‘Is This It?’ When Success Isn’t Satisfying | Kanebridge News
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‘Is This It?’ When Success Isn’t Satisfying

Here’s how to truly savour the high of hitting a career goal

Wed, Mar 15, 2023 8:00amGrey Clock 4 min

You got the job, won the award, launched the new project to accolades. So why don’t you feel better?

“You get the title and it’s, like, ‘Ugh. Is this it?’” says Robert Waldinger, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who leads a longitudinal study, started in 1938, on how people thrive.

Sometimes, getting the thing is just as delicious as we imagine. Other times, we climb and climb, only to be underwhelmed by what we find at the top: more work, political wrangling, the feeling of being a fraud. Or the success high wears off fast, replaced by that old panic we hoped the accomplishment would finally cure. Then we wonder: Where’s the next win?

We’re all sprinting on what psychologists call a hedonic treadmill. That is, we might get a hit of joy when we achieve something, but we eventually return to our baseline level of happiness (or unhappiness). Whatever heights we reach, we’re still, well, us.

“From the outside, people think, ‘Oh, my God, amazing,’” says Andy Dunn, who helped sell clothing retailer Bonobos to Walmart Inc. in a $310 million deal after 10 years as chief executive and co-founder.

Mr. Dunn, now 44 and based in Chicago, spent years strategising and fantasising about such a sale but says it was a mirage. Building the company brought him more happiness, he says, than the eventual payout. (The Walmart deal paid him tens of millions of dollars.) Now working on a new startup, he’s keeping his team small and not chasing big checks from investors.

“I learned that those are just illusory things,” Mr. Dunn says.

The pursuit of happiness

Plenty of us would be happy to try our luck with fame and fortune, complications be damned. And it’s hard not to crave stuff and status when so much in our culture—from Super Bowl ads to friends’ Instagram feeds—insists that’s where fulfilment lies.

Success itself isn’t inherently bad, notes Dr. Waldinger, who adds: “Just don’t expect it to make you happy.”

Studying the antecedents of happiness among hundreds of participants in the Harvard Study of Adult Development, Dr. Waldinger found people acclimate to the trappings of achievement—including plump paychecks—swiftly.

“The corner office just becomes the place you go and do your work after a while,” he says. “The shine wears off.”

Lasting happiness results from wins that foster deep relationships and are imbued with meaning—some bigger payoff beyond your salary. Think work that affects clients’ lives or bonds your team together. When asked to share what they were most proud of, many of the octogenarians in the Harvard study talked about being a good leader or a helpful mentor, Dr. Waldinger says.

The power of authenticity

Many find they need to be able to succeed as themselves, rather than moulding their personas to fit the goal, to enjoy it.

Steve Babcock moved to New York City from Colorado in 2016 for a top creative job at an ad agency. He went from managing 50 people at his old job to overseeing 200. Industry publications profiled him. Every compliment on his LinkedIn posts was a dopamine hit. But on his train rides home from work, he felt empty. Numb.

“I have to give up who I really am to be this thing,” he says he realised. He preferred to be funny and casual at the office, but suddenly he was the boss. Subordinates often didn’t speak candidly as they tried to impress him, leaving Mr. Babcock feeling disconnected. He was also pulled farther from the creative work that he loved.

“I was always so driven to be seen as important,” he says. “There was just this cost to that.”

Mr. Babcock left the job, moved back to Colorado and now works at a food-technology company doing creative work. He sometimes misses the money—he now earns about what he did a decade ago—and the high-profile projects. He says he’s recently turned down three offers to be a chief creative officer again, unwilling to put the mask back on.

The impostor trap

Sometimes a coveted step up comes with burnout. Sabrina Hua spent three years working toward a promotion, and two years pursuing a master’s degree. She achieved both over a few months in 2021, and felt more miserable than triumphant.

The new job, in a university fundraising office, came with long hours and high-pressure goals. The degree felt like a huge accomplishment until she started to wonder if she needed a PhD.

“I just felt so much anxiety about what’s next,” the 29-year-old says.

Last fall, she quit. She’s spent the months since living off savings, traveling and focusing on small joys. Learning to crochet brought more happiness than completing her graduate program, Ms. Hua says. She plans to start searching for a new job soon, with new priorities.

“I don’t want to be obsessed with titles,” she says. “I want to have time.”

You don’t always have to pull a Peggy Olson, jumping ship from your old gig as she did in AMC’s drama “Mad Men,” to change your mind-set. Ruth Gotian, an executive coach and author of a book about reaching the apex of success, says that professionals often fear they’ll be seen as a fake at the exact moment they’re killing it. Winning a big client or publishing a definitive paper, they brush off compliments and worry that the prize will be taken away.

“Just because it’s unfamiliar doesn’t mean that you’re a fraud,” she says. Try to reframe the discomfort as positive, a cue that you’ve entered a new stage in your career. Collect thank-you notes and records of your wins along the way, so you can pull them out when you’re feeling shaky.

