Thoughts

This page features a few pieces that highlight our thinking. We hope you enjoy them.

 

Are You Climbing the Wrong Mountain?

It's a sad story... for 27 years, Dan climbed The Mountain of Power. Three months after summiting—that is, becoming CEO—he had a heart attack and died. His wife said at his funeral, "Ironically, Dan was happiest when he stepped away from his quest and spent time with his children and friends. He was most miserable the closer he came to power. But he could never shake the habit of seeking power."

Dan was climbing the wrong mountain.

To respect confidences, all the names and specific examples in this story are fictional, but they are based on the type of misguided careers that happen with heartbreaking frequency.

Our intention today is pretty simple: to provide you with a touchstone you can use to test your own goals and actions.

At heart, Sarah is an artist. She spent ten years climbing the Mountain of Perfection, trying to master the medium of fluid painting. During this period, Sarah was her own toughest critic, never satisfied with her work and always reluctant to A.) offer it for sale, or B.) charge high enough prices to support even her minimal needs.

Over time, she began to support and encourage other artists. When she finally worked up the courage to sell her works at summer art fairs, she always brought a few pieces created by her friends. It was far easier for her to promote and sell these other works, which she did so effectively that friends gave her more and more artworks to display.

Three years ago, Sarah opened an art gallery, then a second location. She has never been happier or more gratified. Now she is climbing the Mountain of Artistic Fellowship, and she paints for her own personal pleasure.

It is so easy to accidentally climb the wrong mountain. Many of us never pause long enough to consider what matters most to us, or to think about the implications of our decisions. "My father was an attorney," a newly-minted lawyer might confess. "I have a mind like his. It never occurred to me that the practice of law could leave me feeling empty and alone, as though I was living someone else's life."

Here's the thing about climbing the wrong mountain: for years and years, it can feel like you are being so productive and effective. You reach milestones that required years of grit and growth to achieve. You get promoted. You make more money. Friends and neighbors are impressed. Hell, you might even be impressed.

But when you get to the top—and when you start to gaze at another peak with a sense of longing—you are further than ever from your true path.

External metrics won't reveal whether you should be climbing the Mountain of Wealth versus the Mountain of Compassion. To find the answer, you must look inside yourself.

Can we give you a simple five-step system for doing this? Nope.

No, our gift to you today is far simpler... and more effective. It is the thought that you can decide which mountain to climb over the course of your career and life. It is the realization that you have far more latitude to make such a decision than you may realize. You are not stuck in the middle between financial and family obligations. You are not too late in your career to make a change. You are not forced to be "practical" or "realistic" instead of focused on what your heart and soul and brain is telling you.

 

Focus on Your Eulogy, Not Your Resume

A few years ago, David Brooks wrote an eloquent piece, The Moral Bucket List, in which he made the case that there are resume virtues and eulogy virtues; the former are skills you sell, while the latter are those that your family, friends and colleagues celebrate at your funeral.

Few of us want to be praised at our funeral as a "darn good product manager," but most of us lead our lives as though that outcome would be good enough.

My headline may be a bit inaccurate. The question isn't what will others say at your funeral? It's...

Where should I focus my efforts, for all my remaining days?

David's piece outlined six ways that some make the leap to eulogy virtues. In truth, all seemed a bit intimidating to me. It occurred to us that we could share a simpler formula for acquiring eulogy virtues. We didn't invent it, but rather pieced it together from the work of others. 

1.) Growth: You start by recognizing what Carol Dweck wrote about in Mindset, which is that people with a growth mindset tend to outperform those with a fixed mindset. That is, if you think your abilities are fixed, you won’t do as well as people who believe that with enough effort, they can expand their capabilities.

But it's not enough to simply understand this. Doing so won't change the quality of your life.

You have to.. make growth your #1 goal, in both your career and personal life.

To be clear, if you embrace this mindset, your number one goal will no longer be "become a CEO" or "take my startup public." It will be growth as a long-term, unrelenting goal.

Once you adopt this mindset, you will never be content to plateau.

2.) Grit: Next, you apply grit behind your long-term goal of growth.

As University of Pennsylvania Associate Professor Angela Duckworth explains, grit is “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.”

Duckworth, like Dweck, believes that effort is more important than talent. Her research suggests that the longer the time period you consider, the greater the advantage of effort over talent.

For example, if you are betting on a impromptu race between two teenagers on a football field, bet on talent. But if you are betting on which teenager will have the most rewarding life, bet on effort.

3.) Giving: Focus on the needs of other people, not just on your own needs. As Adam Grant - also at UPenn - pointed out in Give and Take, the most successful professionals in the world have a giving mindset; they are primarily focused on the needs of others.

A giving mindset brings purpose to your life. It gives your life a massive nudge in the direction of eulogy virtues. It is what transforms a great career into a stellar life.

We'd argue that a giving mindset is both altruistic and selfish. On the one hand, it vastly increases the odds that you will help others and make our world a significantly better place. On the other, helping others has a way of coming back your way with numerous personal and career benefits. We can't fully explain how this works, but have experienced firsthand that this is true.