17 February 2012

Success at any cost is failure – An introspective

When in the course of our natural development, we come to a crossroads, we should strive to reach inner stillness to enable the possibility of deep inner reflection. In this world with it’s ever increasing pace, the quintessential rat race, it is so easy to lose focus on what really matters. It’s tragic that there are so many highly driven Type A personalities in this world. We all strive for success above all else. Even as a child, I could sense this internal force driving me forward. At age 11 I coined a slogan that stayed with me my entire life.
“Success isn’t found around every corner, but if you quit now, you’ll never know if it was around the next corner!” – Cornelius J. van Dyk – 1982

What a difference 30 years make. Living by my motto, I chased the fleeting dream that is success, ever higher. Before my 21st birthday, I was one of 48 out of 10,000 applicants to graduate as a pilot in the Air Force. That placed me in the top ½% of my field. Changing careers into computers, I was awarded the Smithsonian Award for Technological Innovation before my 25th birthday. Receiving seven MVP Awards were further pinnacles to my career but… what a difference 30 years make indeed.

What I didn’t understand as an 11 year old child, was context. My slogan is a great motivational phrase, but as every decent project manager can attest, one cannot be successful without defining the success criteria first. It is the most important thing for anyone to do in life. Without knowing and understanding what your definition of success is, you are like a ship on the ocean without a map. No matter how fast the ship sails, it will never reach it’s destination.

I have reflected on my life many times and always my reflection resulted in the question… why am I not truly and deeply satisfied and happy with my life. After all, as one of the experts in my field, I am well respected. I make a good income. I live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood with my beautiful wife and my two awesome kids. We drive a nice car. I have a nice computer and all the gadgets my heart desires. So then why is it that I’m not truly and deeply satisfied and happy? My revelation can be summarized in one single word… CONTEXT.

The context of success. Because I never pondered and truly defined for myself what exactly “success” meant to me in my deepest most inner being, I didn’t have a map to guide my ship. I could never reach my success port because I had no idea where it was.

As a highly driven type A personality, I always strived to scale the summit. What we don’t realized in our mad dash for success is that every pinnacle inevitably is followed by a steep down slope. There is no plateau beyond the pinnacle, only a steep cliff down to the valley below. We tell ourselves, if only I can do X or if only I can achieve Y, then everything will fall into place. Sadly, the cold reality is that it seldom does, for no one has ever exclaimed on their death bed “I wish I had worked more!”. No, indeed it’s quite the opposite. Most exclamations are something to the effect of “I wish I had spent more time with my family.” They say our kids grow up so quickly and it’s true. Every day with them is a blessing and should not be squandered. It’s easy to say “I can’t make it to scouts tonight, I have to work.” Believe me, it gets easier each time you say it and before long, you aren’t even asked any more because they already know what the answer will be.

I grew up in a household where my father worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. The man was a machine. He provided everything we needed, but I never got to know him as a person. I swore I would never do that to my kids and it’s very hard for me to not fall into that rut. I don’t know if there is such a thing as genetic pre-disposition to workaholism, but if there is, I probably have it.

As the patriarch in our single income family, it’s so easy for me to justify everything I do as important because it’s for or related to my work, but I have to realize that every time I do that, I am choosing something else over my family. My introspective really allowed me to identify what’s most important to me in my life. I realized there is nothing in this world that I can ever do or achieve, if it was done at the expense of my family, that would ever be worth it.

My dear wife, bless her heart, helped me list my priorities some time ago while we were in Chicago. I believe I had 9 items on that list, but I now realize that it’s way too large a number. I have re-evaluated my list and have narrowed it down to the five things in my life, the only things in my life to which I will attach importance going forward.
  1. My family.  My wife and kids are, will be and always should be first and foremost in my life.  Being the best husband and father that I can be is my ultimate goal, at the expense of all others on this list.
  2. My health, both physical and mental.  I have to take care of my mind and body so that I can enjoy a long life with my family.  This includes making time to exercise and eat well.
  3. My job.  We all have to pay the bills somehow and that makes my job a very important part of this list, but never, never, ever at the expense of #1 or #2.  To be clear, this is my job.  My actual paying job.  Not some activity related to work.  Just work.  Pure and simple.
  4. My friendships with my friends.  The inter personal relationships.  Not anything that bleeds into other areas, but being a good friend and maintaining said friendships.  It’s too easy to get distracted by other things in life and lose touch with those we hold dear.
  5. My speaking engagements.  I love to get out and speak and present about topics that I have a passion for.  SharePoint is one of my main passions and I intend to continue to present at conferences in the future, but it should be clear that this is the lowest on my priority list and is trumped by all four the previous items.

So there I have it. My life definition of success. I have to make some serious decisions in my life as there are 4 other items that didn’t make the cut in this list and I fear the fall out may be far reaching, but for the first time in my life, I believe that I have a clear definition of what success means to me and I intend to keep my eyes trained on it and never lose sight of this epiphical revelation.


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