Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent eight years of his life in prison for making a few disparaging remarks about Joseph Stalin. He went into prison an atheist and come out eight years later a Christian. The first words out of his mouth —
I bless you prison — I bless you for being in my life — for there lying on rotting prison straw, I learned the object of life is not prospering as I had grown up believing, but the maturing of the soul.
The soul is made up of one’s mind, will and emotions: your thoughts, desires and feelings. A paradox of success states that if you get these factors “right” first, then success will ensue. However, when you chase the material and position “stuff” of life with a bereft or undeveloped soul you may indeed get more than your share, only to feel empty throughout the process and marginal in the end. While you can certainly have prosperity and a mature soul, your overall fulfillment and happiness as a man or woman is going to largely depend on which you pursue as a priority.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn was dead-on when he declared that, “To get more than you’ve got you must first become more than you are” Throngs of people in our industry strive hard to get more, but they never become more. They use the same old skills, habits or attitudes, merely stiffening with age but never truly growing. They’re not lazy. They work hard…on their jobs. But they don’t work hard on themselves. They grow old but they don’t grow up. They become so focused on their destination that the journey becomes a hapless death march, a necessary means to an end. They have no joy or power in the present because they are too fixated on their destination. They willingly sacrifice health, family and relationships in exchange for their goals, accepting their diminishment as a necessary tradeoff for that better job, bigger paycheck, larger house and loftier title.
At the end of their days, these misguided “achievers” reflect and reach a horrifying conclusion: while they have made money, they have made no real difference in the lives of co-workers, in their communities or families. They are haunted by the fact that when they die it will be as though they never lived. They became successful in the world’s eyes but they never reached a level of true significance. They crossed many finish lines personally, but failed to bring others with them. In fact, the backs of others running the race bear their footprints. Many leaders end up rich and alone; rich and sick; rich and spiritually bankrupt.
I agree with Solzhenitsyn, that the objective of life is not about prosperity, but the maturation of the soul. And that the former without the latter assures an emptiness that shakes many shallow leaders to the core with the question, Is this really all that there is? On the other hand, when maturing your soul becomes a priority, you can have it all. You move from success to significance as you improve yourself, export value to others, and edify humanity at large. You accomplish this by taking the focus off your own selfish ambitions and aspirations and putting others first: God, family, friends, co-workers and customers. It works like the teeter-totters on the playground. By pushing down your own ego you elevate and expand your platform to do well, to have an impact, to leave a legacy.
Maturation of the soul begins with developing a stronger character, purer motives and broader outlook on life. In other words, you stop trying to fix everyone else for a while and work harder to get yourself right. Here are a few areas to examine.
- What is your plan for personal growth? How many serious books do you read each year that help you become a better leader? If you’re not committed to growing yourself, can anyone really expect that you have what it takes to develop others?
- What is the state and strength of your family relationships? Do those who know you best love and respect you the most? If you can’t run your family with excellence, how eager should someone be to allow you to run their business?
- How moral are your ethics? Do you keep commitments without excuse and regardless of the cost? Do you tell the truth—always—or are you prone to white lies and false impressions? On a day-in, day-out basis do you do what is right or what is easy, cheap, popular and convenient?
- How strong are your relationships with others? Are you a gossip, a purveyor of discord? Are you loyal to those not present? Do you use people for your own benefit or do you add value to them? Are you selfish or selfless, a taker or a giver, a mentor or a moocher?
- Whom have you impacted? How many people under your leadership have been promoted to better positions? Who can point to you and say, “That person made a real difference in my life”? Do you leave people better than you found them, or do you merely maintain them?
- Do you have the “disease of me”? Are you too protective of your turf? Do you put your own personal comfort zone and agenda ahead of what’s best for the team? Would the other leaders in your organization say that you’ve got their back or stab their back?
- How do you impact the world outside your business and family? What do you volunteer for? How much money do you give to worthy causes? How much time do you give and value do you provide to people who could never possibly repay you?
The questions that made you the most uncomfortable have the most to teach you. Don’t slip into denial and think that your current level of success rationalizes away the need to carefully address the seven areas I’ve presented or others like them. The true measure of a leader is not found in what he possesses, but in what possesses him. If you’ve searched yourself and have been found wanting, it’s time to stop chasing money and start chasing the ability to make a difference. Once you learn to make a difference, prosperity will chase you.