Want to be successful and happy?

Posted on May 3rd, by Dr Rob Yeung . 2 comments

What would you do if you were suddenly to become rich?  Probably celebrate, right? But wait, there’s a catch.

Jim Collins, American author of business blockbuster Good to Great suggests the following exercise.  Imagine you wake up tomorrow morning and receive two phone calls.  The first caller tells you that you’ve inherited $20 million, with no strings attached.  The second caller explains that you have no more than 10 years to live – you have a totally incurable, terminal disease.

What would you do differently in your life?  What would you start doing?  And what would you stop doing?

In my book Confidence: The power to take control and live the life you want, I use a variant of Collins’ 20-10 test called The Tombstone Test.

What would you like inscribed on your tombstone when you die?  But you can only choose one phrase.

If you extrapolate your life forwards as it is now, would your epitaph in all honesty be positive and upbeat?  Something along the lines of “He loved his family and career in equal measure” or “She was passionate in everything she did”?  Or would it be something more mundane like “He advanced through the ranks of management because his friends seemed to be doing the same” or “She didn’t enjoy her job a lot of the time but put up with it because it paid her too much for her to give up”?

It’s a cliché to say that no one on their deathbed ever said “I wish I’d spent more time at the office” or “at least I hit my targets”.   But this is more than a philosophical debate about what might make you happy.  Because happiness is highly underrated. Many people see it as a nice-to-have.  That happiness is something that can be deferred until you’ve achieved certain career goals or earned enough to do what you really enjoy.

The fact is that study after study, whether done by business school professors, consultants, or researchers such as Jim Collins, point to the fact that the most successful people in life are happy in their work.  When I interviewed dozens of high achievers for my book E is for Exceptional, I found that they all had total passion and love for what they do.  They all had a gift that I call Authenticity: the ability to enjoy and feel fulfilled by what they do.

High achievers can immerse themselves in their work and lose all track of time.  They don’t put up with it because it’s a secure job or grit their teeth through it because it pays a lot or gives them respect amongst their peers.

So the simple truth is this: if you want to succeed in life, you need to be passionate about what you do.  So.  Are you passionate about what you do?  If not, find something else to do.  Because you will never be able to compete with the people who truly love the work.

2 Responses to “Want to be successful and happy?”

  1. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for this thought-provoking piece. I’ll have to spend some time wondering what I’d like carved on my tombstone!

  2. maryrollins says:

    I agree that in principle we should all strive to find work that allows us to self-actualize but for some of us the reality is that present day constraints (the need to earn enough to pay the mortgage, put our children through school, put food on the table) may mean that we may have to put up with work that is less than optimal in terms of how we feel about ourselves and our lives. However, I do dream that one day I will be able to express myself more fully in my work!

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