Success vs. Fulfillment

I think it’s difficult to find real success unless you prioritize fulfillment.

Sure. You can get rich. Gain status. And win the praise of others. But if you’re unfulfilled, does it even matter?

When I think about my own life and how I’ve defined success over the years one thing seems constant – the goal posts always move.

Each achievement challenges further achievement. Incomes goals, career goals, status goal…you name it. Anytime I’ve been prioritized “success” over fulfillment, I’ve found it fleeting.

On the flip side, when I’ve prioritized fulfillment, I’ve found something altogether different to be true – an ability to be content without sacrificing future ambition.

A Personal Tale

When I graduated college I set a pretty ambitious goal for myself: double my income every year.

It was easy at first. Year one. Year two. Even year three. But as you can imagine it became more difficult in time. Through my first five years in the real world, I almost succeeded too. But then I discovered something I didn’t anticipate. More money did not make me happier.

As obvious as this might sound to you, it was actually difficult for me to understand. Because I had a wrong notion about success. I believed success was a function of keeping score.

That belief really led me astray for quite some time. It had me looking out into the world at what others were doing. Comparing myself. And then beating myself up over all that I had not yet accomplished by my age. Which honestly got pretty exhausting after awhile.

Two Steps Back, One Leap Forward

A few years back I left an awesome job at a company I loved. I’d been there awhile. I’d climbed the ranks. And I was making great money.

But something had gone missing. I’d lost the fire for my work.

For awhile I tried to rediscover it. I tried working harder. I tried working less. I tried journaling. I tried therapy. I tried changing up my schedule. I tried changing up what I was working on.

But the more I searched the less vigor I felt for my work.

After months of battling with this, I found a new outlet – an opportunity to go work on something entirely different. To leave behind one opportunity and pursue the next. A new challenge, if you will.

It scared me. But (thankfully) after some prodding from a friend, I made the leap.

I went from big fish in big pond to a small pond where status had no bearing. I took a +40% pay cut. I left a team where I’d been around longer than almost everybody to a team where I was very much the new guy. I went from a role where I knew exactly what it took to succeed to a role that I was larger learning everything on the fly.

And a surprising thing happened – I rediscovered my fire for my work.

Somehow my status and income had both declined but my happiness increased. Who knew, right?

How To Find Fulfilling Work

Roman Krznarick has an awesome book on this topic you should check out. It’s called How To Find Fulfilling Work.

In the book he highlights five dimensions of fulfilling work. Here they are:

  • Earning Money (Extrinsic)
  • Achieving Status (Extrinsic)
  • Making a Difference (Intrinsic)
  • Following Your Passions (Intrinsic)
  • Using Your Talents (Intrinsic)

Basically, we all have our own motives for doing what we do. Krznarick explains how some of those motives originate by watching people – see also mimetic desire. Krznarick called these extrinsic motives. These are the things we all usually think about when we define success – like money, titles, where we work, who we know, etc.

But in the stories Krznarick researched, in most cases, people who pursued extrinsic factors actually ended up less happy. They were missing something.

Krznarick argued that the motives that come from within – which he calls intrinsic factors – are actually the key to unlocking fulfillment in our work and lives.

He tells stories about people who left 6-figure consulting jobs to work in non-profits. Or left their high-status jobs to pursue their art. And a whole collection of other examples where people “traded down” (lower income and status) to become happier.

People became happier as the moved closer to roles that used their talents, made them feel like they were making a difference, and stuff they were passionate about. In most cases, they made less money and did less glamorous-sounding work (at least at first).

As surprising as it might sound, Krznarick’s theory suggests it’s actually not the money or status that makes us happy. Rather, it’s the stuff that makes us come alive that leads to real success – success from fulfillment.

Searching For Your Own Answers

It’s nothing new for people to be searching for answers. What’s the meaning of life? How can I be successful? How can I live a happy life?

Questions like this have challenged people centuries. Thankfully a lot of people have kept good notes. And there’s so much we can learn from exploring other people’s struggles on these same topics.

