Do Results Matter? (a counter-intuitive perspective that might change your relationship with results forever!)

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Do Results Matter? 

Before you read on, I’d love you to take a moment to answer that for yourself.

What’s your instinctive response?

Hell yes! Of course, results matter, what a stupid question!

Or, is it more like,

Yeah, sometimes they do, but it’s the living of life that’s important.

Or are you in the,

Only suckers / losers don’t think results matter!

Yeah, sure, if you’re a latter-day hippy who wants to live out life at the beach, but not in real life!

None of these answers may be yours, but there will be something that comes to you instinctively, even if it’s a

Hmm never thought about that before...

Whatever your response, or wherever your thoughts take you as you ponder it during today, it’s a question I play with sometimes, for myself and together with my clients.

When You Don’t Get What You Want

I gotta admit, sometimes it looks and feels as if results matter. It looks and feels as if getting the ‘thing’ I’m aiming for has some impact on my future happiness or future well-being.

For sure, I can argue that results lead to outcomes — consequences, situations, a path that takes me in one direction versus another.

I remember not getting a job I really wanted many years ago. I had stellar references, I seemed like an ideal fit, and I blew the interview. At the time I was devastated, I cried, I moped for days. But, somehow, I pulled myself together and moved on.

Occasionally (like now, remembering), I wonder what my life might have been if I’d taken that path — would I have ended up in the same place?

Or somewhere different? I have no way of knowing, and no way of knowing whether one road would have been ‘better’ than another.

Does it Though? 

It’s the week of my youngest son’s final school exam results. Results, which would normally determine which university he went to other than he has an unconditional offer — meaning he can go to the university of his choice regardless of the grades he gets.

Some might say he was ‘lucky’ to be in this position, but he seems to have used it as a reason to slack off and fail to put in the effort he’s capable of. Or maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference.

Who knows?

Life isn’t a series of counter-factual experimental scenarios. We live the life that’s dealt to us, and we speculate about what might have happened in different circumstances or at a different moment in time.

Despite his university place being secured, he’s counting down the days, and now hours, until the results come out.

I asked him about that,

Why so curious? Does it matter what results you get?

He looked at me with surprise,

Goodness, no!

he replied.

I just want to know. It doesn’t actually matter!

I suspect, at the back of his mind, is the tiny spark of hope that he might have done better than he expects. He’ll probably do fine, but not outstanding.

If only…

Results Day 

And then results day came around. His were pretty much as expected but some of his friends did worse than they’d been hoping for.

I listened to them on the chat, talking about what everyone got, how they felt, what that meant for them, and the anticipation of whether their chosen university was open to allowing them in with a grade or two different.

It seemed to me, listening to their laughter, their chatter, and their intensity, that the enjoyment was in the conversation.

The actual results were simply the reason to connect, to create stronger bonds within their friendship group, to support each other and talk about options, to play with ideas and map out scenarios.

Now, I’m not sure that’s how it appeared to them, in that moment.

But, think about it…

As humans, it’s innate for us to want to create something, and then, when that’s created, to move on to the next thing — even if that ‘next thing’ is discussing alternative university choices.

I see other parents pinning hopes on certain universities — or certain careers — as if this determines future success and happiness. What is university, indeed, what is work, other than something we made up at some point in history?

We pin our hopes on ‘the thing’, imagining that it somehow determines our future happiness, success or failure, and we forget that it’s just the next move in the game of life we’re playing.

Like anything we do, our choice of profession, our grades at school, our university doesn’t define who we are.

Sure, one choice might mean a different path to another — one university versus another might lead to a different life for my son, a job taken twenty years ago might have me living a different life now.

We can’t help feeling our thinking: meaning, we can’t help but get caught up in the excitement, the anticipation, the despondency.

Whatever comes to us in the moment, we’ll feel it, real and raw.

But neither path is better than the other. But neither set of feelings is better or worse.

All our feelings show us that we’re alive and there is beauty in that, no matter what.

I was talking with one of the mums, whose son had been accepted to study law. She laughed and said, “ah, maybe in five years’ time I’ll be able to say ‘I told you so,’ and he’ll be teaching English. But maybe not.”

She could see that her son would be good either way. Right now, it looks as if law will be the path to a career of his dreams, but she sees something in him that craves a deeper connection with nature and with people. She sees that ‘the law’ doesn’t define him and she hopes he’ll be able to see that for himself one day.

What Defines Us? 

Like anything we do, our choice of profession, our grades at school, our university doesn’t define who we are.

Who we are is the magic beneath what we do.

For my son it’s what’s inherent in being human: the joy and the laughter, the ideas that flow through him one after the other, his creativity, his ability to connect and to love. And his cheekiness — well, he’s eighteen after all!

Whether I’m talking to my sons, or coaching my leadership clients, I’m less interested in what we create together, than I am in helping them see where this creation comes from.

Once we see the depth of our capacity to have ideas, to make choices, to act on those choices — to create our own game, with new rules — that’s when I know I’ve helped someone have what they need to create a wonderful life, not just to secure the next job, or help them with the problem member of staff.

We all have this default capability no matter our results in this moment.

This innate capacity is what allows the work team to pick themselves up after a bad quarter; to take a fresh look, to learn lessons and to move on, finding new ways of doing something and, who knows, maybe doing even better than the tried and not-to-be trusted methods that let them down last quarter.

It’s what we parents sometimes forget in our young people — their natural curiosity and love of learning — they don’t have to be taught to learn, or taught how to bounce back — they already know.

As I listened to my son’s friends and their discussions about who was going where and who got what grades, I smiled at the warmth and love in their conversation.

Two days later, the grades were pretty much forgotten.

Their talk was back to what they were going to do at the weekend, who had a two-man tent for the upcoming camping trip and whether mum would be able to drop them.

Life goes on and soon some other ‘result’ would be front of mind.

It’s Not What You Think…

We think the outcome is somehow the end of the process, that it’s the culmination of what we do.

We’re wrong.

Results do matter, in that they’re something to aim for and something to respond to.

It’s like a chess match — one move gives us the choices for the next move, without an opponent there would be no game. And it’s the desire to play the game that is part of our true nature. Not the outcome. (Even if, like me, you’re a bad loser. Trust me, it passes!)

Every step matters, but not in the way we think.

It matters not where it takes us, only that we take it.

With love,


P.S. You may enjoy a related discussion I had on the podcast: The Paradox of Success: surefire strategies to get what you want in life.