The Key to Success? Remembering What You Really Want.
How you measure success depends a lot on how you grew up. If you grew up strapped for cash, more often than not making lots of money is one way you measure success. If you grew up in a house where no one went to college, making it to graduation day is a great marker of success. “Success” is inherently relative, and chances are that your own metric will change numerous times over the course of your life. I know it has for me.
Early in my career, I spent too much time trying to tick off as many boxes as I could, as fast as I could: get into the right grad school, finish the PhD, get published in an academic journal, write a book. Make enough money that I wouldn’t constantly be worried about my finances. For me, that last one basically meant buying a nice place to live without a mortgage hanging over my head—something I only managed around 10 years ago.
But given where I am today, “success” comes down to three basic sets of questions:
1) Am I making a difference? Am I informing the way people think and, on a good day, the way they make choices?
2) How am I spending my time? Am I having fun and enjoying both my uptime and my downtime?
3) Am I being myself?
This last one is critical, but if you can answer “yes” to the first two, the third follows pretty naturally. It’s always been important to me that my public persona reflect my private one as much as possible. I like to think I’ve been doing a good job with this one. Though I fully intend to get more eccentric as I get older. Keep checking in to see my progress.
But it’s taken me a while to reach this stage. I often think back to 2006, the year I wrote my first big book, The J-Curve. In the run-up to the book’s release, I remember stressing out mightily. I mean every day for a solid couple months, I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was the first time that I was really putting myself “out there,” and I was worried that people wouldn’t like what I had to say. As it turned out, the response was better than I could have imagined—I was invited as a guest on The Daily Show, andThe Economist (the magazine that absolutely meant the most to me) named it one of their “Books of the Year.”
In the midst of all that excitement, I turned to a friend of mine and told him to remind me of this moment if I ever—ever—complained about anything in the future. Hard work and brains be damned, I felt as if I never deserved as much as I had just accomplished, and I better stay grateful and keep that front of mind no matter what comes next. That’s stuck with me to this day.