When Money Doesn't Equal Happiness

Posted: Feb 21 2014, 1:21pm CST | by , Updated: Feb 21 2014, 1:33pm CST, in Misc


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Lendio team members (disclaimer: I’m the Founder/CEO of Lendio) were invited to participate in our monthly book club. Those who are interested all read the same book and then we come together at the end of the month to discuss what everyone learned. This time, we chose to read the ever popular book on culture written by Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh: Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.

If you haven’t read the book, it’s a great read for entrepreneurs and employees alike; it tells Tony’s life story of building two successful companies (LinkExchange and Zappos.com) and the detailed case study on how Zappos.com has built the attractive culture that they have today.

Since the whole premise of the book was focused on the state of ‘delivering happiness,’ it really made me ponder the question of where true happiness comes from. While the answer to that question is likely very personal, I’d like to believe that there are certain principles that we can control that leads to personal satisfaction and happiness.

How does one achieve success? Does it require the attainment of worldly riches and widespread fame? Can a plumber, house cleaner, or construction worker that is struggling to make ends meet be considered a ‘success?’ It’s interesting to see the various dictionary definitions of the word ‘success.’ Here are two ways of defining success that seems to be completely different meanings:

  1. Suc·cess (səkˈses/): The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted.
  2. Suc·cess (səkˈses/): The gaining of fame or prosperity.

Does Hard Work = Success?

Most people believe that ‘success’ comes from hard work, training, and herculean effort — and I tend to agree. However, I’d venture to say that hard work, training, and effort won’t guarantee success. As the Sochi Olympics are on everyone’s minds, it’s been interesting to read the news updates on those that have qualified to represent their respective countries in the upcoming Olympic games. We have a family friend, Kate Hansen (a student at Brigham Young University), who qualified to represent the United States on the Women’s Luge team by placing 4th in the most recent World Cup qualifier. Her ‘success’ has been accompanied by incredible emotions of joy & satisfaction. Obviously, this was an incredible accomplishment after a life-time of hard work & training. By qualifying for the olympics, her efforts have already resulted in ‘gaining of fame or prosperity’ — you can read about her story and her famous dance moves here, here, or here.

Even more interesting are the stories of those individuals that have missed out on their dream by seconds! Julia Clukey, the best U.S. Women’s luger from the last world cup season, has dedicated her entire life to hard work, training, and preparation with the hopes of representing the U.S. in the upcoming Olympics… and yet she missed qualifying by 0.074 seconds! Can you imagine? You didn’t loose by 3 seconds, or 1 second, you lost by 7 hundredths of a second! Obviously, Julia’s story is accompanied by unfortunate serendipity. But, how often have you seen a similar-type experience in other aspects of life including business, politics, sports, entertainment, education, and/or health?

Can Success Come by Luck?

On the contrary, I wonder how many people have gained ‘fame and prosperity’ (i.e. success) by sheer luck? Does that happen? Do people benefit from the luck of the draw or being the right place at the right time? I’ve always loved the description that Luck is when opportunity meets preparation. But, are there those that have benefited just from opportunity without preparation?

I believe that there’s an element of unpredictability, of uncertainty, of lottery, if you will, in the world that has been created for us. The point is… if you judge your life’s success by the world’s standards, you may be elated or you may be gravely disappointed — regardless of the hard work and effort that you put into your aspirations.

Is there a Way to Ensure Personal Success & Happiness?

When considering the above question, I came across a lecture that Mitt Romney (former Massachusetts Governor, Olympic CEO, and Presidential hopeful) gave at BYU nearly 20 years ago that really resonated with me. I realize that by mentioning Mitt Romney, I’ve probably already alienated 60% of you. Hopefully, you’ll take the quote for the purpose and not get too caught up in the fact that it came from Mitt. :)

Some years ago, the firm I founded seemed to be coming apart at the seams. Our five partners were at each other’s throats. It seemed we all wanted different things from our lives and from our business. One was consumed with making money; he was obsessed with becoming a member of the Forbes 400. Another wanted power and control. I was of two minds, trying to balance the goals of my faith with the money I was earning. We met with a team-building consultant-psychologist. At the last of our weeklong sessions, he led us to something transforming.

He said that if we lived our lives in conflict with our core values, we would experience stress, ill health, and deep regret. How, we asked, could we know what our core values were? He proceeded to ask us to think of the five or six people we most admired and respected, people currently living or who had ever lived. Then, he asked us to write down next to each of those names the five or six attributes we thought of when we thought of that person. The attributes that we had then listed most frequently, he explained, represented our core values. Simply, if we lived in concert with those values, we lived with integrity. We would be happy and fulfilled. And, in contrast, if we lived in a way that was not consistent with those core values, we would ultimately be unfulfilled and unhappy.

To my surprise, all five of my partners revealed the same or similar values: love, family, service, devotion. While we each may have pushed them aside to a different degree in our daily pursuits, they were at each of our centers.

Now, some 20 years later, I have discovered something else about these core values, about living with integrity, about these fundamental measures of successful living: with these at our center, chance does not come into play in determining our success or failure. The ability to live with integrity with the core of our values of love, family, service, and devotion is entirely up to us. Fundamentally, this is the business of successful living.

Tony Hsieh and Zappos.com’s Core Values

Early in the book, Delivering Happiness, Tony tells his story about how he built and sold LinkExchange to Microsoft for $265M. In a little over two years, Tony and his team built an incredibly valuable company and the exit made him very wealthy. What was shocking to me is that the financial success did not contribute to his overall happiness. Quoting Tony from his book from the time period in his life just after he sold LinkExchange:

I made a list of the happiest periods in my life, and I realized that none of them involved money. I realized that building stuff and being creative and inventive made me happy. Connecting with a friend and talking through the entire night until the sun rose made me happy… I thought about how easily we are all brainwashed by our society and culture to stop thinking and just assume by default that more money equals more success and more happiness, when ultimately happiness is really just about enjoying life…. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a turning point for me in my life. I had decided to stop chasing the money, and start chasing the passion.

Hsieh later went on to build Zappos.com into the one of the most successful only retailers in the world. As you’ll read in the book, he attributes a large portion of their success to the 10 core values that influenced the both the overall company strategy and the day-to-day decisions of the company.

It Isn’t Easy

I wish I could tell you living this way was easy. Romney suggests, “It’s only fair that I warn you that it will not be easy for you to focus your life on achieving your core values. Unfortunately, virtually the entire world around you will ridicule those values and a life based on them—perhaps overtly, but implicitly in every medium that surrounds you.”

I agree. There will be those who will minimize this approach and tell you it’s “quaint” to think this way. Many will ridicule you—maybe even some of your closest friends and associates. To be a “successful” entrepreneur, you will be expected to substitute your core values for the values of the world ultimately forcing you to abandon integrity and subject your measurement of success to chance. Making that choice will lead to an unfulfilled life of unhappiness regardless of how successful your company becomes or how much money you make.

“It is empowering, invigorating, and emancipating to live for the success you can control yourself, to live your most deeply-seated values and convictions,” he says.

As Steve Jobs put it, “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

At Lendio and in my personal life, I have done my best to establish both personal values and company values that we turn to when making decisions. Those core values inform how we interact with each other, how we treat our customers, and how we do business. I agree with Mitt Romney when he says, “…if we lived in concert with those values… We would be happy and fulfilled.”

But… what do you think?

Source: Forbes

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