“I needed to make something of myself.” “You about done?” Jake Perry and Melanie Smooter in the film Sweet Home Alabama
We need to make something of ourselves. Continuous and never-ending improvement is a noble trait. But on the way to making ourselves into what’s next, we often lose sight of what’s right in front of us. Rather than be present, we disappear into an uncertain future. We are so busy looking ahead that we miss the only time we can do anything about—now.
Exacerbating the problem is that the striving never seems to be done. We fixate on the next objective and feel the need to be doing something. There’s no room for quiet reflection and rarely do we ask ourselves a simple question: How will I know when I have enough?
John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard and creator of the index fund, wrote a book some years ago titled Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life, a must-read book I commend to every leader. In its introduction, he writes, “At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, ‘Yes, but I have something he will never have…enough.’”
It’s up to each of us to define, ask and answer the question: How will I know when I have enough? Of course, we can also choose not to define, ask, and answer.
The path of inquiry may lead to discomfort, confusion, and dissonance. It may also lead to an epiphany highlighting things missed in the pursuit of more. Asking the question, whatever the outcome, provides another context and filter for viewing our lives. Interestingly, once we ask the question, it’s difficult to put down without learning more about what matters to us.
Most people, presented with the question, first assume the question relates to a personal balance sheet. How much is enough to buy the stuff I want, to pay college tuition, to take the vacation of a lifetime, to start a charitable trust, or to retire comfortably? While still a helpful exercise, it limits our possibilities.
At a minimum, consider the word enough in the context of time. Unlike money, it’s the one thing we can’t make more of in a day. Keep a detailed time journal for a week and note the areas you are spending your 168 hours. Perhaps the breakdown is 84 hours of sleep (7 hours/night), 50 hours of work, 10 hours of commuting, 6 hours of exercise, 15 family hours, and 3 hours of surfing (channel, Netflix, or ocean). The fundamental questions: Are you spending enough time in the areas you care about most? Are you getting a return on investment for those hours? If you decide to shift the mix, where would you spend more or less time?
One caution—do NOT cut the time budget for sleep. The research is clear on this topic and concludes that the body and mind pay the price of sleep deprivation (less than 7 hours per night). Dr. Matthew Walker, the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, notes that nearly 50% of people are getting six hours or less sleep each night. Researchers have found that adults over 45 years getting under six hours a night are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke in their lifetimes. After a single night of only four to five hours of sleep, the white blood cells that attack cancer cells, decline by 70%. Whether you wholeheartedly embrace the research or not, you undoubtedly have a long list of stories recounting the days spent demonstrating unresourceful behaviors and struggling to be productive after sleepless nights.
I frequently write about the need for effective leaders to continue development activities throughout their careers. To make this statement more nuanced, I would add the importance of enjoying yourself along the way. Development doesn’t have to be another hour out of your schedule. It can happen during exercise, while testing new communication approaches, adjusting how you approach a problem, or by being more present when others are speaking to you. In other words, develop at the same time as you are doing something else.
It may seem obvious to multi-task, but we all enter a trance many times a day during meetings and conversations. While others are speaking, we go to the beach in our heads. While driving, we travel three miles down the highway and realize we weren’t consciously paying attention between points A and B. Breaking the trance requires us to become aware that we went to the beach, break the trance, and then make a conscious effort to focus on what’s happening in the room. This practice defines personal and leadership development in its rawest form.
Takeaway: It’s not helpful to be prescriptive with the question beyond stating it this way: How will I know when I have enough __________? Asking the question will generate surprising emotions. Write them down as you experience them. Give them some thought over the coming days. What you choose to do with those emotions is, you guessed it, 100% up to you. In the end, give yourself the gift of asking and answering the question. It may be the nicest thing you ever did for yourself.