Success Comes From Delayed Gratification, or Does It?

Delay Gratification & Pursuing Meaningful Work

Work can be draining. It can break you down & beat you up. It can be your most loathed activity… If you let it.

On the other hand, meaningful work lifts your spirits. Meaningful work challenges your ring of competency to expand. It taps into new curiosities & flings open new doors of opportunity.

“Quit your job & find your passion” is a phrase that gets tossed around with ease. The truth is, we have the capacity to be passionate about things with which we’re not even familiar.

Meaningful work inspires passion. It fulfills our hierarchical need to be challenged. Difficult tasks often require us to be creative in our efforts. If our best efforts bring about achievement, we build self-esteem.

Whereas menial tasks and simple work don’t provide any sort of challenge, even if we easily accomplish them.

If your work doesn’t push you to new places, you begin to focus on the external, often negative, factors of work rather than the reward of the work.

Delayed Gratification

I was one of those people who was disheartened by their work. I didn’t loathe it yet, but I wasn’t happy with it.

I got stuck blaming others for my lack of fulfillment. It wasn’t their fault at all, it was mine. I wasn’t doing meaningless work. After I examined by situation, I concluded it was my attitude that was leading to this unhappiness.

At SOUTH, we have a product called ONOR. It’s an app that helps business owners and HR people recognize the work of their team. This is a big project. We don’t expect to call this a success for another year+. This is a long-term goal that will require buckets of delayed gratification.

Many times we want things NOW and we lose sight of what’s to come in the future. I’m a forward thinking guy so delaying gratification is easier for me than it may be for others. But when all you do is delay, Delay, DELAY… you never get to experience the fruits of your labor.

A BHAG has to be broken down into bit-size chunks that allow us to measure progress. Little wins along the way to success are an integral part of taking on big projects. But the celebration for a milestone and the celebration for a completed project differ significantly.

We’ll have little wins in the form of new signups, payments, and case studies. But we won’t be able to shift ONOR from the Hobby Column to the Business Column for a number of months.

Hobby vs. Business

So far we’ve had lots of little wins. Many people have signed up, we’ve earned some local publicity, and we’ve made significant design improvements. But all those milestones have yet to bring us significant payment. Once ONOR is paying for itself, we’ll be able to bust out the champagne. Until then, we’ve all had to keep our heads down and delay any sort of real gratification.

Balancing Act

Contrast ONOR with the bulk of our business: creative web design & development.

We court two to eight potential clients each month. I run some of these projects, one of which we just won. They put half down on their initial invoice and their site redesign will be completed in roughly six weeks.

A 50% deposit is a big win, that’s new business for us! The site redesign will be completed on about a month, as close to instant gratification as we’re going to get. On the opposite end of the spectrum, with ONOR, we only have a vague idea of what success resembles. Add the afore mentioned timeframe to the blurry picture of success and you realize how easy it is to lose site of this goal.

Having simultaneous projects with differing timelines is what helped me through this period of frustration with my work. Instant gratification isn’t better than delayed, and neither does the opposite ring true.

It will take fifty or more small projects to equal the potential eventual success of ONOR. And any business that only attempts small projects is destined to stay small.

Delayed gratification success isn’t the only kind of success. 

Successful organizations chase a combination of small, medium, and large wins. The small ones keep the doors open. The medium ones push capacity. And the larges ones change your game.

Delaying gratification and pursuing meaningful work go hand in hand. Not everything that is easy is meaningful. And not everything for which we delay gratification is worth a long-term struggle. But finding a mix of short term and long term “wins” and projects to pursue will help balance your life and your passions.

Otherwise, you end up like me, frustrated that everything is on one end of the spectrum.

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