How to make sure you celebrate success – the barriers to overcome

By Heather Campbell

This week I’m focussed on celebrating – or rather the lack of celebrating. This came about following a recent conversation with a good friend’s daughter. She’s in the middle of her university exams and can’t wait to celebrate when they finish. Oh, I remember it all too well!

But I’m also guessing that celebration won’t be quite as exciting when it comes as she is anticipating right now. It’s more likely it will all feel like an anti-climax.

Even though university exams are well in my past, I’m experiencing that same anti-climax right now. Today I’ll be finalising the sale of a flat. It had been let for the last 11 years and, when the tenant moved out, I decided to get it ready to sell. My landlord days are over 😊. My husband and I did a lot of the work on the flat ourselves and on many evenings, tired and fed-up with little progress evident, we looked forward to how good it would feel the day the flat sold and we handed it over to its new owner. Well, that day has arrived. And I feel…nothing much actually.

This will undoubtedly be familiar to you too, both in personal and in business life. All too often we reach that end point where the much-anticipated celebration should happen only to find it’s all a damp squib (or as one of my very best bosses mistakenly called it, a damp squid).

It’s a strange thing. Often in senior leader events, leaders will proclaim, as if it’s the greatest insight ever, ‘we just don’t celebrate success in this organisation’. Each time I ask ‘how many times have you said that before?’. And the answer is always ‘lots’. It’s not an exciting insight. It’s just recognition of an entrenched habit.

But what drives this habit? Why don’t we celebrate success in business when we all want to?

Reason no.1: FEAR

This appears time after time in my conversations with leaders.

  • Just won that sought-after contract? Yes, but now we have to deliver it.
  • Just delivered that sought-after contract? Yes, but now we have to find that next one.
  • Just been promoted to the big new job? Yes, but now the real work begins.
  • Just achieved a major milestone? Yes, but the real challenges still lie ahead.

Of course all of these ‘buts’ are ‘real’. The problem is that they get in the way of celebrating the moment we are in. Fear of what is to come destroys the enjoyment of the moment. Sometimes I think that leaders even fear that celebrating will somehow jinx the next stages. It always reminds me of one of reasons people don’t make a will. Apparently they have a deep-down, irrational fear that doing so makes it more likely they’ll die. In all my research, I can find no causal link between the two.

And, in the same way, there is no causal link between celebrating what has been achieved and failure at the next stage.


Sometimes leaders don’t celebrate success because the result hasn’t been quite as good as they’d expected or planned for. They are disappointed at the lack of perfection rather than celebrating the enjoyment of the progress made.

Early on in running my own business, I learned an invaluable lesson (courtesy of ‘The Strategic Coach’ programme). It’s this:

‘Perfection is a myth, progress is reality.’

The point I learned was that, if you wait to celebrate perfection, you will never celebrate. Perfection is always a few steps ahead of where you’ve reached. This is one of the key points I work on with leaders who are focussed on improving their company culture. I always point out to them that they must recognise that the culture that looks like a dream today will seem slightly disappointing when they reach it, because they will already be looking for the next step. There is always a next step, but that shouldn’t stop the enjoyment of the current position.

Reason no. 3: TIMING

Because business is so fast-paced, that short moment of success has passed almost before you even notice it has happened. The pressure of multiple other projects and all the demands on your time mean that you put off the celebration and, when you finally get round to organising it, the moment has passed. The bottle of champagne, the big night out, the bonus payment are no longer connected to that feeling of success.

Far better to have a coffee and doughnut, a quick lunch in the café next door or a heart-felt thank-you in the immediacy of the achievement than to wait to do the ‘big thing.’

That doesn’t mean the bottle of champagne, the big night out or the bonus payment won’t be appreciated. Do those as a moment of appreciation or a thank-you for its own sake. That will have meaning. Just don’t try to connect them to that one big success that is already in the past.

What should you be celebrating today? What celebrations do you need to be sharing with your teams today?

Get on and do it in the moment.

  • Celebrating will not jinx the next step
  • Progress is worth celebrating because perfection isn’t coming any time soon
  • Do the small thing today rather than the big thing when it’s too late

And always, observe yourself and others with interest and learning, not with criticism and judgement.

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