A well-respected CEO (who will remain nameless) once told me, “David, in order to be successful you’re gonna need to work hard.” This was his response when I stressed not wanting to return to a career where I worked excessive hours. I refused to put my family through that.
I confirmed I understood and the conversation carried on.
But his ‘advice’ continued to bother me. It bothered me because, like many other people, he narrowed the definition of success to what we accomplish at work.
He also tried to define success for me. But success is personal – only you can decide what it looks like for you, although plenty of people will try to do it for you.
Why limit ourselves?
Unfortunately I have been there. There was a time when I had no idea how much my body (including my brain) needed rest. In my 20s I worked 75+ hours a week and slept less than six hours a night. I ended up with a severe case of burnout, my relationships were weak and my health was in the toilet. It happened over the course of 10+ years and it required another three for me to recognize it. Only then did I begin to recover.
Wanting success so badly in one area of life can lead to failure in the rest of it.
Why would anyone want that?
Now, I’m greedier than ever
I want it all.
I want my marriage to flourish and last forever. I want my kids to grow to be the adults they’re meant to be. I want deep relationships with a few people and I want to have a positive influence on many others. I want to grow every day as a person. And yes, I want to do meaningful work.
But I’m done with the narrow, one-dimensional view.
I see six areas of life in which we can all work a little harder:
1. Spiritual: believe in something
I am not asking you to believe what I believe, but I am asking you to spend more time on what you believe. We all seem to believe in something. I have not met a person who isn’t seeking something bigger than himself, yet we spend so little time pursuing that ‘something.’
It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind that we forget our deepest needs. I can’t think of an area of life more important, but at the same time so neglected. Our spirituality feeds into every other area of our lives. When left ignored, we limit our growth. Sometimes it is this broken foundation that leaves us stagnant in other areas.
The time we spend working on our spiritual lives should be meaningful. Don’t just mindlessly visit a church, synagogue or another place of worship once a week. Be active in your spiritual development and chase after your beliefs. Study. Contemplate. Take steps forward. Reflect.
Seek out other people who are asking similar questions. Communities are a great way to learn. One of my friends doesn’t believe what I believe, but some of the best conversations I’ve had about spirituality have been with him. He enjoys it too. And when we talk, we both grow because we care enough to ask questions, think, challenge, and discuss.
I’ll admit, this is a complex area of life. It is confusing and can be uncomfortable. It challenges our hearts and minds. But this is precisely why we should pursue it. We grow most when we lean into discomfort.
2. Spouse: live out your vows
If you are currently single you can either skip this one or start preparing early. If you are married, do you remember your vows? Do you remember you made a set of promises on your wedding day?
Success in marriage comes when we actually keep those promises. The essence of most vows is, “I will stick with you no matter what.” It’s a simple promise but follow-through is difficult and rare.
I will never forget our wedding-day minister saying, “the definition of love is never-ending pursuit.” Pursuit (love) is active, and doesn’t stop after the honeymoon.
Similar to how a business reviews its plan, my wife and I review our vows once a year. We get into our wedding gear, cook dinner and celebrate one more year together. It can be a lot of fun and a great reminder of why we originally made the commitment. Regular review, in any area of life, increases our chances of success.
I understand marriage is difficult and I’m early in mine, but most success is a result of fulfilling commitments. Shouldn’t marriage be held to this same standard?
3. Self: never stop growing
What are you feeding your brain when you aren’t at work? Are you acquiring knowledge and skills to help you grow? When is the last time you assessed your overall personal health? Not just your physical health, but everything else too.
Learning shouldn’t be just about job skills or knowledge. When we limit our learning to one discipline we lose perspective. It inhibits our ability to work with others.
I’m a huge fan of the philosophy behind Crossfit. It is about being ready for any physical situation – the known, the unknown and the unknowable. Crossfit is popular with special forces and law enforcement because unspecialized training better prepares them for diverse circumstances. Unspecialized doesn’t mean less intense, it just means you’ll be ready for ‘game day,’ regardless of what it entails.
This same approach works really well for personal growth and development. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we can be better prepared by embracing diversity in our learning. Exposing ourselves to diverse opportunities can help us build the emotional intelligence, mental capacity, and physical endurance to handle what life throws at us.
4. Family: give all you can
We spend most of our waking hours with co-workers, so we must be sure we give ample time to those who depend on us when life gets hard.
Our kids need us there to coach and encourage them through life. Our parents may require help later in life. No one understands us better than our siblings, so being there for each other is important.
The past can be tough for many of us, but it won’t get better by ignoring it. Relationships can be repaired with time. As leaders, it’s on us to take steps in that direction, even when it’s hard.
Similarly, healthy relationships won’t remain healthy unless they continue to be nourished. This means spending enough time (quality and quantity) with the people who mean the most to us.
5. Career: be a leader of people
I have had a successful career by most people’s standards, but I want more. I want to be remembered as a leader of people, not someone who was just good at making money.
This means doing the right thing when it’s unpopular or expensive. It means putting the greater vision ahead of short-term, temporary wins. It means putting people first.
It means working hard to make connections with people, information and ideas. It means pushing hard to be creative when it would be easy to fall into a routine.
It means bringing our passion to work every day to solve problems. It means creating real value by giving gifts.
6. Community: leave it better than when you showed up
It is just as important to make connections with people and ideas in our communities as it is in our businesses. Sometimes it seems like this is someone else’s job, but successful people don’t shirk responsibility like this.
As citizens and leaders of whatever community we live in, it’s our job to care. It’s our job to provide help where help is needed.
This doesn’t always mean taking the comfortable route and sending a check. It means getting our hands dirty once and a while.
It means investing our time where no one else will and making an impact on actual people. That’s the kind of legacy that can last forever.
What about you?
I’m willing to bet success for you isn’t just about one aspect of life.
It’s up to each one of us to determine our definition of success and then pursue it with everything we have. As leaders we have a bigger responsibility, and I think that makes life far more exciting.
Ambitious? Yes. Impossible? Not at all.
Remember, in order to be successful you’re gonna need to work hard.