Contribution versus success

Aga Szóstek
2 min readDec 19, 2016


A few months back I sat on a park bench with a friend telling him how dissapointed I was about my work situation. My boss just killed a really good project. She also blamed me for not delivering another project I was asked to abandon two weeks earlier. I was pissed. I felt like a complete failure.

The friend asked: — Why are you thinking about it in terms of success and failure? What if you considered your work a contribution?

This question got me thinking. What did it mean to contribute? It seemed to mean delivering my best work for my boss to decide what to do with it. However, no matter how much I tried to bend my perception to see my contribution just as a contribution I still felt like a failure.

Suddenly it dawned on me: I saw my efforts as perceived by my boss. I saw it through her eyes and not my own. Her judgement was grading everything I did.

What does it mean to make a contribution then? — I wondered. How can I escape this never-ending game of success and failure? How can I reframe? Stop being bothered by external evaluation?

Finally, I saw three points that make a contribution contribution:

  1. In order to contribute you need people who are interested in accepting your contribution. It makes no sense to keep on pressing food through clenched teeth, right? If someone does not see what you offer as something they are willing to accept, it is a waste of time and energy to try to convince them otherwise.
  2. In order for a contribution to be appreciated the goals of you and the person accepting it must be aligned. If you are offering something the other see as a threat, it will not be appreciated. No matter how good your work is.
  3. Whatever the reaction to your contribution is, it is you who needs to judge whether it was the best work you could have done given the circumstances. Because, at the end of the day, we can only deliver what we are able to. If this is not good enough, maybe we are the wrong people for the job. there is no shame in that.

So, although I still have trouble reframing my world from the arena of success or failure, I try to look at my work asking myself: What have I contributed today? I hope that one day I might be less hanged up on whether it was successful or not. I will be able to look for a difference I made in the direction I believe in.



Aga Szóstek

author of “The Umami Strategy: Stand out by mixing business with experience design” &"Leadership by Design: The essential guide to transforming you as a leader"