WHAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT
At some point in your life and career, you will start asking yourself, “What am I trying to achieve here? What is the real purpose of what I am doing? What does it mean to be successful on my own terms?”
The conventional definition of success is achieving power, prestige and wealth. The myth is that you will find happiness after you battle your way to the top, regardless of the price you paid along the way. In fact, this usually ends up being a shallow recipe for a disillusioned life.
Early on, you will realize that you have to be the architect of your own success. You will discover that life is not all about self-gratification. You will recognize that success is a multi-track journey, not a single destination.
In his book, The Right Mountain: Lessons from Everest On the Real Meaning of Success, Jim Hayhurst, Sr., was correct when he wrote:
I believe success is personal, it is individual, it should not be a societal evaluation. If you try to live by others’ rules, you’ll never be satisfied or feel successful, because there will always be someone richer, more beautiful, more talented, stronger, more successful than you … We should figure out who we are, what we are good at, and do that. We shouldn’t let bosses or society or peers push us into something that isn’t a good match, a good fit, for our skills, our interests, and our values.
Hayhurst believes that to make the right decisions in life you have to understand your core values, what is really important to you, what you want to stand for and what truly motivates you. He thinks that until you know and understand your most important values, you will frequently second-guess yourself and have regrets about “should haves” and “would haves”. After you identify your core values, you can use them as a template to screen important decisions in your life whether it be a job opportunity or relationship. This will help you know when to say “yes” and when to say “no”.
You need to define success in your own terms based on your own goals and values, not someone else’s concept of success. Think of your life as being a chair with at least five legs — family and friends, career, health, community and personal time. While you will have to make trade-offs between these “legs” when your priorities change as you progress in life, you must give sufficient consideration to each of them in order to find the right balance for yourself. If any of the five legs becomes shortchanged, you will find yourself sitting uncomfortably.
Even if you are a competitive individual, having the sole goal of “winning” or being “number one” is rarely a sound approach. As former basketball coach John Wooden wrote in his book Wooden on Leadership, a much better objective is to “never cease trying to be the best you can become.” To excel, you must first invest sufficient time and effort in preparing yourself for the challenge. Then, when you engage in “the game”, whatever it is, you need to work as hard as you can at doing your best, day by day.
Also, success on any terms is rarely achieved without numerous setbacks, disappointments and even outright failures. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was fired from his company at the age of 30. Looking back, Jobs said, “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.” You have to be resilient and have faith in yourself. As Ernest Hemingway said, “Don’t fear failure, and don’t overestimate success.”
In addition, look outward in finding the right path for the different parts of your life. The greatest management guru of all time, Peter Drucker, urged individuals to stop thinking about what they themselves can achieve and instead start concentrating on what they can contribute — to their organization, clients, marriage and community. Doing so is critical to achieving the most in life.
Over time, what really counts is your contribution, performance and results in all facets of your life. If you place too great an emphasis on any one part for too long a time, your overall life, happiness and satisfaction will suffer. No one on his or her deathbed ever said, “If only I had spent more time at the office.”
At various stages in your career, you will likely be subjected to certain demands, pressures and temptations to make a decision that runs against your own convictions and values about what is ethically and morally “right”. Individuals pushing you to do so may say the success of your career will be threatened if you fail to give your consent.
What is actually at stake here is your own character, self-respect and reputation. Success achieved as a result of dishonest or questionable behavior is always fleeting. You have to use your own internal moral compass to guide you through such situations. Sometimes, answering “no” may be harmful in the short run but save your reputation in the long run.
With the Internet, there is a flip side to using it to become well-informed yourself and that is the ability of everyone else to become well-informed about you, starting when you’re relatively young. This includes any prospective employers. As Thomas L. Friedman wrote in his book, The World is Flat:
Search engines flatten the world by eliminating all the valleys and peaks, all the walls and rocks, that people used to hide inside of, atop, behind, or under in order to mask their reputations or parts of their past. In a flat world, you can’t run, you can’t hide, and smaller and smaller rocks are turned over. Live your life honestly, because whatever you do, whatever mistakes you make, will be searchable one day.
As a result of the Internet, the world has become a transparent place where what you do, say or write becomes a permanent digital fingerprint even when you use an alias. Consequently, how you conduct yourself and live your life is important at an earlier age than ever before.
Categorically, your chances of success rise exponentially if you love what you are doing, if it has meaning for you, and if it contributes in some way to the joy and well-being of others. When you truly put your heart into whatever you are doing, you will find your own form of success, be it in your career or as a friend, partner, parent and community member.
When you do achieve some measure of success in any field, avoid being boastful about it. No one likes a braggart. It is far better to be humble and quiet about what you have done and let others speak about your achievements if they wish to.
Take every opportunity to give your associates the credit for any accomplishments. Recognize the role that luck probably played in making your achievements possible. The best guarantee of ultimate failure is to let yourself become arrogant and develop an exaggerated opinion of your capabilities and self-worth.
At the beginning of my career, I was extremely ambitious about achieving a position of independence in running a business where I had a share of the ownership. Fortunately, my father and grandfathers served as strong role models regarding the need for businesspeople to become actively involved in supporting their communities. It was my wife, however, who made me understand that true success is first about having a loving, strong family and second about helping others and your community. This is what has given me the most joy and fulfillment in my life.