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Your Own Sense of Balance

Your Own Sense of Balance

A corporate executive on holiday in a small Greek seacoast village was strolling by the docks and drinking in the local color. He complimented one fisherman on the quality of his catch. “How long did it take you to get all those fish?” he wondered. “Not very long,” answered the Greek. “An hour or two.” “Then why didn’t you stay out longer to catch more?”

Shrugging, the Greek explained that his catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family. The executive asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a nap with my wife. In the evening, I go to the village to see my friends, dance a little, play the bouzouki, and sing songs. I have a full life.”

The executive said, “I have an MBA from Harvard. I can help you. You should start by fishing longer every day. You’ll catch extra fish that you can sell. With the revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring you, you can buy a second boat and a third one, and so on, until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can ship fish to markets all around the world. In time, you can then move to New York City to direct your huge enterprise.”

“How long would that take?” asked the Greek.

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the executive.

“And after that?”

“When your business gets really big, you can sell stock and make millions!” exclaimed the executive with zeal.

“Millions? Really? And after that?”

“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a small village near the coast, sleep late, play with your grandchildren, catch a few fish, take a nap with your wife, and spend your evenings singing, dancing, and playing the bouzouki with your friends.”

Achieving a true sense of balance isn’t easy in a world where balance is talked about but not rewarded. We live with the banging pots, filling slots in command-and-control hierarchies where goals like making the boss look good, covering our collective asses, and acting busy too often take precedence over real accomplishments—to say nothing of living a rich and meaningful life.

Living in Quake Country, under pressure 24/7, we tend to think of existence as a series of steps in a process—graduating from college, landing the first job, earning the first promotion, getting the big bonus, making VP, making SVP... At times the process becomes its own justification, as it did for the businessman on holiday. And in the midst of the daily grind, sometimes it’s all we can do to focus on one year, one week, one day at a time—the next meeting, the next report, the next quarter’s sales figures. A kind of myopia sets in, as if we are wearing blinders that only let us see one moment at a time.

It’s ridiculous and ironic. Consider Lily Tomlin’s take: “The trouble with the rat race is that, even if you win, you’re still a rat.”

The context in which we operate is certainly part of the problem. But even in today’s imperfect, frustrating business environment, where it’s hard to think about long-term happiness, you need to focus periodically on the end game—your ultimate purpose. Otherwise, like that businessman, you’ll fail to recognize the good life even when it’s staring you in the face. And this means finding your own definition of successand building around it a life and career that you can be proud of, regardless of whether or not you ever make VP, attain the corner office, or take a company public.

I once heard a speech by Ted Turner, the flamboyant and brilliant entrepreneur who founded CNN. Here’s what he said about success: I’ve got great kids, and for that I’m very grateful. And I can tell you this: You may be really successful in your career, but if you don’t have good kids, you won’t feel very successful. But you can be moderately successful in your career, and if you’ve got great kids, you’ll feel really successful.

Sure, we all know family is important. What makes Ted’s statement powerful is his concept of choice. We’d all clearly choose great kids over material and ego-based success, but are we really doing that? Do our dreams for our families take precedence over everything else, or do we behave as if we think that the halo of our material success will somehow help our kids be better people?

Money, status, and the other trappings of conventional success may be important. But in the end, the old wisdom is correct—they don’t bring you happiness. The corporate world may never give you credit for developing and pursuing your own definition of the good life. And if impressing other people is the most important thing in your life, you may want to skip the rest of this chapter. But if impressing yourself is what ultimately matters to you, read on.

This is an excerpt from the new business book, Ignited Managers Light up Your Company and Career for More Power, More Purpose, and More Success.

Related article: What I Learned About Owning My Career

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