12/08/2014 06:03 pm ET Updated Feb 07, 2015

You Don't Know What It Means to be Successful


Do you ever have that feeling like you're stuck in automatic-ness of life?

New Yorkers can probably relate fairly easy to this because it's called "the rat race." But it's applicable to all of us. I'm referring to the automatic way that we usually live life. When things become so routine that you just keep doing what you're doing to the point where you aren't even conscious about it anymore. You never really stop to wonder WHY you are doing what you're doing. You never ask yourself, "What ladder am I climbing, and to where? What carrot am I chasing? And how come the carrot always seems just out of reach?"

I'll assert that if you actually DO stop to ask yourself this "carrot question", most likely the carrot that you are chasing is the wrong carrot and that's probably why you never get to it.


Let's look at the carrot that you might have come up with.

The "success" carrot. When you asked yourself all the previous questions you came to the conclusion that it is success that you are aiming for. You want to be successful. Yes, that's it. That sounds about right. Doesn't everyone want to be successful? Isn't that what life is all about? Well, maybe. But what the heck is success? Doesn't that vary from person to person. Do you really think that there's one definition to success? Do you think a hedge-fund manager in NYC and a farmer in Costa Rica would have the same answer? So what does it mean to you? Does it mean money? Happiness? A lifestyle that gives you freedom to travel? Maybe it means being a good parent or just being a good person in general.

I don't blame you if you really have never thought about this before or that you don't have the answers to these questions yet. I don't blame you because society has done a pretty good job answering these questions for you. According to the media, our employers, and even our economic model, success is about the numbers. Now look, I'm NOT against numbers. But the problem is what the numbers represent. The media glorifies success as the next 24-year-old who is worth a billion dollars. The employer tells you that success is about working long hours, and making bonus. And our economic system tells all of us, the whole world, that the higher the GDP, the better off we are as a country. Yet if we really examine these assumptions, are they accurate?

WRONG. Wrong carrot.

I know. It's a bold statement to tell you that our entire system is backwards, but it is. It's completely backwards. There's even wellbeing data now to prove it. All of these things are a means to an end. And the end is just a good life. The problem is that we waste time by only measuring the means.

I invite the skeptics to challenge this. But it's the reason why I've met several CEOs who've reached their 60s and have told me that they want to do something more meaningful with their life. That their whole life they have been chasing a carrot that didn't lead them to where they wanted. And it's only when they almost kill themselves skiing or when it starts to feel like the end of their life is getting just a tad to close that they choose to make some changes. It always takes a crucible moment. It's just too bad they waited so long.

Ok and what about the media? I don't have a problem with giving people credit for making a fortune at a young age. I'm an entrepreneur and I respect anyone who has the persistence and determination to build a successful business. But I always always question the motive. And I wonder what the story is behind the story. I'd prefer to see headlines say something like this. "Forbes 30 under 30 Successful in Business and Happy in Life" or "Top 10 Companies with the Highest Percentage of Employees Thriving" or "CEOs who lead with Purpose." I'd like to know how the TIME's 100 Most Influential people would rate their quality of life. The real examples for society should be the people who are having an impact while living a great life. I'd be willing to bet that when the carrot shifts to the things that actually matter in life, there will be no shortage of money, profit and success as we know it.

And when it comes to our economic model, there's a quote by Bobby Kennedy that I think will sum it up for you. He was giving a speech in 1968 just before his death.

Even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction -- purpose and dignity -- that afflicts us all..... the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

So what is the THAT? The THAT that makes life worthwhile. What is the carrot that you're chasing? Who's life are you living? What's the life that you really want?

Don't get caught up in the machine. And if you think you're stuck, or that you don't have any other options because you can't get out of your job, or (insert reason here), just simply start talking about what you want. What is the future you can create for yourself or what is the lifestyle you desire? Talking to people about it will start bringing it into reality. You might be surprised how quickly people want to be part of it, and who would be willing to help you get there.

Just remember how connected we all are. Remember how many resources are at our fingertips. Maybe, now, it's all more possible than you think. Either way, it's worth a try.