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.

Don’t Live Like a Victim

The world pretends everything is outside of the control of young people.

Can’t get a job? It’s college’s fault.

Student loans? It’s dubious lenders’ faults.

Don’t know how to pay your taxes? It’s school’s fault for not teaching you.

Don’t know how to save money? It’s your parents’ fault.

It paints young people as powerless. As victims of their circumstances. As incapable of ownership of their lives. Of their decisions. Of their destinies. This is all bullshit.

But becoming “an adult” does involve a lot of bullshit. Sometimes it downright sucks.

It sucks because many things about it are outside of our control. It’s easy to get lost focusing on all those things. But it doesn’t have to mean you can’t hope for better circumstances. In fact, we think you should.

The best way to start making things better is by getting started on all the things that are within your control, and fast.

Acknowledge Your Power

You have more power to deliberately design the life you want than the world would lead you to believe. Every day someone’s preaching about how more opportunities will open up if only XYZ happened.

If only:

…college were cheaper, more young people could get a good education.

…loans were easier to come by, more people could start a business.

…mortgages were better subsidized, more people could have a home.

All of this is a bunch of whiny victim speak.

You don’t need those things to go out and create your own life. Yes – you will need to work hard. You will have to challenge the assumptions most people live their lives by. And, you’ll need to take courage to go chase after the things you want in spite of what other people say and believe.

But you don’t need cheaper education. Nor more handouts. And you don’t need more pity from other people.

What you need is the acknowledgement of the power you have – and to embrace it.

The sooner you do that, the sooner you unlock your freedom to design the life you want.

…more on this forthcoming.

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?

A Master

Tiger Woods won his 5th Master’s tournament today.

Even for a golf outsider like me, it’s clear he carries something different into his game than most other golfers.

He doesn’t smile. Tiger’s intensely focused. He doesn’t laugh off missed shots.

Then, in the final moments, once he’s sealed the deal – only then does he celebrate. Still, his celebration matches the level of his intensity. It’s a fierce outburst. Of having put himself to the test and risen to the challenge.

Love him or hate him, the dude has style – and we just witnessed a one of the most legendary comeback stories of all time.

Congrats, Tiger.

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!

When You Start Juggling Unalike Objects

You’ll drop the ball sometimes. Juggling is hard.

The sooner you embrace it, the sooner you can focus on improving your act.

We all juggle. Some of juggle people. Others juggle responsibilities. Some people juggle identities. Others juggle work and life.

Juggling is easier when everything goes together.

Imagine you’re juggling baseballs, for example. One or two is easy. A third increases the difficulty. A fourth takes some real skill. But what happens when you throw a knife into the mix? Suddenly, an unmatched object confounds the mix. It becomes an entirely new act. One that requires much more deliberate focus.

I’m convinced the same happens in life. Both in the number of different types of things we juggle – and the number of things we juggle that are different from the other things.

Friend groups paint a good picture. Think of all your friends. How many “groups” do the fit into? Are there some you don’t think would mesh well with others?

What about identities? Are you a different person to different people? How many different identities, and to how many different people? Surely it gets more difficult to keep straight the more there are. (The idea of this sounds painfully exhausting.)

The easy way out is to stop juggling. Sure, consolidating or off-loading a few things you’re juggling can help, too. But in both scenarios, you’ll miss out on a lot of the richness of life.

A little variety in life never hurt anyone. You don’t have to have an identical set of friends. Or responsibilities. Or interactions.

Even when the inevitable collision of juggling a lot of different things happens, the drama adds a layer of flair to the story you’re living.

It’s not easy. But doesn’t a life filled with homogenous experiences sound boring?

 

 

Lost Momentum Halts Dreams

About a year ago, I went through a pretty dark period.

I got stuck.

I needed help but felt too scared to ask. People like me don’t get help, I told myself.

So I didn’t. And I prolonged my suffering.

Then a friend opened up about a struggle. It shocked me.

I wasn’t alone – I just chose to struggle alone. After that, I decided to ask for help and it set me free.

Maybe you’re going through something. Maybe you’re not. But would anyone know if you were?

I don’t presume to know your situation. I’m no guru. But I do know lost momentum halts dreams.

Big struggle, small struggle – asking for help takes courage.

If you’re stuck, you owe it to yourself to do something about it.

Success will demand the best from you. You can’t offer your best when you’re stuck.

If you feel stuck and don’t know what to do about it, reach out to someone. Or shoot me an email. I can’t promise I know how to help. But I’ll offer my best.

Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge.

 

*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!

Endure the Opposite

In one of my favorite poems, The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran describes the relationship between sorry and joy as proportionate.

He eloquently writes that as our ability to fathom joy expands, our comprehension of joy increases in step.

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

I think the concept Gibran describes also applies to a great many other diametric opposites.

Take patience as another example. My dad always jokes, “I prayed for patience, so God gave me twins.” Maybe patience came at the cost of endurance over time. Ironically, patience took time.

Henry David Thoreau provides another example: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” In other words, the more a man becomes content without, the more abundantly wealthy he becomes – if even only in spirit.

Perhaps fear and courage are no strangers to this same phenomenon.

Think about the way people learn to express courage. It starts small. Incremental gains lead to larger challenges. For instance, a kid first scared to ride without training wheels soon becomes a kid getting back up after falling off his bike.

The more you fear something, the more you bring it to life. The larger it looms over your head, the more courage facing this fear requires. Yet, the larger fears you approach head on, the more courage you earn – establishing a new “courage baseline.”

These relationships provide an interesting thought experiment about how we should approach our actual desires.

What I’m trying to get at is that maybe striving for more of something, like happiness or wealth, is futile.

Maybe a better approach is to strive for the opposite. And only by knowing the opposite condition can we become more intimately prepared for our actual goal.

Trust the Process.

Imagine walking into a Michelin 3-star restaurant and balking at what the chef puts in front of you.

Absurd, right?

What about going into a doctor’s office and arguing with him about his prognosis?

Or servicing your car at the local mechanic’s shop and disagreeing with his recommendations?

You may not like the price. Hell, you may not enjoy the news. But these people have access to secrets you don’t yet.

They discovered these secrets through years devoted to their trade, their craft. These secrets allow them to tune in to a higher frequency than us in their realm of expertise.

Experts Have a Process

When you embrace something new, seek out someone who knows more than you. They know things you don’t. They can expedite some of your discovery process toward the answers you’re after.

Consider a chef. Maybe you’re after a new culinary experience. He or she is more qualified than you to assist.

Or the doctor. Perhaps he or she can reduce the amount of time you experience discomfort.

Or your mechanic. If you could stretch another 100,000 miles out of your car, that’d be great, right?

Part of an expert’s secret is his or her process. A regimented way of going about their particular craft.

Yes. Sometimes they get it wrong. But the process they use allows them to increase the frequency with which they are correct, and reduce the likelihood of being wrong.

Can you say that about yourself?