In a fascinating 1996 survey, more than 230 CEOs from some of America’s top companies were asked, “What do you wish someone had told you 20 years ago about how to be successful?” The results were both interesting and amazing; most of these high-powered, jet-setting honchos defined success differently than one might expect. Take a look at the seven keys to success the executives cited, and consider them in light not only of your practice, but of your life. Are you following their advice?
#1: Be Yourself
I can’t tell you how many advisors I have worked with who are trying to be someone they are not in order to please clients and therefore make more money. But think about it: Clients want to work with a caring, trustworthy expert who understands their goals, has empathy for their problems, and helps them get what they want. The most important thing is trust, and trust comes from authenticity. To achieve total success, you must first know your strengths and weaknesses, then work to attract clients who will appreciate your particular strengths. If you are a warm-fuzzy person, work with warm-fuzzy people. If you are a datahead, work with people who will appreciate your quantitative skills.
An advisor who attended one of my workshops complained that he couldn’t talk with clients about his daredevil penchant for extreme sports. “If I told my retired clients, they would think I was way too much of a risk-taker, and wouldn’t want to work with me.”
“You said you work with a lot of retired people,” I said, “but who is your ideal client, the one you most enjoy working with?” Without hesitation, he said, “CEOs.” CEOs, of course, take risks all the time. By not being himself, he made himself attractive to a group he didn’t enjoy working with. By being authentic, he realized, he could be attractive to the very group he most wanted to work with–and he’d probably find people who’d want to go with him when he went bungee-jumping or swimming with the sharks, too.
The lesson here for planners here is: Organize your business and your marketing to attract clients who appreciate you for who you are. It is much less effort and much more fun than trying to be something you are not.
#2: Follow Your Dreams
The executives in the poll said that the second key to their success was following their dreams. They all used their dreams as their inner compass. They then turned their dreams into goals, and their goals into deadlines. I have found that when you get clear on what you want and make a conscious decision to pursue it, the universe conspires to help you accomplish it.
How could you possibly be successful if you didn’t follow your dreams? If you are not yourself and don’t follow your dreams, you may be climbing the ladder of financial success but you will never achieve true success and genuine happiness.
#3: Hug Your Family
Richard Adler is the president of McCann Erickson, a large international ad agency. He says, “I have three pictures on my desk: one of me with my parents, the other two of me with my wife and sons on family vacations. I don’t have a picture of me at the office working late or making a deal. I don’t have a picture of me making a deposit at a bank teller window, flying first-class to Tokyo, or returning a 28% margin to my company. Just the family.”
Many advisors I work with win awards from their firms, but not from their families. They spend all of their time making money and running their businesses. But the deep connections with your family should be the most important focus in your life.
#4: Keep in Touch With Friends
Family may come first, but don’t forget your friends. Friendships are some of the most important relationships in your life. You don’t need a lot of friends, only a handful. A few friends with whom you have deep relationships based on shared interests and values creates a support system for you. If you surround yourself with true friends, they will support you in becoming yourself and following your dreams.
As you become older and hopefully more knowledgeable about who you are and what you want to accomplish in your life, you often acquire new friends. This is a good thing, too. I don’t keep in touch with anyone I knew from high school, but I have a small handful of very close friends that I have known for over 20 years. These people create meaning, purpose, and joy in my life. When you have great friends, even if you don’t see them for four or five years, when you get back together it is as if you’ve never been apart.
#5: Enjoy the Moment
Some people believe they should do what they hate, and the money will follow. This seems to be a common theme in our industry: Work real hard, make cold calls, do lots of things that you don’t enjoy, and ultimately you will achieve financial success. But if you don’t enjoy the journey, the activities that fill your day will put out your spark. The phone will get heavier and heavier; your will to do the job will falter and fade.
I am not entirely naive: I don’t believe that if you do what you love, the money will inevitably follow. I do believe you must identify what you love to do, and then determine how you can add value in the marketplace by doing it. In the old concept of work, you trade your time for someone else’s money. In the new concept of work, you define what you are passionate about, then structure your business and your life so you can get paid for enjoying every moment.
Many years ago I went through career counseling. They defined success as three things. You do things that you enjoy, you are good at them, and you feel good about them afterward. Think about it: If you enjoy what you do, you do it well, and later on, thinking back on what you accomplished, you are proud of it, what more could you want?
Many people on our society defer gratification by working at a job for 30 or 40 years with the goal of retiring. They don’t enjoy the journey, but they hope that somehow, magically, when the journey is over and they can retire, they will find true happiness. For them, happiness is never happening now. Unfortunately, when you ask them, “What will you be doing when you retire?” they say something like, “I don’t know, but I won’t
be working here.” Unfortunately, many of those people won’t enjoy a long and happy retirement. They may die within a few years of retirement; they may get bored and go back to work. And they may never learn to enjoy the moment.
#6: Keep a Balance
Balance in life is perhaps the hardest thing to achieve. It is easy to go to extremes, to work too much, or not work enough. The toughest thing is balance. But when your values are clear and well-defined, it is easy to make decisions that will keep your life in balance. So many people are living out of alignment with their true priorities simply because they have never stopped to identify what their priorities are. When I coach people, one of the key things I do is help them define their values and their vision so that I can help them use their time in a way that reflects those values and will help them accomplish their vision.
#7: Have Fun
One of the executives in the survey said, “We only go around life once, and we need to enjoy the journey. I wish someone had told me to relax and not to take myself so seriously. It would have been a much easier journey, and maybe much more successful, too.”
For many people in America, fun is a four-letter word. America has become the richest country on earth because of the Protestant work ethic, which puts forth the idea that people who work hard and achieve material success are somehow more noble and worthy than those who do not. For some people, there is almost an element of guilt in having fun. But all we can experience at any given moment is that moment. So don’t deny yourself the moments or the experiences that make life worth living.
By following these seven points, the advice from some of America’s top CEOs, and sharing them with your family, friends, and clients, you too can achieve total success and genuine happiness. Good luck–and remember to enjoy the journey.