“There is a whole trail, a whole history of things that led to this point,” Dr. Gotian says.


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The Strongest Protection for Your Online Accounts? This Little Key

Passwords aren’t enough to fend off hackers; these dongles are the best defense

Mon, Mar 27, 2023 4 min

Strong passwords are very important, but they’re not enough to protect you from cybercriminals.

Passwords can be leaked or guessed. The key to online security is protecting your account with a strong secondary measure, typically a single-use code. This is referred to as “two-factor authentication,” or 2FA, as the nerds know it.

I’ve written about all the different types of 2FA, such as getting those codes sent via text message or generated in an authenticator app. Having any kind of second factor is better than none at all, but physical security keys—little dongles that you plug into a USB port or tap on your phone during account logins—offer the highest level of protection.

Security keys have been around for over a decade, but now they’re in the spotlight: Apple recently introduced support for them as an optional, added protection for Apple ID accounts. Last month, Twitter removed text-message-based authentication as an option for nonpaying users, recommending instead an authenticator app or security key.

Some people are hesitant to use security keys because carrying around a physical object seems burdensome and they come with a $30-and-up added cost. Plus, what happens if they get lost?

I’ve used security keys since 2016 and think they are actually easier to manage than codes—especially with accounts that don’t require frequent logins. They’re not only convenient, but they can’t be copied or faked by hackers, so they’re safer, too.

Here’s how to weigh the benefits and common concerns of adding one or two of these to your keychain.

Which security key should I use?

Many internet services support the use of security keys, and you can use the same security key to unlock accounts on many different services. I recommend two from industry leader Yubico:

  • YubiKey 5C NFC ($US55) if you have a USB-C laptop or tablet
  • YubiKey 5 NFC ($US50) for devices with older USB ports

Other options include Google’s Titan security keys ($30 and up). In addition to working with laptops and tablets with USB ports, these keys are compatible with smartphones that have NFC wireless. Most smartphones these days have that, since it’s the technology behind wireless payments such as Apple Pay.

Adam Marrè, chief information security officer at cybersecurity firm Arctic Wolf, recommends that your chosen key is certified by the FIDO Alliance, which governs the standards of these devices.

How do security keys work?

To add a key, look in the security settings of your major accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.). During setup, it will prompt you to insert the key into your laptop or tablet’s port or hold the key close to your phone for wireless contact.

Apple requires you to add two security keys to your Apple ID account, in case you lose one.

Typically, when you log in, you just go to the app or website where you’ve set up a key, enter your username and password as usual, then once again insert the key into the device or hold it close. (Some keys have a metal tab you have to press to activate.) At that point, the service should let you right in.

Why are they so secure?

Getting those two-factor login codes via text message is convenient, but if you are someone criminals are targeting, you could be the victim of SIM swapping. That’s where thieves convince carriers to port your number to a new phone in their possession, and they use it along with your stolen password to hack your accounts.

Even if they don’t go to all that trouble, criminals might try to trick you to hand them your codes, by calling you or spoofing a website you typically visit. At that point they can use the code for about 60 seconds to try to break in, said Ryan Noon, chief executive at security firm Material Security.

Security keys protect you in two ways: First, there’s no code to steal, and second, they use a security protocol to verify the website’s domain during login, so they won’t work on fake sites.

You can also add an authenticator app such as Authy to your most important accounts, to use only as a backup. But once you add these secure methods, you should consider removing the text-message code option.

In the rare case that someone snoops your passcode then steals your iPhone, beware: The perpetrator could still make Apple ID account changes using only the passcode, and even remove security keys from your account.

What happens if you lose your key?

The most important rule of security keys is to buy an extra one (or two).

“Think of your security key as you would a house or car key,” said Derek Hanson, Yubico’s vice president of solutions architecture. “It’s always recommended that you have a spare.”

If you lose a security key, remove it from your accounts immediately. You should have already registered your spare or an authenticator app as a backup to use in the meantime.

Where can you use a security key?

Start with your most valuable accounts: Google, Apple, Microsoft, your password manager, your social–media accounts and your government accounts.

When it comes to financial institutions, many banks don’t offer security-key protection as an option, though most leading crypto exchanges do.

What comes after security keys?

Security professionals and tech companies widely agree that passkeys are the future. They’re a new type of software option that combines the high security of a physical key with the convenience of biometrics such as your face or fingerprints. Passkeys are supported across the Android, iOS, Mac and Windows platforms, and some of your favourite sites already let you use them.

You can create a passkey on Facebook in security settings by following the app’s instructions under the security-key option. Dropbox has a similar passkey setup. Once you’re done, you’ll use your face or fingerprint as a second factor, instead of a code or key.

Eventually, physical security keys could be what we keep safe in strong boxes, as backups for our biometric-enabled passkeys. Even then, you’re probably going to want to have spares.


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