I’m very much still on my own journey of personal development. But I’ve found a lot of answers – and a ton more questions – by digging deep into how other people have approached questions like these in their own lives and careers.

Here are a few resources I’ve found useful throughout the years:

How to Find Fulfilling Work By Roman Krznarick

How Will You Measure Your Life? By Clayton Christensen

Outwitting the Devil By Napolean Hill

Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World By René Girard

Start with Why By Simon Sinek

Do What You Are By Paul & Kelly Tieger & Barbara Barron

The War of Art By Steven Pressfield

You Don’t Need a Job – You Need Guts By Ash Ambirge

There are countless other good resources out there for exploring questions about success, happiness, fulfillment and the like. It’s a personal journey. And these are tough questions to wrestle with. But it’s worth it.

28 Things I’m Thinking About at 28

*The following post was adapted from a fall 2019 private journal entry – which I’m sharing publicly here now for the first time.

28 Things I’m Thinking About at 28

Something about birthdays always gives me pause – almost as if it’s a biological reminder to reflect on my life – to give an annual accounting of how I’ve spent my time.

This year is no different – and in the spirit of the sensationalist, click-bait times we live in, I’ve aimed to present this year’s reflections in as thoughtful manner as possible.

So here goes nothing.


Journal Entry – 6:20 p.m. November 18, 2019

1. Alchemy

Transforming the errors of my youth into golden nuggets of wisdom and life lessons (so I don’t repeat the same mistakes).

2. Mining

Extracting more value out of life – both from my time & labor, as well as the little things.

3. Treasure

Both wealth-building (present & future) but also why – I believe I have more good to offer the world if I’m financially independent.

4. Mental Hygiene

Practicing to live better mentally – less stress, more good vibes.

5. Physical Health

We won’t live forever. Both physical and mental self-care are critical.

6. Gratitude

This is a daily battle. But I believe it’s important to remain aware of the gift life is – and for what I have.

7. Joyfulness

Happiness has been an afterthought to ambition most of my life. I want to enjoy my life in the present though. To live joyfully now – not just with hope toward the future.

8. Curiosity

I’m never as fully alive as when I’m in hot pursuit of something I must know or prove.

9. Integrity

I want to be known – I crave to – as someone who deals honestly & fairly with others.

10. Compassion

I’m at constant odds with my desire to reason & my capacity for being human – without the latter in tact, I’ve lost something of grave importance for living a full life, and for achieving my potential. Remember to be human.

11. Identity

I’ve spent most of my life figuring out who I am not – and who I do not want to be. I feel more aware and comfortable with who I am each time I make one more step of progress toward that.

12. Hopefulness

I wouldn’t know what to do with my life if I didn’t carry an unshakeable belief that there is better out there – even if I can’t fully comprehend it.

13. Confidence

There’s no sense in standing for anything except what I believe to be right – the world will try to screw us one way or the other 😉. So might as well be comfortable living with myself.

14. Balance

I have a default “all or nothing” setting. It’s tough to be at odds with that – but it’s also necessary to find and practice balance. Which includes being at harmony with myself and my emotions.

15. Friendship & 16. Family

What’s the point of any of this if we can’t share it with anyone?

17. Fellowship

We live in a time where being present is constantly at war with everything else happening in the world. I want to get better at prioritizing and cherishing the limited, precious times and opportunities I do have with those who are important to me – not just idle time together – but time well spent.

18. Courage

The world can be scary. The odds are not in favor of the good guy. And that makes it all the more critical to fight to protect our individualism.

19. Encouraging

We’ve all got shit going on in our lives – that does not excuse me from building others up. I wouldn’t be where I am had others not encouraged me. Remember to pay it forward.

20. Patient

Damn. It’s exhausting to feel like I’m always being a reactionary… I want to protect my sanity and joy by getting better at letting things outside my control play out before flying off the handle. Remember to breath.

21. Thoughtfulness

It’s easy to take others for granted. I want to get better at acknowledging, recognizing, and communicating my appreciation.

