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Building Blocks for a Life Lived Well

By Philip Humbert

This week, a potential new client asked how I define success. She was asking about my philosophy and priorities, but we quickly started talking about how I measure "true success." What are we trying to achieve? What does happiness really look like?

Obviously, these are huge questions and the answers will be different for each of us. I'm pretty sure the answers change as we go through life. Success is very different for a teenager than for a woman in her 80's. The trappings of success may be different for different cultures, and even men and women may measure a "great life" somewhat differently.

But whatever our individual answers, I'm convinced that clarity about how we measure success and defining the life we truly want are two of the most important tasks for any adult. Living according to someone else's definition of success can lead to incredible tragedy. It abdicates our unique gift as human beings to make our own decisions and live our lives in our own way.

Peter Drucker observed that the ultimate failure is to do very well "that which need not be done at all." Others have noted that the worst failure is to struggle up the ladder of success, only to reach the top and find it was leaning against the wrong wall. Over 2500 years ago, Socrates said that "the unexamined life is not worth living."

I'm not sure I would go that far—a life that is, so far, unexamined, may awaken at any moment! Nevertheless, I think it is useful to wake up, smell the roses, and make our own decisions as early in life as possible.

To arrive at your own definition of success and set your course in life, I often encourage clients to begin by looking at some of life's "big pieces." Success and happiness may be more than getting all the pieces in the right place, but getting the big pieces right is a worthy beginning.

I suggest the following for your consideration:

  1. Career or vocational success. Get very good at what you do. Make your maximum contribution. Become an expert. Take pride in your work and earn respect for your ability to produce amazing results in record time. How do you define success in your career?
  2. Money and finances. Money isn't everything, but it beats being poor. In a world with so much wealth and so many opportunities, managing money and saving for the future, investing wisely, and enjoying the fruits of our labor are a key component of living well. How do you define success in financial terms?
  3. Health and well-being. Some illness or injury come to each of us, but over time, taking care of our bodies, eating well, getting plenty of rest and exercise seem to be good things. Laughing seems to help. There is truth in the old saying, "Use it or lose it." Move. Stretch. Dance. Play. Take care of your body.
  4. Spirituality and faith. My grandmother taught me that, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." Figure out what you believe about life and purpose, about the future and about the goodness (or badness) of our fellow humans. What is life all about? Why are you here?
  5. Fun and celebration. "All work and no play makes Jack (and Jill) very dull." Some of us are so ambitious in terms of work or money that we fail to relax and enjoy life. Ride the roller-coasters. Explore mountain-tops. Play with children. Make love. Be silly and try new stuff. If you fall down, pick yourself up and try again. Enjoy ice cream. With fudge and a cherry on top!
  6. Education and personal development. This week, Bill Gates observed that one of his regrets is that for all his wealth and achievement, he speaks only one language. Take music lessons. Ready history. Travel widely. Try new foods, new ideas, and new points of view. Stretch your brain as well as your body.

You may have other big pieces. Or, you may feel some of my suggestions don't work for you. Fine! But figure out the building blocks of a great life, and pursue them. By the end of 2015, you can have, do, or become just about anything you truly want. You can learn a language, visit China, fall in love, or start a business. What I encourage you avoid is wasting time. Define the building blocks of a great life and, day by day, focus on them. Make this your year to achieve greatness.

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