Success: Is It Worth It? (Part 1)

“Seek not to follow in the footsteps of men of old; seek what they sought.” -Matsuo Basho

For years I’ve had a running debate with myself as to whether or not my dad’s success was worth the price he paid for it. The way I see it, he paid with his life to build a highly successful group of companies. My dad died at 64 years old— he didn’t even make it to “senior citizen” status. Our family paid a hefty price too.

When he died I experienced a strange multitude of emotions. I was glad that his long and painful struggle with a number of illnesses was finally over. I was upset that he could have prevented many of those illnesses by doing a few small and simple things differently— things like eating breakfast, getting more sleep, exercising regularly and visiting the doctor for routine checkups.

I was grateful that, despite his shortcomings, he’d lived his life honorably and in a way that we, his family, can be forever proud of. I remember feeling like a sort of cap had been put on his life— that the reputation he’d earned through his fairness, honesty, authenticity, loyalty, generosity and hard work could never be reversed or undone.

I was exasperated at the thought of ever measuring up to him or his accomplishments. I was sad that I would never have the close and loving relationship with him that I had missed out on as a child. I was angry at not having had that relationship and that it was now impossible. I was upset that he hadn’t taken better care of himself.

I was appreciative of his incredible vision, foresight and initiative to prepare my mom, my siblings and me, and the leaders of our company to carry on the good work that he started. And it has paid off— in the five years since he has been gone, our family business has experienced unprecedented growth and profitability. 

The last five years have given me a lot to think about, and many new perspectives.  

(To be continued…)

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The Secret to Happiness, as Told by a French Hornist

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I heard Arthur C. Brooks speak today. He’s the smartest French horn player I’ve ever met. I didn’t expect him to know so much about happiness, but it turns out that Arthur knows a lot about a lot of stuff.

Arthur is a best-selling author who has published over 100 articles and 10 books, including Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America—and How We Can Get More of It. He describes himself as a scholar in the areas of free enterprise and human flourishing. In other words, he’s devoted his life to studying money and happiness.

Arthur is also the president of the American Enterprise Institute, an independent, non-profit, Washington DC-based think tank that employs 185 intellectuals who work to preserve the cause of freedom. In other words, it’s Arthur’s job to be smart. This might be the real-world alternative to being a superhero.

At 19, Arthur dropped out of college to tour professionally as a classical musician. He spent several years as the associate principal French horn with the City Orchestra of Barcelona. In his late twenties, after getting a close-up look at the unhappy lives of many of his fellow career musicians, he knew that he didn’t want to end up like them— playing the same music over and over, maybe drinking a little too much, and with a marriage that didn’t work.

So he decided to return to college to study economics, mathematics and languages, and eventually earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics and a PhD in public policy. He reached a point in his career where he decided to apply his skills as a researcher and an analyst to the subject of happiness.

Although Arthur shared many insights, one that resonated with me was his caution against looking too much to the attainment of goals— acquisition or accomplishment— as a source of enduring happiness.

He says, “I’m not saying don’t pay attention to your goals. I’m saying, don’t act as if they are the be-all, end-all to your happiness. Number one, they’re not going to have the effect you think [of making you happy], and number two, they don’t last.” In other words, after we achieve one goal, we’re going to find another one we want to achieve. And then another…

As humans, it seems, we are hardwired to always view the grass as being greener on the other side of the fence. Once we get that— once we truly understand that there’s no “there” that’s preferable to “here”— we can go to work learning how to simply be. And that’s where some of our life’s hardest— and most important— work begins.

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