Many of you are well on the path of growth and self-development. You may have listened to some key podcasts (including Universal Man), read self-help books and blogs and engaged with family and identified some key areas in your life where you might need to focus your energies. The next step is to figure out, with your focus defined, what success in these areas might look like for you.
That is where Tom Walton found himself after attending the 2021 Universal Man Camp: asking himself what his key goals for improvement were and how he might define his own success. With a strong competitive streak and drive to perform perfectly that has developed throughout school, university and now his career, Tom has always worked hard to be the best he can be in his profession, embracing a mindset of being first in the office and last to leave – succeeding at all costs.
With the help of some great mentors, he worked hard to build expertise and credibility in a specialised area, bringing home some of those great material successes that we all strive for like the family home and fancy car.While this version of success brought great professional and material rewards for Tom and his family, it also came at a cost. Tom was often stressed and irritable. His strong drive kept him at performance level long after he left the office and he often needed to turn to a round of golf or a few round of beers to provide an escape.
Eventually, a few key events in life proved the catalyst for Tom to sit down and, with the help of his partner, put himself on the journey to not only realign his purpose and focus, but search to find his “off button,” exploring self-help books and meditation as strategies to begin with.Yet, with a growing young family and some more life under his belt, Tom has come to realise that the genuine fulfilment he is looking for in life might not come from focusing on excelling in his profession at the expense of other areas of his life. Today he is a bit more aware of where his focus should be.
I attended the UMAN camp recently, about four or six weeks ago, and that sort of process over a two day period stirred up a lot of things for me. It was an opportunity to shine a light on parts of my life where I was probably underperforming, and then parts of my life where I wanted to push a bit harder. “What am I focusing on? What’s my purpose? Where am I heading with all of this?”
Through university, through school, the competitive streak in me, just sort of strive to outdo whoever was my neighbour and that just carried through into my career where it was head down, bum up and win at all costs. Be the first in the office and the last to leave, with no real regard for the broader things, which now I look back and think are the things that can give you a genuine sense of fulfilment. Being recognised for what you do is good, and there are tangible benefits that go with that, such as the house and the car. But I think there’s more to it.
I was highly strung, stressed, and irritable. Looking back and being truly honest about it, I would have three or four beers under my belt to take it all down a notch and offset that intensity. There was a bit of escapism through golf, getting out, or having a couple of beers with the mates. The challenge was knowing how to turn off the dial.
I was on this tight rope. And if I fell off, it was just a catastrophe. I remember sitting down with Kim, my wife now, who was my girlfriend at the time, and it all came crumbling down. And that led me down the path of picking up a few books, getting into a bit of meditation and finding the off button.
The approach taken by the school I went to was very much perform or it’s a catastrophe. When you’re young and impressionable, those things can find their way into your subconscious, and they’re ever-present, pushing you to succeed. But you can’t just resent all that, because that’s the stuff that drives you to be successful and given you a lot of the opportunities you’ve had in life. What it comes back to is having that awareness, recognising you’ve got those drivers and by some mechanism, making them work to your advantage and dialling down that catastrophe part of it.
Having kids has changed my mindset. And listening to older people giving me feedback on what they look back on and find important. When you listen to those people, it’s family and relationships and friends that really matter. Hearing my son say to me, “I had the best day in the world, dad,” That’s the stuff that lights the fire in me, and the shiny stuff and all that is nice, but it’s a sugar hit. With that sugar hit, we get that big blood sugar spike, that instant gratification, but it crashes on us, and then we go down. Then we search for the next thing, the next hit. And so it’s quite transient and doesn’t give you any sort of lasting fulfilment.
I want to look back as a father in 10 or 15 years’ time and say, “Well, I’ve put everything into the family.” And I’m certainly not perfect, but I think I just try and keep that awareness there.
Success is probably a more diverse platter now. During the twenties and the thirties, it was almost all career and laying the foundations, which in my mind were mostly financial, whereas now it’s a little bit more diverse.
I got a lot of comfort out of the work that Martin Seligman has done on positive psychology and his PERMA model, which talks about the need to have those five key things operating in your life to drive happiness and fulfilment: Positivity, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishment. There are gaps across that framework for me right now so I’m working through where those gaps are, so I can try and redirect some of the focus of my time.
The reality is I am in a really full stage of life. There’s a lot going on. And so I’ve got to be a bit realistic in what my expectations are. So I take two daily emails, one from the daily stoic and one from the daily dad. And they take about two or three minutes to read each morning and I read those religiously. And if something resonates with me, I’ll print it off and I’ll put it to one side, and then once a month I sit down and put those into a little journal. And so they just sort of help to promote the mindset at the start of the day. And then at the end of the month, there’s a little recap of, “Okay, well, what am I going to hold on and cling to and take forward?”
As a result of the UMAN human camp, I’m working through some of the frameworks and that’s already allowed me to set a handful of the big picture goals. So now I’m in the process of breaking those larger goals down into the smaller bits that are manageable pieces. But I’m cutting myself a bit of slack at the moment given the imminent arrival of the next baby.
Being a part of this UMAN community has helped me to engage with people and be more accountable, as well as having that structure. Having other people in my life who subscribe to this sort of stuff, just helps to remind you that it’s not all about the glossy rubbish. Yes, we all need a bit of that, but don’t get carried away.
One of the pitfalls can be embarking on this path to success only to realise it and feel like a bit of a hollow victory. So I think setting those goals without really understanding what your true values are, is probably the biggest pitfall of all. So what I’m doing right now is deconstructing those values and trying to put some real clarity around them, so that in conjunction with those longer-term goals I’ve set, I make sure everything’s lined up.
You might set some goals and you might achieve them, and it might not feel so great, but don’t give yourself a hard time about that.
Rather than thinking about success in a very narrow way, it’s trying to take a step back, and think about what’s really important to you, and that makes success far more achievable than we initially might have thought because it’s self-determined
There is a book called Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. I think it was written in the ’50s, ’60s or something. It’s largely been unchanged since, but he quotes a chap called Noah Webster right up front in the book. And he says, “Noah Webster defines success as the satisfactory accomplishment of a goal sought for; creative striving for a goal that is important to you as a result of your own deep-felt needs, aspirations and talents, and not the symbols, which the Joneses expect you to display. This brings happiness as well as success because you’ll be functioning as you are meant to function. And man is by nature a goal-striving being. And because man is built that way, he’s not happy unless he is functioning as he was meant to function as a goal-striver. Thus true success and true happiness not only go together, but one enhances the other.”
In summary, I think success is the progressive realisation of a worthy ideal. It’s a present-tense thing. It’s not an endpoint or a terminus.