You’ve probably heard the phrase “there’s more to life than money” hundreds of times, but that’s because there’s some truth to it. The same holds true with success — success isn’t all about money. Through the years I’ve had the pleasure of knowing several people who I considered to be successful on a professional basis. One of the things that many of them taught me was that success isn’t about money. But before I get to them, let me share a story that you may have already heard.
Tony Robbins uses a story in his seminars about a guest visiting his resort in Fiji. He overheard the guest talking to one of the native Fijians about why he was working so hard. The guest told the Fijian that was working hard (80 hours per week) so he could earn a lot of money. The Fijian asked why it was so important to earn all this money and work oneself to death and the guest replied that he wanted to retire early so he could lie on the beach all day. The Fijian replied that he lies on the beach all day but doesn’t have millions of dollars. What a reality check.
In the early part of my professional career, I worked at a couple companies in roles where I had access to everyone from the front-line workers to the executive team. I remember one day talking to one of the vice presidents who was the youngest member of upper management and asking him for advice. He told me his success was all about personal sacrifice. Yes, he had nice things (including a brand new Mercedes sedan) but he talked his lack of time with his family. For years, he left for work in the morning before his kids woke up and got home barely in time to put them to bed. He worked on weekends so he wasn’t able to coach baseball for his son or soccer for his daughter. He nearly broke down when he told me that he missed his daughter’s only play (she had a big role) because of a business trip. His exact words were “I’m just rich, not successful.”
Throughout my adult life I’ve met far too many people (both men and women) that regretted missing their kids grow up. I recently had lunch with one man who is now “in transition” after over a decade of loyal service at one of the big financial firms in Boston. I was trying to get him to look back at his career as a big success in his life, but he called it a failure. He told me about the long hours, travel and stress that aged him prematurely. Then he told me about his family and the effect his “success” had on them. He had an affair while traveling which put a strain on his marriage and his children were going through tough times. His older daughter had failed three classes while his younger one started hanging out with the wrong crowd. He thought that making vice president would be the best thing to happen in his life, but in retrospect, he sees it as the worst thing.
His story is getting better though. In the six months since he’s been out of work, he and his wife committed themselves to making things better. They’re planning on downsizing their home and making some other changes to cut their monthly expenses so he can find himself a less stressful nine to five job. They are attending marriage counseling and are pulling their kids out of the private school that they’re attending so they can all have a fresh start. “This time, we’re going to do it right” he told me confidently.
Sometimes we set goals where we focus on the means rather than the result. We all want more money, but before we set off to get that money, we need to understand why we want it. I doubt many of us want money for the sake of putting in a pile so we can just look at it. Instead, it means not having to work hard, the ability to buy things that we want or moving away from living paycheck to paycheck. If you decide that money is your goal without understanding why you need money to feel successful, you’ll end up like the two men that I just told you about. They worked hard to get money so that they could give their kids the best things in life but it turned out that doing so deprived the kids of the thing they needed most — their dad.
Money is a great way to measure your progress, but it’s not the only way. Life is about experiences — not about working oneself to death. There’s nothing great about being the richest person in the cemetery. And if you think money alone will solve all your problems, perhaps you should familiarize yourself with Jack Whittaker. Jack won $315 million in the lottery and it literally ruined his life. The biggest casualty was his favorite granddaughter Brandy. Brandy used Jack’s money to buy cars, a house and drugs and was found dead one day in what was suspected to be foul play.
Now I’m not saying that money is bad or evil. What I’m saying is that it’s overrated when it comes to goals. Many of us have the mentality of the man Tony Robbins spoke of — that money is the only way to get the good things in life. I recently saw an ad for a body wrap that can make a woman lose two dress sizes. Money can be like this wrap, it gives you the illusion of having what you want but deep down you’re still not satisfied.
So before you move another step forward with your goals, ask yourself if you’re really working towards the result that you want. You might just find that you can have the things you really want right now, without killing yourself to the point where you can’t enjoy them.