What Does Success Look Like in the New Normal?

There’s no question that 2020 has been a year like no other. Karen Mangia, author of Working From Home, explains why we should be recalibrating our idea of success in the ‘new normal’

by Karen Mangia

For me, success always looked like something external. Something “out there,” reserved for other folks. Maybe it was money, or a job title, or perhaps what looked like the “perfect life” (whatever that is – I’m still not sure). But it was always something just out of reach, and always on a timeline. Or a deadline. Or both.

Managing your calendar makes you efficient. You’re able to execute effectively when you manage your time wisely. But what about when the unexpected happens? Your meeting goes long, your boss asks for something unexpected, you find yourself working in your pajamas in the middle of a global pandemic: can you still succeed? Maybe. But the well-thought-out plan is suddenly not so useful anymore. Adaptability is what’s needed.

By the way, you know who got all of their New Year’s resolutions wrong in 2020?


Setting high goals is part of my DNA; I’ll always do it and I’ll always try. I hope you aim high, too – because you never know where your goals may lead you.

Sometimes, when I set goals, things go my way. Sometimes they don’t. And sometimes – I’m leaning in so that I can whisper this secret to you – I’ve gotten exactly what I wanted, and it turned out that it didn’t feel like success at all. I gained a new hassle instead of a handle on success. Have you been there? Okay. So, let’s talk about what success is not:

  • Success is not a destination.
  • Success is not a location.
  • Success is not a number in your bank account. Look again: that number is just a number.
  • Success is not your title.
  • Success is not an achievement or a reward that you receive.
  • If other people are telling you what success should be for you, that’s not success.
  • Success happens one moment at a time.

See, when it comes to success, our timeline is almost always wrong.

We think success is linear, following a pattern, the result of hard work. And success is scheduled to show up on Thursday at 4:00 p.m. Then life happens. Your appointment with success gets moved up, or moved out, or moved onto someone else’s calendar.

Here’s an example: When I was working on my book, I thought I was losing my mind. I wrote all these chapters, but I didn’t feel like the first one was right. The other chapters felt right. But not the first one. It was out of sequence!

I was stressed. Guess what?

Success doesn’t always come in a sequence.

When we let go of our preconceptions about what success looks like, that’s when we see it. When success is free to show up in whatever order and at whatever time – even unannounced – that’s when it is most welcome.

That’s when we go back and rewrite Chapter 1.

Because, when you get right down to it, we don’t really know much about success. Because we always think success should have shown up by now.

Have you ever said or heard these phrases before?

  • We should be back to work by now.
  • I should be married by now.
  • Other people have been promoted to vice president – why hasn’t that happen to me by now?
  • I should be living in Manhattan Beach/driving a fancy car/owning my own business by now.

Does any of that sound familiar?Does any of that sound successful?

No. Not really. Labeling your life with a “by now” tag is a recipe for suffering, not success.

Comments about what should have happened by now shows that we don’t know how long it takes to succeed. We don’t know when success will arrive – only when we think it should.

We should be able to go back to the way things were. Seniors should be allowed to go to the prom. By now. What we should be able to do, by now, is a source of either pressure or discouragement. Either option is a choice to make ourselves feel bad, no matter how you slice it. Does it help your performance when you put more pressure on yourself?

How’s that pressure and discouragement helping you to succeed? Take two words away from your definition of success and it gets more realistic. More real. More right now.Subtract “by now,” and you’re on to something.

How many times has success come out of nowhere? You were working hard, over there, and then when success showed up over here . . . it was (dare I say it?) effortless. You struggle and strive to make the fabulous dinner party and put in all the work. Then your friends show up, the cake is baked, the wine is poured, and then, you realize something: success is an experience that goes beyond effort.

Success shows up in a conversation. In a moment. Maybe it comes from hard work; more often it comes beside it or behind it or because of it. But when it shows up, you find yourself saying “why not?” more easily than ever before. 

An old friend used to tell me his constant prayer: “May I have what I want and want what I have.” Actually, that guy figured out how to answer his own prayer. When he realized success isn’t a thing or a timeline, he saw that it’s already here.

What would success look like to you, right now? What if there were no timeline attached to success? What would that look like for you? I’m asking if you can define success, on your own terms, in this moment. In this place. Wherever you are right now, can you find success – even in your home office?

Here’s what success feels like to me: it feels like I’m learning and growing and finding new ways of looking at the same old problems. I may not hit my goal, or meet every step in my plan. Then again, I might crush my calendar and blow my goals out of the water. Who knows? But success, in this moment, feels like the ability to choose. To adapt and to act in accordance with what makes the most sense for me, right now. How about you?

Find out more:

Karen Mangia is Vice President, Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce.  Her work focuses on strategies for personal and professional success, and she regularly works with executives, managers and future leaders at companies of all sizes globally.  She published two new books in 2020: Listen UP!  How to Tune in To Customers, And Turn Down The Noise and Working From Home:  Making the New Normal Work For You – both from Wiley.

She has been featured in Forbes and regularly writes for Thrive Global and ZDNet.  Committed to diversity and inclusion, she serves on her company’s Racial Equality and Justice Task Force. She is a TEDx speaker and the author of Success With Less, a book that chronicles her own personal journey through a life-threatening health crisisHer high-impact keynotes help organizations to access the future of work via innovative insights around the voice of the customer.


This is an edited extract from Working From Home: Making The New Normal Work For You, by Karen Mangia (published by Wiley, 2020)

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