The Big Lies That Kill Success and Happiness


I was speaking at a CEO conference recently and one of the other keynote speakers said from stage; "The purpose of life is happiness." I sat there thinking to myself, that's completely wrong. It's a lie and don't fall for it. Happiness is a byproduct of purpose, meaning and making a difference. It comes from service rather than focusing on yourself, pumping yourself up or buying yourself status symbols and expensive toys.

Too many of us are addicted to the endorphin sugar-hit of winning or the thrill of reckless behavior. We long for the fleeting feel-good factor associated with recognition; often in [look at me, look at me] social media. Many seek to escape with alcohol or drugs while some retreat into the mind-numbing distraction of entertainment. The goal of life (and lasting happiness) is not found in being the center of attention or meeting our own needs. Happiness is a state of mind and I want to share with you the true value of what we pursue.

"Although our actions and behaviors define us; it's who we become that determines the real value of everything we pursue." From the book: 

Lasting success is the result of our positive choices and habits. Success is rarely an event; it’s a process. The key to living a successful life is to develop the right habits and make the right choices. We must thoughtfully choose our environment and beliefs as they create outcomes within us.

These are the big lies that will rob you of success and happiness in life, both professionally and personally:

  1. Happiness is my primary goal. No, happiness is a byproduct of having meaning and purpose in what you do. It also comes from having a grateful state of mind about how you see yourself in the world.
  2. I am entitled. A sense of entitlement causes you to lack gratefulness and repels those who can help you. It also undermines the necessary work ethic needed to create what you want. Position and qualifications are merely a 'ticket to the dance' and we need to earn the support of others in how we behave and contribute.
  3. It's all about me. Narcissism disconnects us from relationships. To have good friends we must first be a great one. We must provide exception value to our employer and customers. Zig Ziglar famously said "If you can help enough people get what they want, then you can have what you want." Serve others with integrity and commitment and you'll attract success.
  4. I don't need to learn anymore. We must be the person worthy of the success we seek. If you don't read then you're not a leader, plain and simple. Disruption is a powerful force being exerted constantly on every business and individual careers. Our ability to unlearn and relearn is essential for staying relevant.

Be open to new ideas and committed to learning. Avoid a narcissistic sense of entitlement and instead pursue worthwhile activities that make a positive difference in the world and the lives of others. Serving is what sets you on the path to happiness and fulfillment.

What does great leadership look like?

The very best leaders live by example and embody unbreakable determination in pursuing their cause, yet they do not bully or manipulate. Rather than create pressure they provide clarity, focus and energy for the people they lead. They focus on providing the right environment and ask the right questions rather than give answers. They are humbly self-aware, not self-absorbed, and they are honest, direct and accountable in their commitments and behavior. They understand that a good leader is first a good human being.

Much can be achieved when you don’t care who receives the credit and when you surrender the need to be constantly right. Leaders seek to understand before attempting to be understood. They know that lasting motivation comes from within and they therefore encourage their people to personally take ownership of outcomes. They build their people’s self-esteem and promote their team’s ideas by encouraging them to take calculated risks, stretching their capabilities. When things go wrong they provide support and do not lecture or punish. Neither do they rescue when the consequences are not catastrophic; instead they regard ‘opportunities to fail’ as useful. Later, without negative emotion, they facilitate reflection.

Great leaders are morally grounded in enduring values yet adopt purposeful pragmatism rather than judgmentally hold to narrow dogmas. They value difference, suspend judgment and accept diversity. Our ability to build other people in teams is more important than having all the ideas. Be counter-intuitive in your leadership style by humbly serving rather than grandstanding. Do what it takes rather than merely your best. You cannot lead from behind; pull people through rather than push. Accept the blame when things go wrong and learn the necessary lessons from criticism and failure so that you can adjust accordingly. Genuinely pass the credit on to others when things go well – success is always a team effort.

Time is the only critical limited resource. Invest your time and treasure it rather than spend it. There is no such thing as wasted time if you always have a good book with you when you travel. Do not allow the trivially urgent to prevent you from doing the important. Make time for what matters most. Set goals and priorities, and regularly measure your own progress.

Less is more – less talking creates more influence and more learning; less clutter and distracting noise creates more clarity; less information creates better cut-through in the message. The best way to improve something is to reduce it. Cut the unnecessary elements away rather than add complexity or overhead. The more we take the less we become; we only become greater when we give and contribute. We can become our very best when we let go of what we treasure and embrace the very things we fear. What does not kill us can make us stronger. Building character and developing emotional resilience is a valuable foundation for future success. Failure can educate, and with resolve to overcome, we can gain wisdom and prosper.

Happiness is a state of mind concerning how we perceive ourselves and our place in the world. Be grateful for what you have. Laugh as often as you can. Reject judgment, bitterness and revenge – they are self-destructive forces, devouring the host. Do not take yourself too seriously; instead have an optimistic attitude and positive sense of humor. Freely admit when you are wrong, and say ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ every chance you get. Forgive and move on. Be prepared to take risks but without foolhardy recklessness. Never be a victim; instead be fully accountable for your own success and happiness. Do not blame others or bad luck for failure and set-backs. Believe in yourself and earn the right to ask for what you want. Never bully or manipulate and do not allow knowledge to manifest within you as arrogance. Do not allow success to make you egotistical; instead, learn genuine humility in acknowledging the contribution of others as well as good fortune or blessing.

Choose your friends and work environment wisely as both will change you through osmosis. Avoid those who are addicted to destructive gossip. Encouragement is far more effective than criticism – believe in the competent and help them become better. Expect the best of others and treat them with respect regardless of their station in life. Serve your employer, team and customers ahead of your own interests – trust the law of reciprocity to reward your integrity and ability to create value. Show thoughtful initiative and a strong work ethic. We learn nothing while talking, and making a noise rarely makes a difference. Instead become a great listener who is genuinely interested in others, asking insightful and powerful questions.

Success is living a life of purpose and achieving your goals, yet the passage of time is the only valid perspective for measuring achievement. There is no excuse for not being your best or failing to fulfill your potential. Barriers and difficulties are there to exclude average people, and for the purpose of ensuring the worthiness of those who achieve. Scarcity is what creates value. We all wish our circumstances would improve but it is usually we who must change first. Become better rather than wish it were easier. Be the change you want to see in the world – start with your own bedroom, garage, and backyard. You cannot manage an enterprise if you cannot manage yourself. Avoid gossip, criticism and judgment. There is genuine peace in not worrying about things that don’t matter (inconsequential trivia) or are outside your control.

Knowledge and technical competence is not enough. Your value to your employer and customers is defined by your ability to positively influence and deliver results. Thinking strategically and executing masterfully is more important than adhering to methodologies. Think RSVP in every commercial endeavor and obsessively pay attention to excellence in execution.

Success or failure is the accumulated result of thousands of tiny decisions. Most people become disempowered through inner-corrosion rather than a catastrophic external event. Sustained success is the result of painful and diligent growth occurring below the surface, for the most part unseen by the outside world. Work on yourself rather than criticize others. Self-awareness, self-discipline, self-leadership and positive attitude are what attract success beyond mere knowledge and skill.

Work is not different from the rest of life – bring all of yourself to your work. Treat your sales career as a profession that creates value rather than being a competitive game. It has serious and profound lessons to teach if you are open to learning. Be the person worthy of the life you seek – success and failure, belief and doubt are necessarily conjoined. You can find the problem and the opportunity in the mirror.

Here is another post that explains my framework for leadership.

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Main image photo from Flickr.