Let Peak Experiences Be Your Guide to Career Mobility

Want to better position yourself to advance in your current work and set the stage for satisfying new opportunities? Replicate the peak experiences that showcase your achievements by defining the conditions in which you thrive.

In “The feedforward interview,” Kluger and Nir (2010) present a framework for understanding the factors that lead to peak experiences. This protocol for defining a “personal success code” suggests the steps outlined below, adapted from the article:

Step 1: Describe a personal success story that meets the following criteria:

• You were at your best, vibrant, and in a state of “flow”
• You felt positive emotions
• You were content, even before the results of your actions were known
• You would be willing to experience the same process again

Bring the story to life by providing contextual details that engage the senses (visuals, sounds, scents, tactile sensations, and tastes).

My husband and I married around the time of Passover, in a public park with panoramic views from the heights of ancient Jaffa-Tel Aviv. Emerging from the Ottoman-style event hall after the cocktail hour, we were greeted by the tribal beats of drummers and applause from 140 guests awaiting the ceremony procession. Like the wedding scene in the Godfather, accompanied by family and friends, we ascended the 200-meter winding stone path to the canopy. An exchange of vows on a cloudless 77-degree day culminated in a luminous gold and salmon sunset over the Mediterranean Sea.

Describe the peak moment of the story, including the thoughts, feelings, and physical reactions you experienced.

Looking out at the faces of our beloved guests, I felt a “runner’s high,” and thought, “This is surreal!” The ceremony was a stirring connection with our ancestry and what this celebration meant to all of us.

Step 2: Identify your “personal success code.”

What were the conditions in you, such as your actions, capabilities, and strengths that made this story possible? Share as many diverse conditions as possible.

Alan and I were excited about marrying in Israel, where my parents found home after fleeing persecution in their birthplaces of Iraq and Syria as children. Mom and Dad, who met in the New York City subway and wed blocks from their apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, didn’t imagine we would marry in a place that shaped their way forward. That our wedding date was just two days before Passover deepened the milestone.

We managed the planning and organization of detailed festivities remotely for six months, in collaboration with our Israeli relatives. Aside from the day of matrimony, this included six pre-and post-wedding events and a Passover dinner for 120 guests. Drawing on a love of hospitality and the devotion of many long lasting relationships, I felt gratified to project-manage the intricacies of the occasion in partnership with Alan.

What did others do that contributed to the story?

Alan and I viewed the wedding as a tribute to community, creating a video of family past and present. Even our Siamese cat Thalia made an appearance through a figurine modeled after her, tongue lifted as if to lick the jumbo cup cake that topped two more traditional wedding cake tiers. Many of our guests participated in events planning, including the 40 who came from abroad. This collective weaving established new bonds and recollections shared with a sense of the miraculous even years later. One of our friends, a composer and director of musical theater who wrote and collaboratively performed a wedding song for us, remarked, “I was a part of this.” We were all active participants in the story rather than attendees, which left each of us changed and uplifted.

What were the conditions facilitated by the organization or community that enabled this story?

The quality of service provided by the event hall was beyond any hospitality experience we’ve had. The employees and vendors of the establishment were like the friends and family who had a personal stake in the event. The rabbi, whose mother had been an English teacher, facilitated a meaningful ceremony for both English and Hebrew speaking guests. His soulful singing and guitar playing was something from the movies!

Summarize your “personal success code.”
Based on the personal story I’ve shared, which mirrors work-related peak experiences, I’m most successful when my role is centered in the following:

Service to a cause
I experience my work as having a higher purpose, which means I align my contributions with the needs of the client. This is the reason that almost all of my employee and consulting positions were uniquely created for me and tailored to unmet institutional or individual objectives. I enjoy rallying people around a cause. In practice, this involves facilitating successful transitions and change management efforts both for individuals and organizations.

