Everyone knows that to be successful we have to make some sacrifices. Great athletes spend a lot of time in the gym and doing roadwork and preparing both mentally and physically. Great musicians we admire write, perform, and practice endlessly to get it right. Business leaders educate themselves and work tirelessly to be their best.
There is nothing wrong with all of this striving as long as it is all in line with what really matters most to us.
But oftentimes, that is not the case.
I meet successful people all the time who others would gladly trade places with. Their lives seem like fairy tales with plenty of money, prestige, and power. But, scratch the surface just little and what you often find is façade – a shiny exterior that hides a lot of unhappiness hidden underneath. Divorce and broken relationships are strewn across the road to the top.
These people often didn’t make a conscious decision somewhere along the way that ‘winning’ was everything and that they would give everything up for it. It sneaks up on you, and someday you look around and you’ve essentially sold your soul to get there.
At one Halftime Institute Launch Event—the two-day kick start to a year-long Halftime Fellows Program—a well-known C-suite executive named “Bill” was there, who had led a 40,000-employee US company. He’d come to evaluate his life and choices, and he was wise to do so in a sympathetic group because, quite honestly, his career review came with a good deal of pain. For decades, Bill had given his best to his company, and no question that it was thriving. The high cost of what he gave professionally, though, left bomb craters in the home that lay exposed and neglected, and in the lives of his kids and former wife. Now he was sixty-five years old, living in an Architectural Digest–worthy home, surrounded by thousands of acres of breathtaking mountain scenery, and mostly alone.
Early in my own marriage, the drive toward my ideal net worth dinged relationships with my wife, Lisa, and with our kids. Lisa is an incredible woman with head-turning talent around acting, speaking, television, and hosting. Among other things, she cares deeply about helping single moms and their kids. Several years ago, with little active support from me, she wrote a book called Girls of Greatness, a safety guide through the white waters of young female adolescence. From that book came an entire ministry, now a nonprofit in the US and UK. Fixed on my own goals and aspirations, however, I’d mentally demoted her work to less important than mine.
Once, for example, Lisa had an opportunity in Chicago to act in participatory theater and I poo-pooed it. “You’d miss my company Christmas party,” I said. “And I’m the boss.” (It’s painful now to write that.)
There’s more. While Lisa and the kids got by with less of me, the constant stress from my all-important work eventually erupted into hives on my upper arms and biceps. Ever had hives? They’re awful! My doctor told me that the rash of burning, itching red bumps was tied directly to my state of mind.
I confess all this to illustrate that the “Bill” of the story who sacrificed his family for work is hardly an exceptional case. In my case, all my gaining was costing me my primary relationships and my health.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Winning can look very different if you do it right.
And let me be clear: It is easy to be beguiled by the mirage of money and power. Chasing money is a lousy reason to do what you do every day, if it’s the only reason. And, I learned that there is never going to be enough money. When John Rockefeller, the billionaire oilman, was asked how much is enough he famously said, “Just a little bit more.” At one time or another we have all believed that lie and acted on it.
Recently, I read an article in the Washington Post that said, “Harvard researchers discovered the one thing everyone needs for happier, healthier lives.” Care to guess what that one thing is? Relationships. Dr. Robert Waldinger, a Harvard psychiatrist, had taken over a seventy-five year study of a group of men, ranging from young adults through old age. His primary takeaway was that the happiest and healthiest participants “maintained close, intimate relationships.” Waldinger says people who are lonely are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner, and they live shorter lives than people in relationships. Then he added, “And good, close relationships seem to buffer us from the slings and arrows of getting old.”
My takeaway? When we start out on our success journey and all along the way as we go, we need to take stock of our relationships and be sure that they are not suffering because of what we are doing every day.
Protect what matters. Stay vigilant to the steady inroads that our work can make into our personal lives if we are not always managing it.
I discuss these important considerations in more detail in my book Trade Up, which just released July 18, 2017. To watch the video trailer for Trade Up or order the book online, go to tradeupbook.com.