Finding Success

By Tom Eakin

Personal growth, Business, Hybrid & other

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7 mins

Chapter 1- The Birth of GPS Theory

One morning, not long ago, a series of life-changing questions led to the discovery of my path to success. I had accomplished many things, yet I couldn't understand why those accomplishments didn’t lead to what I sought most. One question, asked in a moment of despair, opened up a mental block I’d spent years trying to get past. It turns out, up until that moment, I never really understood the meaning of success.

Who am I?
How did I get here?
Where do I go from here?
Sound familiar?

We've all wrestled with these sorts of life questions. We have all struggled with and been influenced by doubts caused by our mistakes. The problem is we don’t always see how damaging our responses to mistakes are to us and to the people in our world. At several points in my life, I've wrestled with my own situation. Each time, the result of my decisions and actions up to that point forced me to stop, look in the mirror, and ask,
What have you done?
Who are you? Is this it?
Is this what you’re going to make with your life?
Is this the person you’re going to be?

I've learned the mirror is the best place to begin a life- changing conversation. The person in the reflection knows all of your secrets and deep hidden thoughts. That person sees through your excuses and illogical rationalizations that led you astray from the path you envisioned. You can’t walk away fooling anyone because you can’t walk away from yourself. Looking in the mirror is your best shot at facing the truth. Lie and you’re only lying to yourself. Half-truths don’t hold-up in these conversations, if you truly want to make things right. The solution always starts with you.

A particularly compelling moment of reflection is why I wrote this book. I was in a situation where the line between right and wrong was so thin I didn't know what to do next. At that point I had made some mistakes that led to an unplanned exit from a job I was very successful at. I didn't try to ignore or hide from these mistakes, but they put me in a position where I had to know if I could continue to stand for what I believe in.

The consequences I’d reaped made me seriously reconsider going along with what everybody else was doing and avoid rocking the boat—even when I knew things were wrong—and hoping to guarantee the security of my professional and financial future. I wondered if I should take a safer, more politically correct approach to developing relationships.

Leaving that job meant I was unemployed, although I was still the owner of a small business I had worked very hard to get off the ground. The conditions for success in terms of that business weren’t quite set yet; all I could see in the immediate future was the end of my financial runway.

A few weeks earlier, I’d turned down a job offer because it didn't align with the purpose I envisioned for myself. I took the risk because I thought I had a great chance at getting another job more aligned with my passions. Then I received a phone call notifying me that I didn't get the job I had hoped to land. The company had decided to go with the internal candidate, after all. The next morning I sat at my desk and wrote a summary of the interview process, in an attempt to better understand the reasons for the company’s final decision. I’d come so close to getting the job, but I didn’t. I wanted the facts, so I could understand if there was some- thing I should do differently in the future.

A few weeks earlier, when I first interviewed, I felt like I had rocked it. After our meeting, I drove home feeling like I was back on the path to getting what I wanted. The second interview was different, though. I left it confused about what the company’s executives really wanted.

In the first interview, they said they wanted a proven leader who could create a vision for the new direction for the organization and someone who could implement the strategies to make it happen. During our conversation, I worked hard to demonstrate why I could deliver what they wanted. I used many past examples to back up my claims and explained how they applied to the situation I’d be stepping into if I got the job.

During the second interview, they asked me a number of questions unrelated to my skills and ability to perform the duties and responsibilities. They wanted to know if I was going to fit into their organization. The question I most clearly remember was, “Tom, let’s say you join our team. You analyze the current situation and the vision we have for the organization, you develop the strategies needed to get us there, and we accept your plan. Are you going to be frustrated later if we don’t make the changes you proposed?”

I answered, “Yes.”

As I now recorded the facts after the disappointing phone call, I suddenly realized why I’d felt so uncomfortable in that second interview. The twelve people on the interview panel appeared to want the same thing—change—but they didn't seem willing to risk anything in order to achieve it. The reason they didn't hire me? They recognized that, in order to give them what they said they wanted; I would have to change their worlds too.

This realization didn’t sit well with me. I sensed there was something more going on, so I thought about it for a while, and eventually I recognized a disturbing trend in my professional career. I’d already chosen to leave one organization, four years earlier, for the very same reason—they weren't willing to do what it would take to get what they said they wanted. I left a position at another company because I was creating adversarial relationships with people. They said they wanted to achieve certain goals but didn't like it when I pointed out the difference between their words and their actions. For that matter, I was struggling to truly help clients in my executive coaching business because almost every one of them wanted others to change, but they weren't willing to change themselves. They wouldn’t lead their teams where they wanted them to go. Now I had missed out on a “dream” job for the same reason.

In each case, people who had power wanted their situation to improve without a willingness to change what they were doing. Every workplace I’d committed to over the past decade had sent me virtually the same signals:

1.People who held power said, “We have X and we want you to provide Y.”

2.Based on my analysis, I’d determine what it would take to get X+Y.

3.I communicated the changes required to implement Y across the entire organization.

4.The prospect of change threatened the status quo of the people in power.

5.For most, if not all, of those who held power, the desire to maintain the status quo outweighed the rewards associated with X+Y. They weren't willing to close the gap between their words and actions.

