Success is not always self-evident—or rather, failure sometimes wields the shiny facade of success.
A recent Inc. magazine cover story featured the “Entrepreneur of the Year,” Aaron Levie, a steel-eyed, suit-and-tie-clad, 28-year-old startup founder with an impressive track record. The handsome CEO brandishes all the accoutrements of a respect-worthy businessman: he is well spoken, he has a firm grasp on innovation and business strategy, he is funny and smart and charismatic, and, above all, he displays a steadfast work ethic. When unchecked, though, it’s this latter virtue that can be problematic.
Inside its pages, the organ chronicled the young centimillionaire’s stringent daily routine: “He wakes at around 10. He showers quickly and arrives at the office by 11 a.m. He downs two coffees, sometimes holding two cups at once. He rarely eats breakfast or, for that matter, lunch. He spends 90 percent of his daylight hours in meetings or interviews, to which he walks very quickly or even runs. … [At 8:30 p.m., after a one-hour nap, Levie] gets really, really productive. Each night, he sends a couple hundred emails [until] 2 or 3 a.m. … [He] does not take weekends off, and, in the last handful of years, he has taken [only] one vacation, a three-day trip to Mexico with his girlfriend.”
I was impressed when I first read the above account—it’s hard not to be, since we tend to base success on the post–Industrial Revolution standards we’ve established. After reading it again, though, I quickly shifted from impressed to depressed.
You see, Levie’s daily program seemed much like my corporate routine of yesteryear—on steroids. It was a regimen that nearly killed me (and has turned Levie’s hair prematurely gray), but the venture capitalists interviewed by the magazine applauded this relentless schedule, endorsing Levie’s nonstop pace as the new paragon of success.
If that’s what success looks like, then color me unsuccessful—I want no part of it.
Please don’t mistake my words, though: I’m not condemning Aaron Levie. I’m not even objecting to his Energizer Bunny–esque days. With a nine-figure net worth, it’s obvious he isn’t doing it for the money—like I was, blindly.
Instead, I denounce the ideology that says working every waking hour is the template of success—it’s not. Success is perspectival: it doesn’t have a template. Aaron Levie is successful because he’s doing what he wants to do with his life, and he’s contributing to the lives of others (his company employees nearly 1,000 people). However, a stay-at-home dad can be just as successful.
Success is a simple equation: Happiness + Constant Improvement + Contribution = Success.
What’s important, then, is to construct a life that aligns with your values and beliefs, your interests and desires. A life that makes you happy and adds value to others. If it doesn’t, the shiny facade will eventually rust from the inside.
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