In 1986, when I was 39 years old, I began to notice a terrible trend among my colleagues, college buddies and friends: divorce. This was happening in a variety of marriages – from the shaky to the apparently strong. Margaret and I didn’t think our relationship was in any kind of danger, but then again, we knew that many of our friends had thought their relationships were indestructible too. At the same time, my career was really taking off. And while I was enjoying the new challenges, I knew that I didn’t want to lose my family in the process. That prompted me to make one of my key life decisions: rewriting my definition of success. Instead of acclaim or advancement or achievement, I decided that for me,
Success means having those closest to me love and respect me the most.
This made success for me possible only if I included my wife and children in the journey. From that moment on, my success depended on putting my family first. If you want to truly succeed in this life, you need to ask yourself a question: Is your pursuit of success drawing you closer to – or farther from – the most important people in your life? If you want to redefine success the way I did, here are some ways to put your decision into practice:
DETERMINE YOUR PRIORITIES
How much of your calendar is devoted to your family and/or close friends? On your budget and to-do list, where do you write in your loved ones? No relationship can survive for long on leftovers. Early in my career, I focused so much on work that I neglected Margaret. After I realized this, I changed. I carved out time for her. I protected my day off. And we dedicated money in our budget to facilitate special times together. It’s been said that a lot can be learned about what a person values by examining two things: their calendar and their bank statement. They show where people spend their time and money. What do those things say about what you value?
DECIDE ON YOUR PHILOSOPHY
Once your loved ones are a priority, you have to decide together what you want your family to stand for. What values will you live out? For us, the bottom line was to cultivate and maintain:
- Commitment to God,
- Continual growth,
- Common experiences,
- Confidence in God, ourselves and others, and
- Contributions to life.
This was my family’s list. I’m not suggesting that you adopt our philosophy. But I encourage you to take time together to list your non-negotiables. Keep the list short so that you can remember and apply it.
DEVELOP YOUR PROBLEM-SOLVING STRATEGY
I think a lot of people go into marriage expecting it to be easy. Maybe they’ve seen too many movies. Marriage isn’t easy. Family isn’t easy. Close friendships aren’t easy. The best plan is to expect problems, stay committed, and develop a strategy for getting through the rough times. Talk to your loved ones about how you could improve your problem solving together. (NOTE: Do this during a calm time, not in the middle of a conflict!) Many problem-solving strategies exist, from family meetings to fair fighting rules. Use the ones that work for you. Just be sure that they foster and promote three things: 1) Better understanding, 2) Positive change, and 3) Growing relationships.
Deciding to redefine success, and acting on that decision, changed the trajectory of my life. Now, years later, I’m still married to the love of my life, both my kids are married with children (my grandangels!), and we all still enjoy spending time together. Wrapping my definition of success around those I love the most made the difference. And really, when you reach the end of your life, what will be most important to you? Dusty awards granted by acquaintances, or deep connection with those you love?
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