Alignment between individual contributions and the growth path of a system
I see the link between people’s talents and organizational opportunities, the place of alignment between the advancement of the individual, and that of the system. This includes identifying strengths and performance goals and engaging in honest feedback conversations. It also involves helping managers to engage and develop employees, encouraging initiative and autonomy, two conditions that characterize top performers. *

Appreciation of the value of each person’s contributions
I approach people and situations with curiosity and interest, and enjoy the experience of reciprocity that this openness creates. If executed with integrity, everyone’s contributions are an art form.

As a fraternal twin, middle child, and first generation American who was raised in a family run private pre-school business, I am oriented toward collaboration. My key strengths include encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony by enlisting everyone’s talents and perspectives. I am tuned into and empathize with multiple points of view.

Knowledge sharing
People tend to be very open about sharing with me given my non-judgmental approach and confidence in their ability to arrive at solutions. Reciprocally, I enjoy making evidence-based and expert information accessible to others.

My personal success code includes the following conditions in my work environment and coaching engagements:

• Shared values related to collaboration, community, and people development
• A climate of respect, trust, and open lines of communication
• A true commitment to and investment in proactive change, paced and portioned to the individual or system

If you’re wondering whether or not conditions such as these are attainable, I’ll tell you that I experienced them in my over 14 years as a leadership development and talent reassignment consultant with JPMorgan Chase. This is also where your role in culture change comes in, either in your current workplace, an entrepreneurial venture, or in a new environment where senior leadership is positioned to relinquish a survival status quo in favor of change efforts toward thriving.

STEP 3: Feedforward

Consider how closely your goals and plans incorporate the conditions that support your success.

As a global Internet radio talk show host and the Managing Director of coaching and consulting firm that specializes in quality of life for executives and businesses, my work is built upon many of the conditions that enable me to flourish.

I encourage you to map your “feedforward” analysis in more detail than my illustration provides to more precisely gage how well your goals and plans sync with the conditions that support your success.

Closing Comments
While Kluger and Nir (2010) suggest that knowledge gained from the feedforward interview protocol can be helpful for purposes such as performance appraisal, employee selection, workplace collaboration, customer service, and organizational strategic thinking, I’ve focused on it’s application for career redirection. Career change can take many forms, including restructuring your current role to better play to your strengths and address unmet organizational growth needs. It might take the form of defining a new position and transitioning into a different line of business or industry.

Telling the story of a work-related peak experience has invaluable applicability toward career mobility. Inventorying “out-of-work” peak experiences might shed even broader light on your capabilities, interests, and accomplishments. If you have a rich social and family life and a highly compatible lifestyle, and need to boost your career and finances, what knowledge can you apply from personal peak experiences? This includes your strengths, as well as organizational or community resources that you can more effectively engage.

Similarly, if the heights you’ve reached on the job exceed your level of fulfillment in other contexts, perhaps you can apply strategies from your career toward increasing your life satisfaction. As I have, you’ll likely find a great deal of overlap in what the professional and non-work stories reveal about your “personal success code.”

Describing peak experiences in detail can help you to evaluate and implement the changes you need to optimize work role and environment “fit.” It also prepares you to articulate these needs to your current and prospective employers, and to design potential employee or entrepreneurial streams of income that suit your life stage.

* Resources
To learn more about the feedforward interview protocol, read the full text article: Kluger, A. N., & Nir, D. (2010). The feedforward interview. Human Resource Management Review, 20(3), 235-246.

For research-based findings on initiative as a distinguishing characteristic of top performers, refer to: Collins, J. (2001) Good to Great: why some companies make the leap…and others don’t. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Positive Psychology pioneer Martin Seligman et al. (2001) discusses three key reasons that many lawyers are unhappy, referencing “low decision latitude” as a significant factor. I view this as a decisive satisfaction indicator for professionals in any profession. Source: Seligman, M. E. P., Verkuil, P.R., & Kang, T.H. (2001). Why lawyers are unhappy. Cardozo Law Review, 23(1), 33.

In the blog post http://www.lawyerswithdepression.com/articles/why-are-lawyers-so-unhappy/, Seligman defines low decision latitude as “the number of choices one has – or, as it turns out, the choices one believes one has – on the job.” This relates to my identification of autonomy as a motivating force in performance results.