22. Originality & Creativity

I have something unique and valuable to offer the world. Sometimes it’s hard, scary, vulnerable-feeling to put it out there. But it’s worth protecting that by persevering through.

23. Perseverance

Some days are tough. But nobody’s going to carry the water for me – and even if they offered, I won’t let them.

24. Personal Agency

I alone am responsible for my life, my actions, my choices, my words…and the consequences of those. No one else can carry my blame.

25. Industriousness

It’s not enough to work hard when the time we have is scarce. I must also invent my own way to prosperity.

26. Masculinity

Everything about being a man is part of the fabric of who I am – the good, the bad, the ugly. Masculinity is something to be embraced not renounced. Bridges and skyscrapers weren’t built by manicured hands.

27. Faith

My beliefs have been challenged more in the past decade than I ever imagined. I’m still working through the gaps – maybe I always will be . But I believe my life has a purpose higher than me. I can’t perfectly describe or articulate it. But I crave understanding of that purpose – and to be lost, wholly, in pursuit of it.

28. Love

My capacity and patience for the mysteries of my heart have forever been tethered to my faith. In periods of spiritual stagnation, love has felt like something within my control – cold, distinct, in-form, and calculated. In periods of deep spiritual longing – it has felt totally overwhelming, fierce, and both entirely incomprehensible and far beyond my control and mental faculties. Yet, in spite of the ebbs and flows – love has revealed its steadfast qualities to me. Through its unwavering – and at times undeserved – loyalties from others. And thought it’s consistent, sometimes soft but never-absent calling.

How Will You Measure Your Life?

A decade ago, legendary thinker Clayton Christensen delivered a powerful commencement to Harvard Business School grads. His speech came only months after overcoming the same type of cancer that had taken his father’s life — which gave extra pause for reflection.

Sadly, Christensen lost his battle with cancer earlier this year.

But he left behind a rich legacy of insight through writings like The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Prosperity Paradox, and many other best-sellers. Christensen spent the better part of his career asking important questions about how we can build better businesses and more fulfilling lives.

The past months, our team at Praxis has written about big changes impacting the future of education and careers — like ballooning student debt, degree inflationchanges in job requirements, the rise of online learningno-code tools, and more.

Today, I want to share why we believe changes like these matter for young people thinking about their futures. And how the ideas Clayton Christensen left behind offer a roadmap for approaching our lives and careers in light of many major shifts happening in the world.

In his book, How Will You Measure Your Life?, Christensen describes two types of strategies people use in planning: deliberate and emergent.

  • A deliberate strategy, Christensen described as the process of planning for anticipated opportunities. In other words, a deliberate strategy involves planning for a specific outcome. (Like going to college to pursue a particular occupation.)
  • An emergent strategy, on the other hand, continuously evolves as new, unanticipated problems and opportunities arise — more of a “work hard and play it by ear” approach.

Ultimately, Christensen suggested the best way to approach our careers is by following an emergent strategy — continuously experimenting with new opportunities — until we discover a path that both fulfills us and meets our needs.

Christensen’s advice aligns well with our philosophy at Praxis.

As we think about the future, we continue to aim to design an experience that enables young people to approach their futures emergently. By rapidly experimenting with new types of work, gaining context for their skills, and increasing their exposure to different opportunities, Praxis participants expedite their discovery process.

Our world is being reshaped rapidly. Computing power continues to expand exponentially. The growth of data continues to climb. Starting a business is becoming ever more affordable. Technological shifts are creating, eliminating, and changing our jobs (and how we do them) at an unprecedented rate.

These changes have dramatically increased the opportunity cost of waiting to gain experience in the real world (especially if waiting also involves accumulating debt). And in many cases, delaying experience means gaining theoretical knowledge or skills that may no longer be relevant once you enter the real world.

At Praxis, we recognize the pressure many young people feel to have their entire lives planned out before they get started. And we want to change the narrative.

We believe the most effective way to discover the kind of work that makes you come alive is by running experiments in the real world — until things click. But until then, don’t stress about having it all figured out.

