What are you after in life? The illusion of success.

When I was in high school I remember my mom and teachers getting on me about good grades. I can remember the terror when they changed the process of bringing grades home from the easily manipulated 'child brings the report card home', to mailing report cards to my mom at the house (probably emailed directly these days). After the change I had to create an elaborate system to 'intercept' the mail and subvert the lectures and disappointment that was sure to come for getting a "C", or even worse from reading the comments at the bottom of the report card that outlined my "disruptive" behavior in class. But why all the stress? Why are grades even important? Back then I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it. I'm sure there was a mixture of personal pride, parental pressure, and just general societal expectations that created the need for "good grades". And of course there's this thing called 'college'. If you wanted to go to a "good" school you needed good grades. But why we do we go to college? I'm serious, really why? Have you ever really questioned why you went to college (assuming you did)? There are plenty of successful people who didn't go to college. And there are plenty of cultures around the globe where a higher education isn't a mainstream part of society. So why in the US, do we feel the pressure to get a college degree? To get a good job...? OK - that's the response I get most of the time. And the facts do support that having a higher education results in more and better employment. OK, so now you have a good job, but why stress and push yourself to do well in your job? Why strive for the promotion? Sure, you could argue that there is a natural type of competitive desire built into all of us. But isn't part (if not the majority) of your goal to earn more money? I'm sure there are other reasons built in, but I don't see anyone working hard to make less money. So it is usually the idea that hard work equals a promotion (more $), or taking on more responsibility (with the expectation of more $), or to be recognized by your peers and managers (which hopefully leads to more $), etc., etc., etc. And so the story goes on for most people in our society. There is always the 'next level'. It could be only for the financial gain, it could be for personal satisfaction, but in the end, we always keep the 'finish line' out in front of us, and usually it's tied to more money. Let's face it, I don't know anyone who wouldn't take more money, a pay increase, or increased equity in their company if it was offered to them.

A few years ago, the neighborhood kids that I've known since they where in middle school, were home from college with some friends. We were all out in my pool talking smack, telling jokes, and playing beer pong when one of the visiting guys said, "Whoa! Greg, you are "the MAN"! Look at this place, your house is awesome, you live on the ocean, have 3 cars, 2 wave runners, a boat!" They were in awe of my "set-up". And suddenly it hit me that, from the outside, I must LOOK super "successful". And the truth is, by most standards, I guess I am. I am extremely grateful and thankful for where I am in life. I worked my ass off to get here. But that is kinda of my point. In our society the goal is to work really hard and "be successful". I could appreciate the perspective of these college kids and where they were in life at that point. They were in college, stressing over exams, working towards those 'good grades', so they could get a good job, and then work for the promotion, and then buy a nice house, and then have a family, and then go on vacations, and then have kids, and then get a bigger house, and then the white picket fence, and so on and so on... In their minds, I was there. I had reached the goal, the 'end zone' that they envisioned for themselves. I was "successful". But in that brief moment, I realized something really scary. I personally didn't need or want anything "more". I didn't need, and more importantly I didn't WANT, any more money, more cars, more boats, more of anything. I stopped and thought about all the stress and effort in my life that it took me to get to where I was. I had put my head down somewhere early in life and followed our societies tacit drive to achieve 'more'. And now that I took a moment and looked up, the goal of being 'successful' was a little bit of a let down. All the sacrifices I made along the way, all the postponing of exciting and random opportunities in life so that I could go after the next hurdle, the next promotion, the next milestone toward being successful. And here I was sitting in my pool 'arrived'. It's a weird feeling not having the intense desire to gain more or get further in life financially. It forces you to really think about what are you really after in life. I had chased 'success' for so long that once 'achieved', it seemed empty. 

How much in enough? I've asked this question to corporate leadership candidates, family, personal friends, and even random strangers for the past 10 years. What amount of money would you need to earn each year for the rest of your life before you would never worry about money again? Everyone has a number. Think through the question for a moment. What amount of money could I deposit into your bank every January 1st (grossed up and cost of living built in) for the rest of your life, such that you don't even think about money anymore. Consider your family, your children, your children's children, etc. Is it a million dollars?, $5 million? Get crazy and think about the life you want to live. Do you want yachts, jets, multiple homes, etc. - OK, let's make it easy and just say $100 million is the number. Whoa! That's a ton of cash! $100 million EVERY year for the rest of your life! I'm going to assume that most people will not worry about finances with that type of guaranteed annual income. Here is the real question, what do you want to do with your life January 2nd?

Here's what I've learned about success so far. When you strip away all the surface answers to what people want and how they want to live their lives, it comes down to two very simple things. People want to be HAPPY and they want to AVOID SUFFERING. (In fact that truth applies to all living things, including your dog, cat, fish, etc.) People often answer with some type of purpose, religious, moral, volunteer, etc. response, but if you dig deep enough it all boils down to being happy and avoiding suffering. And what I've witnessed is the people that are truly the happiest in life are the ones that, consciously or even inadvertently, have woven their answer to the question above into life somehow already.

I leave you with one request. Spend time really thinking about 'what would you do if money didn't matter?' and work to incorporate that into your life right now. Here's the truth, you can reach ANY goal you have, if you work really hard, have passion, and stay focused. Just be careful that the goal isn't solely a financial one. You will be disappointed when you reach it. You'll be standing at your perceived 'finish line' wondering what to do next...?