Tiger Woods. Donald Trump. Bobby Fisher. Jack Welch. Michael Jordan. Bill Clinton. Ray Charles. Marilyn Monroe.
What do each of these talented, arguably great individuals have in common?
They let their talent outrun their character. They became more expert at their professions and abilities than with their perspective and integrity. In many instances, they traded the short term for the long term, in spite of their great dedication, discipline and honorable sacrifices.
In other words, they let things get out of balance.
David O. McKay once said, "No amount of success can compensate for failure in the home." I would add, no amount of success can compensate for a failure in one's character, or in one's sanity, or in one's decency as a human being.
I recently read a book called "Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else", by Geoff Colvin. The book is much along the same vein as Jim Collins' Book "Good to Great", in that it shows the reader how to rise from mediocrity to greatness.
Like Collins, Colvin's work is very research based, proving time and time again that world-class performers excel not because of any inborn talent or skill, but because of conscious choice, vigorous training (usually over a 10 year period) and because they shut out the rest of the world in their quest for greatness. They focus. They're intense. They put themselves through deliberate, repetitive and painful practice.
I must admit, I was very inspired by the book, and wanted to recommit myself to becoming truly great in my field.
Until I read the last few pages.
Says Colvin: "What do you really want? What you want -- really, deeply want-- is fundamental because deliberate practice is a heavy investment. Becoming a great performer demands the largest investment you will ever make -- many years of your life devoted utterly to your goal--and only someone who wants to reach that goal with extraordinary power can make it.
"We often see the price people pay in their rise to the top of any field; even if their marriages or other relationships survive [most don't] their interest outside their field simply cannot....Usually, as a means of being able to continue work,the creator sacrificed normal relationships in the personal sphere. Such people are committed obsessively to their work. Social life or hobbies are almost immaterial.
"That may sound like admirable self-sacrifice and direction of purpose, but it often goes much further, and it can be ugly...the self-confidence merges with egotism, egocentrism, and narcissism: each of the creators seems highly self-absorbed, not only wholly involved in his or her own projects, but likely to pursue them at the cost of other individuals." The story of the great achiever who leaves a wake of anger and betrayal is a common one."
I must admit that I'm more goal-oriented than I am people-oriented. I value my family and my freedom more than many of the social circles I frequent. And being such, I value becoming excellent in my field - as a business owner and investor, probably more than I should.
After all, the gap between the costs of mediocrity and the rewards for greatness are growing wider every day as we compete in a very hungry, determined, global economy.
But is that an excuse?
Will our character ever be valued as an exportable product, above and beyond mere commodity?
CEO of the multi-billion-dollar Huntsman Corporation, Peter Huntsman believes so. According to Huntsman, our values as people have not kept pace with technology, innovation, skills, talents, or the arts. In other words, there is a shortage of principled people, value-focused people in our world. And shortages create opportunities for those willing to step in and fill the void.
Interestingly, Huntsman also notes that filling this character void will not be found by focusing forward (as most innovative and entrepreneurial thinkers do so well), but by remembering and revisiting the past.
Character is built upon introspection. Wisdom is found in reconnecting to our values.
An interesting survey was done by the Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA. They asked incoming college freshmen what they felt was most important in their educational pursuits.
The answers are startling and revealing.
Those who believe it is "essential" or "very important" to:
"Be Very Well Off Financially":
1967 : 41.9% vs. 2005 : 74.5%
"Develop a Meaningful Philosophy of Life":
1967 : 85.8% vs. 2005 : 45%
So, we can see that our center as a society has changed considerably. We've become more materialistic and financially focused at the cost of our purpose, meaning, and with life itself.
Like many others, I personally believe that many of the wars we've fought in recently haven't been about protecting our citizens from terrorism, but rather, to preserve our standard of living by acquiring the resources of other countries. We've sacrificed human life for temporal lifestyle.
One last quote, and then I'll get off my soap box.
This is one of my personal favorites, by Hugh B. Brown.
When Success Becomes a Failure
When you are doing the lower while the higher is possible,
When you are not a cleaner, finer, larger man on account of your work,
When you live only to eat and drink, have a good time, and accumulate money,
then success is a failure.
When you do not carry a higher wealth in your character than in your pocketbook,
When the attainment of your ambition has blighted the aspirations and crushed the hopes of others,
When hunger for more money, more land, more houses and bonds has grown to be your dominant passion,
When your profession has made you a physical wreck -- a victim of ‘nerves’ and moods,
When your absorption in your work has made you practically a stranger to your family,
When your greed for money has darkened and cramped your wife’s life,
and deprived her of self-expression, of
needed rest and recreation, of amusement of any kind,
When all sympathy and fellowship have been crushed out
of your life by selfish devotion to your vocation,
When you do not overtop your vocation,
When you are not greater as a man than as a lawyer, a merchant, a
physician or a scientist,
When you plead that you have never had time to cultivate your friendships,
your politeness, or your good manners,
When you have lost on your way your self-respect, your
courage, your self-control, or any other quality of
then success has been a failure.
(Hugh B. Brown, In Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 113.)