Christensen said, “What’s important is to get out there and try stuff until you learn where your talents, interests, and priorities begin to pay off. When you find out what really works for you, then it’s time to flip from an emergent strategy to a deliberate one.”

If you’re still in school or early in your career and feel the pressure to have it all figured out, take a breath. Everything will be just fine. And if you want help coming up with a strategy — don’t hesitate to reach out.

Onward.

Mitchell


This post was originally published in our Praxis weekly newsletter, and has also appeared on the Medium publication: On Breaking The Mold.

Cherish the Imperfections

Can you imagine how stale life would be if everything were perfect?

The first pancake off the skillet always cooks completely through and every kernel of popcorn in the bag all pops perfectly.

But what if all those subtle imperfections in the world around us disappeared?

Today I’m grateful for all the things in life that aren’t perfect.

For the squeaky wheels. The kid screaming in the movie theatre. The gridlock traffic.

All these things form the beautiful tapestry that is the background of our lives. They grant us opportunities to improve both ourselves and the world around us. Opportunities to become a better version of ourselves – by achieving greatness or by learning humility.

Imperfections shape us, and in some way may always serves as a sentimental reminder of how far we’ve come, and how much further yet we have to go.

 

Exploring as Catharsis

Do you ever get the urge to explore something new? I do – often.

Something about venturing out into the unknown acts as a release. Even in the small detours – like a new route home from work, or a new path on an afternoon walk.

I think exposure to new environments expands our minds, even subtle changes. Disparities from routine offer fresh perspectives.

The explorations don’t have to be geographic, either. Consider a few modest changes with significant benefits:

  • Rearranging furniture
  • Swapping light bulbs with different hues
  • Working remotely or from a coffee shop, instead of the office
  • Using noise-cancelling headphones versus the usual ear buds (cough *Airpods* cough)
  • Changing up your playlist
  • Alternating to standing from sitting

All of these small steps give me a major release – not just in reduction of stress, but in a more significant way. New experiments yield new glimpses of joy. It’s almost like each new experience unlocks one more small secret to the universe.

Maybe it seems silly. But it works for me.

Against Monotony

We live in a great big world. How much of it have you experienced? I try to ask myself that from time to time. Especially when I find myself stuck in a routine that’s begun to produce diminishing returns.

A quick change of pace can go a long way. Major alterations go even further.

The real secret is not in changing for change’s sake – there is value to be had from routine – but in changing to expand your point of view.

If you’re like me, doing the same thing over and over again eventually leads to a wall that impedes progress. Mixing things up combats against that.

Experience the Orange

A decade or so ago at a leadership training seminar, the speaker gave everybody an orange. He set the clock for two minutes. The only instructions he gave were “to experience the orange.” For two minutes, everybody observantly peeled back the layers of the orange – intently cataloging every nuance.

Suddenly I held more than some orange table fruit.

Again, it seems silly. But I still remember it.

Sometimes approaching things in a new light, gives you an entire new perspective. If you’re down and out or feel like inspiration is lacking, maybe it’s time for your to experience the orange.

Go explore something new. Or go explore something familiar in a new light. There may be some new secret waiting for you to uncover it.

 

 

Decisions By Proxy

I got a new pair of roller blades for my 8th birthday.

Immediately, I begged dad to take me to the park. The street no longer presented a challenge.

Marching directly to the playground, I climbed up the steps to the tallest slide, slipped on my blades and stared toward the bottom.

“Should I do it?” I asked my dad.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea, Mitch,” he replied.

That’s all the encouragement I needed. I jumped to my feet and lurched forward.

The moment ended as quickly as it began. I ate it – hard. But at least I tried.

The experiment earned me several scrapes and an important lesson: bad outcomes hurt less when they result from your own decisions.

My dad and I laugh about that incident to this day. Still, I can’t help feeling a little pride. Yes – I made a reckless decision. But I made the decision.

Outsourcing Your Decision-Making

Contrast my example above with another story.

Several years ago, I worked in an office next to a warehouse. We shared street parking. Signs clearly marked the tow away zones. But we rarely saw them enforced.

