Something Different and Determining Success

Today’s missive is a little different.

You’ve come to expect from me thoughts (hopefully useful, intelligent, and worthy of your eyeballs) about markets and those things affecting them. But today I thought to share something else, perhaps even something deeper that we all should give some thought to.

In the 70’s an Australian scientist, professor Michael Marmot, was trying to better understand stress. Specifically, what caused people to be stressed at work. He began with a target rich environment: civil servants in Whitehall.

Marmot began his experiment dividing folks into 19 different groups based on their status in the organisation, with the permanent secretary at the top and the typists at the bottom.

The question was this: who was more likely to have a heart attack? The head honcho or someone below them?

The results shocked everyone. Those at the top, with more responsibility, were less stressed and had a lower risk of heart failure, while those lower down the rungs had a higher propensity to experience stress and heart failure.

He then noticed the exact same thing with respect to depression.

Next, he wanted to know why this was the case and so he investigated folks on the same hierarchical rung. What he found formed much of the current psychological framework that psychiatrists use today.

Two major things stood out with respect to what can make people stressed or depressed:

  1. If the person feels they’ve no control over their work.
  2. If the person feels nobody cares about their work or notices it.

The reason that depression and stress is higher in lower paid jobs is due to these two reasons.

These are now known facts and have been since the 70’s. Lower paid jobs don’t come with more responsibility, they come with less. And lower paid jobs aren’t treated with the same level of attention, prestige or indeed importance than higher paid jobs. Nobody cares too much about the cashier at the supermarket or the nightwatchman at a second hand car lot. These are the folks most at risk from depression, stress, and poor health.

Here are some interesting stats I found from a poll done by Gallup between 2011 and 2012. Admittedly, this was some years ago, though I see no reason for the overall numbers to be much different today than they were back then.

  • 13% of us say we’re “engaged” in our jobs…
  • and a whopping 63% say they’re “not engaged”; the poll was clear on this with the statement “sleepwalking through the workday”. Wow!
  • 24% said they are “actively disengaged”. Basically, these people hate work.

This means that, all in all, a whopping 87% of people are pissed with life, their jobs, and probably at risk of poor health issues. At the far end of this curve are those who are suicidal and/or ready to go shoot someone. Not good!

At its core we need meaning in our lives. Without it, what the hell is the point? And meaning can be many things.

In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, finding food, clothing, and shelter can be sufficient meaning for us to get up in the morning and strive. This poses a problem when those little tasks, which are all derivatives of responsibility, are taken away from us.

If we accomplish or conquer the task, that’s quite something else. Our brains react positively, and we get a rush, albeit temporarily, from achieving. Not a problem. We just find another task or hurdle to pursue. So we become a never ending feedback loop of purposeful activity sometimes ending in failure and sometimes ending in success.

Without any purpose we’re lost, miserable sods. With purpose we’re quite the opposite.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Without any purpose we’re lost, miserable sods. With purpose we’re quite the opposite.” quote=”Without any purpose we’re lost, miserable sods. With purpose we’re quite the opposite.”]

How Do You Determine Success?

There are other elements worth thinking about too.

One is how we’re viewed by society and our peers. We’re social creatures. That’s in our DNA.

Fortunately, unlike horses, antelope, or countless other animals which too are social, we have this enormous brain allowing us to think about these things and learn how we actually operate. This, in turn, allows us to know what’s happening to us psychologically and why. That’s enormously powerful, though many of us trundle through life without giving it much thought. That, I think, is a crying shame.

After all, we spend much of our time figuring out things in all other areas of life, it would make sense for us to know how and why we tick.

One problem as I see it is around how we determine success.

I know many folks who earn high 7 figures a year. They’re driven, typically very good at what they do, and, as far as I can tell, have purpose in their life.

But I can tell you this…

I can count on one hand the number of them that have had a stable relationship (i.e not on their second, third, or fourth wife or husband), know their kids, and have dinner with their family every night. If that’s not important, then it’s not important. Not making judgement, just pointing out what should really be obvious.

Success can be defined any damn way you wish it to be and you don’t need others views to determine yours. I consider myself successful. Not because of material wealth and net worth but because I’m healthy, get up every day to do what I truly love, I go work out everyday, which I also love, and my kids get me every single day… and I wouldn’t want to miss that.

Could I earn more in a big city, sitting with the pointy shoes on the 40th floor next to some rubber plants? Sure, of course. It’s just not what rocks my boat.

I think it’s super important to know what we’re striving for and why.

Some of us want to ensure a comfortable retirement, others want to get rich. But ask yourself what does rich mean.

Hell, I recall a conversation from many years ago with a gent whose name you’d probably recognise. He actually considers himself middle class but earns between $6 and $8 million a year, depending on bonuses. That’s a isht ton of money. But he’s frustrated because he knows guys earning double and triple that.

The problem, as I see it, is he’s chasing some ethereal goal. A number that’s completely meaningless.

He’s not going to have a substantially different life by earning twice as much. Last I heard he was suffering from depression. That’s terrible because the fix is probably much easier than he realises. He needs something meaningful. Actually meaningful. Not a bloody number on a salary slip. That meaningful thing, whatever it is, may come with no salary… or a truly enormous one. That’s not the point.

I sure as heck don’t have all the answers. But I do know, after many years, what makes me tick, and for that I am extremely grateful. What about you? Let me know in the comments box below.

– Chris

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson


This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Dara W Childs

    I’m always comforted by the words of Victor Frankel “Man’s search for Meaning”.

    Each man’s life has a different meaning and that meaning evolves with time and circumstance.

    What is the meaning of life?
    Ultimately this is not a question for us to ask; it is a question being asked of us.
    What will your life mean?

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