As many of you know, my son – Eli – is a musician. You can see his work – both covers and originals – on his Youtube channel. About a month ago, he was listening to Coney Island, a Taylor Swift song featuring Matt Berninger (of The National), when I heard the following lyric in Matt’s deep Americana tone:
“The question pounds my head, ‘What’s a Lifetime of achievement?
If I pushed you to the edge, but you were too polite to leave me.”
I can’t get the lyric out of my head… The lyric in question begins at 1:33.
I’ve always been a pretty serious person. I can laugh and have a great time, but I am generally very focused and driven. When I was growing up, we didn’t have much, and becoming successful financially (so I didn’t have to worry about money) and being recognized for my expertise was all-consuming for many years.
Every year for about a decade, I’ve done a handwritten version of a lifetime blueprinting exercise. I ultimately turned the exercise into the Values, Purpose, and Goals course that you can take on our website. It’s free if you want to check it out or share it.
Every year I did it, one of my 6-Most important values has been “Achievement.”
I am still teasing out the details of my own story and learning surprising things about where some of my beliefs about money and success come from. One of the annoying things I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how much I save or invest… I am still worried about money. The worry is so deeply ingrained that it doesn’t go away… even when I’m certain that I have enough.
My focus on achievement hasn’t always been fun for those around me. It leads to long hours at work, early bedtimes, and less presence than I would have liked. I have often ‘joked’ with my wife and family that I wish I was more fun. Inside each joke is a nugget of truth.
The last time I saw my brother, we had breakfast with our eldest sons. Eli and Dave were joking around and I didn’t get the jokes (this is normal). Eli turned to Dave and said something like, “See what I’m dealing with?” Dave laughed and said, “I’ve been dealing with it all my life.” He drowned 2 weeks after that interaction.
There were distinct differences between my brother and I. Before he died, I always thought my way was the better way and that he was silly (or worse) for not being more focused and concerned.
Now, it’s not at all like he didn’t work hard. He DID work hard, and he achieved plenty. It wasn’t as consuming for him. He was successful, but he wasn’t as afraid of “not making it” as I was. So, while I don’t know his inner thoughts, I have always imagined that he was not as anxious about everything as I am. I always believed that he was more easygoing because he didn’t “get it.”
Maybe the difference stems from my being the first born? Maybe it is because my dad always woke me up at 4 in the morning when there was work to be done at Harter Drive. Maybe it was because my parents shared more of their financial concerns with me than they did with Dave? Maybe it was simply that most of the concerns were resolved by the time he was old enough to pay attention. Or, maybe my genetics are just more prone to worry? I don’t know.
Now that he is gone, I am not sure that he didn’t get it. Life is always about trade-offs. If we hyper focus on “achievement,” then it’s easy to let “health” or “relationships” go. I have been doing a LOT of re-evaluating of what is important. Now that he is gone, the question pounds my head… “What IS a lifetime of achievement?”
If my life is a testament to anything, it’s that when you combine focus, hard work, and persistence, you absolutely can build something out of nothing. I do not think I am special in this regard. I think anyone who combines those 3 traits over a two- to three-decade period can achieve enormously.
If I erred in my life… it was to lean too much towards achievement. There is nothing inherently wrong with this focus. Because I was playing catch-up, it was probably a necessity for much of my life.
As I grow and age, it’s a good thing that new realizations lead to change. I am grateful for all the opportunities and gifts and achievements of my past. And, in my future, I will de-emphasize my own achievement and work on health, family, relationships, and helping other people achieve.
I have accumulated a little wealth, some authority, even a little prestige. I am proud of my path to date. And I’m very excited for what is yet to come.