. So, now, I look forward to the next rollercoaster."
A triathlete and mountain climber too, Helen puts her multiple achievements down to being extremely goal-driven. She has her 'big dream' all written down - to, some day, build a school that offers quality progressive education that's accessible to all and not just the elite few. In the meantime, she's okay to keep "falling, trying and learning".
On the subject of the latter, Helen reveals she's also going back to university this year, having enrolled at the London School of Economics to study international development. Talk about an admirable direction? "You're never too big to learn," she counters. "People try too hard to be perfect. But the minute we realise we can do more, we can achieve more; the world then becomes a better place, because everyone is striving to do better. Without that, all you have is a complacent society with no one trying to effect any change."
No room for fear
As a medical practitioner, Dr Rohit Kumar is well familiar with the importance of never resting on his laurels. The head of surgery at Dubai's Medeor 24X7 Hospital notes that despite the "tremendous surgical training" he's already undergone, getting comfortable cannot be part of the plan - not even as the medical director of a hospital, a post he gained quite recently. Why? In one word: technology. With advancements in his field a constant, and the human body an endless subject of study, there is a definite need to constantly 'keep up'. "First, it was keyhole surgery; next, it's the era of robotic surgery... It never ends."
Aside from being open to learning new things, achievers are able to keep climbing up the proverbial ladder because they're also not afraid to take risks or to fail, he notes. Trying to avoiding failure - which, if we're being honest, is what many of us are content to do - is not the goal. "You cannot be successful if you're scared. You have to be ready to take on new challenges. The best part is the process also teaches you to manage stressful situations over time. So, for us, we don't call it failure - whatever goes wrong is just another step in learning." As for his own vision going forward, what's next for someone sitting at the top of the management chain? Dr Rohit says the goal is to lead a chain of hospitals ("not just one") - as well as generate more leaders like himself.
For many achievers, the motivation comes from personal gratification. But there's no denying the pressure that builds up from the weight of expectations once you've set the bar high. Society, inevitably, expects you to go higher - or be relegated to the dusty pedestals of has-beens.
Emirati innovation specialist Reem Syed Al Marqouzi is best known for being the first UAE citizen to receive a US patent for an invention: at the age of 23, she designed a car that can be driven without hands. Today, the 28-year-old has no desire to slow down and is currently waiting for three other patents she's filed. "I think it's harder once you've achieved what you set out to do, because then you want to keep coming back with new stuff. If you can't keep it up, you'll be easily forgotten - and I'd hate to be known only for a short while for my first project."
The candid young woman sounds rather unimpressed with herself when asked how it felt to be the first in the country to set the record she did. "I'm happy, but I don't think it's anything to be overexcited about," she deadpans. "Of course, in the UAE, the achievement carries some weight, but internationally, I'm just an ant. People make me out to be a guru but, let's be honest: I'm not one. People who make discoveries - they're the ones to watch out for." Reem - who says she wants to come up with something new altogether ("like the guy who invented the TV or the camera") and wants to compete at a global level - believes there's also a cultural motivation to her endeavours. "My work doesn't bring me a lot of money. Not everyone will chase a dream, but if I can show Arab women that I can do this, perhaps it will inspire them too."
The world is your oyster
When people look for a new goal, they usually move in an upwardly mobile or vertical direction. One look at British expat Katie Pattison-Hart's CV reveals it's possible to diversify into completely different sectors too. One of the faces behind Citizen's 'My Better Starts Now' campaign, she hails from a corporate banking background, having been the director of a finance house - at which point she decided to take a break and pursue a completely different adventure: crossing the Atlantic.
Katie accomplished the feat as part of the first female crew of five to row across the ocean, setting a double world record in the process. Today, she's a fashion designer and owns her own clothing company called Boho Princessa. The way she chooses her next challenge? "I always look for something that throws me outside my comfort zone. We use such a small percentage of our capacities as humans. It's amazing what you can do through sheer will power," says the 39-year-old, who is all about personal development. At the same time, she clarifies she doesn't "actively hustle" for opportunities. "I believe in letting things happen organically. This doesn't mean sitting on the couch, waiting for things to come to you. But it does mean waking up in the morning with purpose and passion."
There's a great deal to learn from choosing to put yourself through hardships - like putting yourself on a boat in the middle of the ocean. "It was pure survival out there!" she recalls. "But I also believe we can't give back to our families, companies or societies if we're not our strongest selves. Imagine if we do push ourselves that way? How much value would we bring to the world?"
4 Habits of Successful People
1. Don't be afraid of discipline. Daunting as it sounds, a routine is critical to the lives of achievers - and often, that includes being an early riser. Dr Rohit always makes it a point to start his day by 4.30am and plan his day well. "Once you have a routine, you won't waste time. Instead, you'll be calculating how to make your day as productive as possible, an attitude that will only help you get ahead in this competitive world." It also means you'll be able to ensure a work-life balance, adds the surgeon, who sets aside an hour for himself every morning and hits the gym as early as 5.30am.
2. Figure out your core values. Katie says it's important to first figure out the beliefs you want to build your foundation on before you start visualising where you want to be in the next 5-10 years. "When you have the headline of what your vision looks like, you can break it down to daily actions - all of which should add value to the end goal. Then, when opportunities come along, you'll be in a better position to accept or decline. Without that foundation, you'll find yourself constantly wavering and dealing with internal struggles."
3. Know your goals. "I've been writing my goals for the next year on December 27 every year for the last eight years," reveals Helen. "And I make sure my annual goals are all aligned with my 'BIG' goals. It's what helps me stay focused. Of course, life does get in the way at times - but having a vision for myself and where I want to be ensures I stay on track."
4. Surround yourself with the right people. Ever heard of the phrase, "Show me who your friends are, and I'll tell you who you are"? Whether you like it or not, Reem says we are all susceptible to the influence of those we keep company with - which is why she always makes sure she's surrounded by the right people. "You become like the people you're around," she says simply.