Chasing success is the American way, but that relentless pursuit can run you off the rails and down a steep ravine of mental and physical ruin if you’re not careful.
The data shows our propensity to be a crash-and-burn society in a corporate sense. A global survey revealed over 50% of managers feel burned out. Executives and leaders are leaving their roles for the same reason.
Chasing success is not working for many hard-driving people in leadership positions. In fact, it almost killed me. I was forced to learn how to think and behave differently.
I chased the American dream like I was supposed to, and I actually caught it. Big money, lots of stuff, recognition. But I was also a workaholic and an alcoholic, I was ruining my family relationships … oh, and a doctor told me I had one month to live.
Miraculously, I not only recovered fully, but I transformed my life and my company. What I learned and experienced challenged pretty much everything I knew, especially the belief that success and happiness come from the outside. Like everyone, I actually wanted something else (but I didn’t know it). I wanted to feel right, but I didn’t.
Nothing from the outside had been able to change that inside condition. Finally, faced with that terminal diagnosis, staring at the end of everything, I had no choice but to make an irrational decision: I had to begin doing the opposite of what I’d been doing before and what I thought I should do now.
I’ve mused for years on how the miracle that saved me also inspired me to do a total 180, to defy decades of “proven” business practices and discover and develop what I’ve come to call the Success Paradox. Surrender and win – that’s the premise. That’s a paradox. It’s also my proven experience. But back in the day, I was fiercely competitive. If you’d floated this idea back then, I would have laughed out loud. Surrender? That’s for losers. And I hated the idea of losing.
Here are the three principles of the Success Paradox Lifestyle that changed my life.
What’s most important to you? When I ask audiences this question, I hear statements such as “caring for my family,” “following my passion,” “making a positive difference in the world,” “fulfilling my potential,” “helping those in need,” “being successful,” etc.
What’s most important to me now is being myself, being authentic. Conventional business practices prioritize doing, but I became radically more successful when I did the opposite. My focus on being may seem selfish, small, and narrow-minded, but who we are being determines what we do. We create brands for our businesses and, increasingly, personal brands to establish us as an authority in our field. But what about our “signature,” the unique qualities of who we are that are inside the brand? What about the authenticity that’s sometimes missing in a media-manufactured authority figure?
A CEO who respects himself doesn’t shame his employees, lie about manufacturing practices, or profit from products that harm the planet. People who love and respect themselves will love and respect others. People who don’t know who they are, who are conflicted, unhappy, and frustrated but place the blame outside themselves, may not even notice or care about the suffering of others, let alone be motivated to help them.
When we know ourselves, we are naturally called to do good, or help others, and we will become financially successful. We may or may not live large lives, we may or may not create millions or billions in wealth, but we will contribute to the well-being of others, and we will have enough.
All of us are hard-wired to help each other. So why do we often wait for an emergency before we start doing that? In part, because self-sufficiency is viewed as a positive value in our society. Our heroes? Self-sufficient individuals fighting with each other to win. I had to learn the hard way that self-sufficiency is a dead end.
I was trapped in solitary self-sufficiency by persistent feelings of unworthiness, all because I was comparing myself to others and, underneath it all, fearing that I had fallen too far for even God to love me anymore. It didn’t help that I was so seemingly successful in business. I knew what was really going on because my body was falling apart.
Most of us are familiar with an old Chinese saying: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” All my businesses have been about helping others. My father was a great example of prioritizing service, and I do the same. I simply don’t consider buying and building a business unless it offers real, not just perceived, value for customers.
The third component in the formula is doing well. No one stays in business long if they don’t turn a profit. Profit-making only becomes problematic when it eclipses everything else. There’s a fever that comes with wealth, especially sudden riches, and it’s seldom healthy. That fever burned hot in me, and money couldn’t cool those flames. No matter how much I made, it was never enough.
Profits are essential to growth and to personal, corporate, and cultural health. But accumulation isn’t the primary measurement of true success. Profits honorably generated by providing actual value can be shared equitably rather than hoarded. I call this “doing well.”
I got lost in the politics of business, the stress of life, workaholism, and living out of balance. I forgot what was important. I kept comparing my performance to others and believing that selling our companies (at significant profits) meant failure. I forgot to be grateful. I forgot why I was in business.
I discovered what I now call “relaxed productivity.” Now I don’t make anything happen; I let things happen. This would only be faintly interesting were it not for the phenomenal business success I’ve achieved since that turning point, not by working hard or getting lucky, but by surrendering control.
Everything changes when we prioritize being authentic, which inspires us to help others, and results in doing well. We create a fundamentally different kind of profit: a reflection of our goodwill. Imagine more and more individuals shifting their relationship with money and making their companies full-profit enterprises, putting profit (people and social) before profit (financial). They would do good, and they would do well.
Gary C. Cooper (https://garyccooper.com/) is the Forbes Books author of The Success Paradox: How to Surrender and Win in Business and Life. Cooper is also the executive chairman of Palmetto Infusion Services, a company valued at over $400 million that provides home healthcare, medical equipment, nursing, hospice, and ambulatory infusion clinics to thousands of patients across the Carolinas. He also is the founder, president, and CEO of The Carolus Group, a healthcare consulting firm that serves the next generation of entrepreneurs. Follow Cooper on Twitter at @gary_c_cooper.