I have been relentlessly focused on accomplishment. Reaching for the top is fun, but I need to pay more attention to what’s happening as I’m climbing.
I don’t know where in my youth I developed the obsession to always reach for more, but it has always been there.
SAT scores, graduating top of my class, promotions, power — these were the way I scored myself. More importantly, these were the way I drove myself.
It became important to me to publish the report that would change the world, be the most quoted analyst, write a bestselling book before I was 50, give speeches in the most exotic locations, have the most successful children. Looking back on it, the life I lived was virtually a cliche.
There is always someone more successful than you, some new milestone to achieve. This drives a constant hunger to do more.
This competitive instinct is baked into our culture. Corporations run on it. We are supposed to set “big hairy audacious goals” (also known as BHAGs) for ourselves and our teams. Self-help gurus from Gary Vaynerchuk to Tony Robbins spur us on to squash our doubts and shoot for our dreams. Each of us that hopes for success is supposed to clamber over all the other ordinary people and shout “I did it!”
You never hear from the people who try to do this and fail. You only hear from the ones who succeed. This makes it sound like taking risks and aiming high are all it takes to win. This is the paradox of hindsight, and it’s corrosive.
A different way to work
I’m not here to rail against accomplishment. What I’m talking about is balance.
A striking thing has happened to me since I climbed off the corporate merry-go-round. I certainly accomplished a few things — published a book, got a few million views on this blog — but I found out something else, too.
I found out how to be happy.
As it turns out, if I am writing or editing, I am happy.
Writing a half-million words on this blog? Pure happiness.
Helping authors to figure out their best ideas and write book proposals? Exhilarating.
Editing fascinating books, op-eds, and blog posts? Rewarding and endlessly fascinating.
I’m now ghostwriting (or collaborating, I’m not particular about the terminology) with some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with. It’s a puzzle — how can I turn my writing and analytical talent and their ideas into something fascinating for readers? I love puzzles.
I have surprised myself in finding that it could be almost as rewarding — and actually more challenging — to express somebody’s else’s ideas as to publish my own.
I still have big plans. I will be writing another book (my own book). I will be giving speeches and trying to get your attention for ideas that matter.
But I’m trying to pay more attention to enjoying the journey, not just reaching the destination.
Are you focused on accomplishment, or being fulfilled as you attain it? Take a close look at what you’re doing. You might want to tweak the mix a bit.
What’s your destination? Are you enjoying the journey? I’d love to hear about it.