6.I communicated the gap between their stated goals and their actions with the intent of helping them see the changes necessary to achieve X+Y. [This is where the seeds of conflict would be sown.]

7.Each time, I reaped one or more of the following consequences:

•I realized success within the limits of my own authority, but overall organizational success was marginalized due to the lethargic efforts at change across other parts of the organization.
•I was viewed—at least by some—as an abrasive force, and those people showed a tendency to avoid working with me.
•I failed to progress to higher positions of responsibility because I created adversaries instead of advocates by perceived threats to the status quo. People are ultimately resistant to change. I get it.
•After becoming frustrated, I eventually left.

I stopped for a few minutes to think about the words I’d just written.

This was a critical moment for me. The truth about my situation, past and present, suddenly was clear: Despite the words they used to the contrary, I had been trying to help the unwilling!

On the surface, they wanted things to change. They said they wanted to make the necessary improvements for fluid and efficient processes, which could be used by people
working together to create mutually beneficial relationships. But, when it came to actually changing the status quo and stepping out of the comfort zone, the uncertainty created more subconscious resistance than their desire for success could overcome. They weren't willing to take the risk. They expected it to happen through words and without action.

I understand why those who hold power might think this way. These are people who have made all the right moves to realize successful careers. They don’t typically want to risk their status, reputation, or future prospects within their organizations.

I read through the review of the interview process again to see if there was something I’d missed. There wasn’t.

It dawned on me that odds were I would find the same situation in the next job I took. It occurred to me that I might not be able to land the kind of job I wanted, if I didn't change something. It seemed like the only way to do that was to compromise my values, to become a “yes man,” who would tell people what they wanted to hear as long as it kept me safe. But I realized, despite my concerns for a financially secure future, I couldn't imagine living like that without becoming extremely miserable. It seemed like the worst kind of misery and failure, one that would impact the rest of my life (and, ultimately, the lives of those around me).

Yet a powerful inner voice said I would reap the same results over and over again in my career if I didn't change something. There was a conflict raging inside my head between two needs: the need to live my life with conviction for what I believe and the need to meet the financial obligations I had created.

As I was writing, I asked myself, How am I ever going to be successful if I always have to work with people who think like this?
That question stopped me in my tracks.
I was shocked by how it made me feel.
I felt immediate helplessness, yet I am not a helpless person.

What I disliked most about the question was it allowed me to blame the world because I didn’t know how I fit into it. It implied I was not responsible for any of my behaviors that directly contributed to the trend or could change it.

I knew I needed to change something, only I didn't know what or how. This was a turning point in my life. I stood on the brink of a psychological and spiritual fall, one from which it would be extremely difficult to emerge unscathed.

Again, I thought about the question, How am I ever going to be successful?

I don’t know exactly what prompted the next question, but it pulled me back from the ledge: Well, Tom, what does success look like to you?

My answer would plant the first seed from which Guided Personal Success (GPS) Theory would grow.

What is GPS Theory
GPS Theory (Guided Personal Success Theory) is a model to apply to the decision-making process in any situation; it will keep you on the path to getting what you really want. The first part of the book, through Chapter 6, introduces the concepts behind GPS Theory and covers topics we typically associate with being successful. Stories intended to progressively build upon what has been discussed will help to broaden your understanding of the concepts. You may find them confusing at first but as you read on you’ll understand their purpose in challenging the status quo when it comes to thinking about success. They are intended to make you think. In the second part, Chapters 7–12, you’ll read some stories designed to deepen your awareness of how simplistic views of success can create confounding situations. Finally, in Chapters 13–17, you’ll learn how to use GPS Theory to create a system that will provide you with values-driven success in your personal, professional, and organizational lives.

Throughout this book, you will read stories that may challenge the way you look at success. You may come to realize your intuitive view and reasoning, shaped by various influences imposed by the people and conditions present in your world, may not be as accurate as you have assumed. During this process I will do my best to honestly portray situations when my own assumptions about success were deceptively inaccurate. My intention throughout will remain the same: To use sound reasoning to help you understand your current situation as it is, not as you would simply like it to be, and make decisions that will lead to what you really want, satisfaction and happiness.

Spoiler alert: your future definition of success may differ decidedly from how you define it today.

The purpose of Finding Success is to help you recognize when you are at critical life-transition points; times in your personal, professional, or organizational life when small, incremental decisions can create long-term effects which, if left unmonitored, can lead to getting everything you ask for, but not what you really want. Sometimes, these life-transition points occur at common rites of passage, like graduation from high school or college. They may take the form of needing to change the status of relationships, personal or professional, which are negatively influencing your situation. You may have formed habits you recognize as damaging to you and the people you love or wasting a lot of your precious time. You want to change but lack the strength and you seek the conviction necessary to achieve change. In the pages that follow, I provide the GPS Theory model to help you identify and define your path to a values-driven life. Equally important: through the application of the GPS Theory, you will gain the skills to continuously monitor your progress, so you can stay on the desired path to success.

Life is about making decisions. Success comes from making the best decisions and GPS Theory provides you with a powerful tool for doing just that.

Thank you for reading this sample chapter of Finding Success.
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