Take a look at the media. They talk a lot about “successful” people. The same goes for the social circles we run in. You hear someone referred to as successful. By and large, when that word is used, it’s referring to someone doing well financially.
Last weekend my wife and I had to attend a family function in Cabo. While the others were either spinning their wheels in the spa or chasing a little ball around a golf course hoping that others falsely mistook them for a PGA professional due to their top-notch gear and attire, I found a secluded portion of the resort and got busy reading. I only have so much time, and I’m going to make the most of it. On this occasion, I was reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. Phil Knight is the founder of Nike, which of course, is a great business “success” story.
It’s a truly fascinating book, and the history of Nike is really quite remarkable. As much as I loved hearing the story of how a great American brand was born and developed, I felt tremendous sadness and found myself incredibly conflicted as I read through the last section of the book. In this section, Knight discusses the death of his oldest son Matthew when he was in his early 20s. Throughout the book, Knight briefly and delicately touched on the idea that his relationship with his son was strained. If one read between the lines, it was clear that it was because at each turn in life, Nike’s survival and growth was chosen over time with family. For Phil Knight, night after night and weekend after weekend was spent at the office or at athletic events doing all of the things necessary to grow the company.
Putting it simply, family was sacrificed in lieu of building a “successful” business an in turn personal financial “success.”
The Definition of Success is Wrong
The problem with this definition of success is that it doesn’t account for the most finite and precious resource of all: time. Rather is encourages tunnel vision, pushing us to relentlessly focus on money and its pursuit rather than those things that will provide the most value in our lives.
I myself have fallen into this trap – because I craved comfort. I spent far too much of my life believing the false narrative that money = success = comfort. And yes, money does provide some comfort, but that comfort is short-term and fleeting.
As true leaders – leaders in the real sense of the word, not simply those that are at high levels of an organization – we must redefine what our definition of success is.
How Real Leaders View Success
Success is about being the best we can be. It’s about the process. It’s about the daily grind. Whether you have an IPO or spend your career in a cubicle, it’s not about the number in your bank account or the aesthetics – it’s about how much you do with what you’ve got, and how aggressively you pursue your goals.
Let’s be clear. This is hard to do. The world defines success differently. The media certainly does. Our friends and family probably do. But leaders don’t blindly follow the world. Leaders live lives detached from the world. They rely on that perspective to dictate their actions. They make their own judgement and initiate their own actions.
That is what we must do. We must reject the world’s definition of success.
Time Waits for No Man
This was never more clear to me than during a conversation I had with a friend recently. He was at a function and spent time with seven billionaires. He asked each of them a simple question. What would you do differently? Each and every one of them said that they wish they’d focused less on work and more on their families. In fact, many of them lamented that they were miserable, simply chasing their next billion dollars. How many of them would trade their bank accounts for that time with their kids or their spouses that they’ll never get back. Sadly, you can’t go back and get things right. There is no second chance when it comes to time.
Think about it. These people devoted their entire lives to making money, but they completely neglected the most scarce treasure of them all: time. You can likely make money down the road if need be, but time waits for no man and you’ll never get it back. Once these individuals made money, it didn’t change their lives. Oddly, it just created the craving for more. Unless you’re the person at the very top (in this case Jeff Bezos), there’s always going to be someone with more cash. Always someone with whom to compare yourself. Always someone to chase in vain. That’s not what a successful life looks like. That’s what a fatal obsession looks like, and that’s the fallacy of “success.”
The question, at least when it comes to money that we must ask ourselves is if we’d rather have the best outcome financially and be somewhat satisfied with our lives, or a decent outcome financially and be incredibly satisfied with our lives.
If it’s up to me, I’d rather lay on my deathbed reflecting on the quality time I spent with my family (leading my family) and the time that I invested in others (leading them) to help them better themselves and their families. After all, you can’t take that money with you, but you can leave a lasting impact on those you interacted with.
To be fair, I’m not saying money is bad and that it shouldn’t be factored into how you operate. Of course it is, and there is some element of it that’s indicative of success. I own one business and am a partner in the other. I’d love for them to do well financially. My point, however, is simply that the tunnel vision of focusing on one thing such as money while neglecting our other responsibilities is a recipe for disaster.
Let’s Fix our Success Definition
My advice is simple. Make the choice to positively impact those around you in your life. Be the person they need. Be the person they respect. That means at work and at home. Attack each day not for some monetary or fleeting outcome, but with the goal of exhausting yourself to be that person. Then – and only then – will you live and die as a rich, successful person.