On one occasion, a few new employees asked others if they ran a risk parking in the tow away zones. Some tenured employee told them they’d never seen a car towed – so the new folks parked there.

That afternoon the city towed their cars. The new employees acted outraged. What an injustice!

One requested reimbursement from the company for the incident. This confused me at first, but the longer I thought about it, the more it sank in.

This individual wasn’t mad just because of the car towing – he was also mad because he’d relied on someone else’s judgment to inform his decision. He saw the tow-away signs. But he made a calculated risk based on the information from what seemed like a credible source.

In short – he allowed someone else to make his decision for him. On that day, his proxy turned out wrong.

The individual felt justified in his outrage because he had a scapegoat upon whom he could blame-shift. Had he never asked anyone and chosen to park in the tow away zone, he would’ve bore full culpability.

Instead, by outsourcing his decision, he relived himself of responsibility for his poor decision.

Stuck Holding the Bag

We all rely on proxies to inform our decisions from time to time.

Consider product reviews as a small case and point. Or referrals from friends about the best dentist or auto-shop.

Still, we ultimately bear the cost if we act on the information and the choice turns out poorly.

What about the bigger decisions?

Like who to marry, whether or not to go to college, which company to work for, or which city to live in.

We all know people who’ve made decisions like this by proxy. Sometimes it works out. But when things go poorly, the person who provided information is rarely stuck holding the bag.

No – we have to live with the choices we make, even if we relied on information from someone else.

Skin in the Game

For big life decisions, I try to avoid advice from people without skin in the game. Sure, I’ll ask for movie referrals. But for the big stuff, I do my best to own my decisions.

If the choices blow up in my face, I have no on else to blame but myself.

Still, occasionally it’s useful to seek out third-party opinions – if even just to shock-test your ideas.

I’ve found over time that people who have no skin in the game as to the outcome tend to give advice based solely off their own experience. They don’t account for the arbitrage of their experience adjusted to yours.

People who have an actual investment in your outcomes, on the contrary, bear some of the risk if shit goes awry. I think something about that risk makes them simultaneously more affected, and more level-headed. They have to live with the weight of their opinion.

No – this does not mean you should fully outsource your decisions to them. But it does increase the odds that their advice is better suited for an outcome that’s good for you (not just them).

Proxies Don’t Pay

Whether you heed others’ advice or not rests on your own shoulders. When you request advice, you still get to choose what to do with it.

You’re never obligated to make decisions you don’t agree with. Don’t forget, you own the final say.

But, if and when you make a poor decision, if you relied on someone else’s faculties, remember: it’s you who has to bear the full cost.

Though they may “feel” guilty – you have to live the decision, not them.

So don’t be flippant. Proxies provide additional points of view. But they don’t have the power to make the call – you do.

Own your decisions. Even when you make bad ones. Don’t cede responsibility to anyone else.

To Keep A Streak Alive You Just Need One

Joe DiMaggio stills holds the record longest streak for consecutive games with a hit.

To keep his streak alive, he didn’t need multiple hits each game. He didn’t need home runs. He just needed one good at bat and one good pitch.

It’s a good reminder – progress doesn’t have to be monumental each day. Just keep showing up and make one pitch count. Consistency compounds.

*In honor of keeping my one post per day streak alive, I’m typing this while pumping gas somewhere in Arkansas. Sophie, my Bernese Mountain doggo and I are well into a 1,200 mile road trip across country. But, that’s no excuse to let pitches go by.

 

Optimizing Your Career for Income is Like a Dog Chasing His Tail

Meet Doug.

Doug is a good boy. Some have even called him the best of all the good boys. But that was a long, long time ago.

By all accounts, Doug was no ordinary show dog. He didn’t come from a champion pedigree. He didn’t have the best coat, nor the best markings.

But Doug had something few other dogs are born with: a willingness to work harder than any other dog.

Doug had never seen a show ring, let alone win a prize. But that all changed when Master rescued him.

