Being successful means different things to different people but all of us, in one way or another, measure it in both financial terms (how much money we make) and the recognition we get for it. Some might even throw in power, control and influence … the kinds of things we’d see in Fortune Magazine’s list of the 500 most important companies.
Those markers are useful as long as they don’t overshadow the more critical aspects of success … things that are part of “a life well lived”. And as the events surrounding former Mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick and Wall Street “wizard” Bernie Madoff in recent years show, the pursuit of “money, power and influence” with no thought about what’s honorable can lead to ones ruin.
To me, being successful isn’t as much about money and influence as it is about making clear, principled choices in life that benefit both clients and society in general… it’s about making a difference in the lives of others. Doing this, in spite of how things may appear at the moment will lead eventually to the greatest success you can have.
I learned for myself how truly liberating such an approach to life can be when, as a young engineer I refused to participate in a “voluntary” but company sponsored fund drive whose proceeds, in part, would be given to programs that clashed with my sensibilities. Pressure to give in was applied through thinly veiled threats of job loss and/or demotion for two yearlong campaigns. Nevertheless… with the help of friends and family… I was able to hold firm.
Over time, although I was not aware of it, larger more widespread opposition to the program forced the company to rethink and reverse its position. Still, I felt my career was irreparably damaged because of my stand. Interestingly enough that was not the case. In fact, not long afterwards I was promoted and moved to one of the “plum” jobs in the company for, among other things, having the courage to speak up to corporate bureaucracy in a “non threatening” manner.
With that example as a backdrop, my advice for those looking for real success can be summed up in three simple concepts. Go beyond money and influence. Include the following in your decision-making:
1. Have the courage to say “no” if it means being be true to your inner self
We often try as hard as we can to please others even if it means doing something that we don’t believe is the right thing to do. We want to be liked… we want to be approved of. Problem is that if we violate this fundamental premise of “doing what’s right because it is the right thing to do”… we abuse our own conscience and struggle inwardly with guilt and remorse.
Better to take the path you know in your heart is right … it will lead to greater self respect and self worth… as others see your behavior it admonishes them to do likewise… and beyond all that… you’ll sleep better at night.
2. Put the three “F’s” ahead of money, power and control (Faith, Family, Friends)
There’s an old saying that nobody on their death bed ever says “I wished I’d spent more time at the office”. Yet so many of us treat work and clients as if it is the “be all/end all”. We miss family milestones; a child’s first steps or a graduation; or we are simply absent from those we love when they need us the most.
I learned this lesson the hard way… and believe me when I say I now do all I can to make sure business doesn’t distort my sense of what’s really important. Looking back on a life in which you have made time for the really important things is, in many ways, its own reward.
3. Learn to be happy in spite of your circumstances
We live in a world where we are expected to want more than we have; to spend beyond our means; to “keep up with the Jones”; to measure our progress to success by what we own and what we have the financial capacity to do.
What I’ve learned over time … and seen in the behavior of others is that acquiring true peace of mind is what allows us to be happy, even joyful no matter what our material circumstances happen to be. That means living in the moment; not worrying excessively about what tomorrow may bring especially if you’ve done everything in your power to prepare; and letting go of fear and regret.
With little real control over our future (some may want to argue that point:-) and no ability to change the past… all we are left with is the “here and now”. I say make the most of it. Find and revel in what’s good about “now”… friends, family, your health, the weather, just being alive! Don’t compare yourself with others… just enjoy who you are, what you have and be grateful for that.
That mindset allows us to be, as someone once said to me, “comfortable in your own skin”. Neither anxious nor complacent. Neither self-conscious nor arrogant. Just content… knowing that you will enjoy what you have now and be as prepared as you can be to face life tomorrow no matter what it throws your way.
So yes, it’s true; money, power and influence play a role… but real success in business and life requires, more importantly, that we be true to our inner self, that we care for others, especially those close to us and that we pursue happiness in spite of our circumstances. Our thoughts and actions determine our mood… and our mood determines our openness to success. The old saw that says “when life throws you lemons, make lemonade” is true. Make the best of your circumstances in a positive, principled, forthright way and true success will be yours.
© Principia, LLC 2014