The Master took Doug under his wing. He gave him a nice house. He fed him good food. But most importantly of all – the Master recognized Doug’s potential and he treated him with respect.

The Master told Doug stories about legendary show dogs – how they bounded across the arenas with grace and how they lifted the spirits of crowds.

Doug wanted nothing more than to be a champion someday, so he could inspire crowds. The Master warned Doug how hard he would have to work – still it did not deter him.

So the Master agreed to train that ordinary rescue pup into a champion show dog.

Doug’s work ethic served him well. When the Master said sit, Doug sat, and the Master rewarded him with a treat. When the Master said lay down, Doug laid, and he received a treat.

Occasionally, Doug would encounter an obstacle that didn’t come naturally – there were no treats for bad performance.

Still, the Master patiently instructed him through drills to improve his footwork – so Doug worked harder and harder until he got it.

After several months, Doug and the Master entered some contests. Doug performed well and earned third prize, but not well enough to win. Doug still had much to learn.

Master warned Doug they would need to work harder yet to win – but if Doug wanted to quit, they could. Doug refused. He said he wanted to become a champion.

So they continued to train.

Several months and contests later, Doug had developed quite the reputation for himself. He had taken home several modest winnings. But his attitude began to change. Doug became prideful.

Doug began to forget why he wanted to be a show dog. He liked the level of success he had attained, and he forgot about hard work. No longer did he dream of glory – instead he dreamed only of more and more treats.

One day, Doug confronted the Master. Doug demanded more treats. Doug warned the Master, if he didn’t pay up, he would find a new Master.

The Master didn’t want Doug to leave. But he didn’t want Doug to miss out on his potential, either. So he told Doug a hard truth…He told Doug the only way to get more treats was to win more.

But Doug refused to hear it. So Doug left the Master who had trained him behind and set out to find a new one.

And a new Master he found. The new Master gave Doug all the treats he wanted. He showered Doug with a regular treat allowance and bonus treats – even if Doug didn’t train. After a few months, Doug gave up training all together.

Then one day Doug woke up. He realized he had gotten fat. It had been years since he competed in a contest…and he felt empty. He had forgotten how to bound across the arena and longed for the applause of a crowd.

He even missed the old Master. The treats had made him too comfortable, and distracted him from his goal…

But now, Doug realized, he was too old to compete. He had missed his chance at glory…all for a few extra treats…

I was once Doug. I set out with high hopes and good intentions. Then I got distracted by money.

It made me forget all the people who helped push me to become better. But it was an easy way to keep score, so I chased it.

Until one day I realized that doing the kind of work that makes me happy is worth more than all the treats…

May you discover the same before it’s too late.

*I originally published this post on Quora in response to the question What career limiting moves have you seen people make?

You Can Walk Away

I got my first real job at age 16 – bagging groceries at the local supermarket.

The experience taught me a lot about business and how to work.

Lessons like:

  • How easy it is to stand out among peers just by working hard.
  • How attitude about work is a personal choice.
  • How decisions are made about which items go where and why.
  • How a customer’s journey impacts their buying behavior.

But the very last lesson I learned proved to be the most important.

I graduated to stocking shelves several months in. I loved it. Walking up and down a perfectly-faced aisle brought me untold joy. I gained responsibility fast.

Until one day a manager issued a strange request. He asked me to peel date labels off an entire shelf of expired items, then put them back.

This posed my first real ethical dilemma: Should I do what I’m told or what I think is right?

I chose wrong. Afraid of performing poorly at my job, I peeled the labels off.

The decision haunted me the rest of my shift.

So I went back. I took down every item and threw it away.

Then I quit. But I never forgot.

The situation taught me why I should trust my conscience and take ownership of my actions.

It’s easy to become complicit when you blame someone else’s judgment. Don’t give away your power.

It takes courage, but you always have a choice. You can walk away.

*This post originally appeared in my weekly Crash Newsletter earlier today – where I share inspiration, and the week’s best content on careers, personal growth, and how to get ahead. If you’re interest in learning more, sign up here!