Your One True Measure of Success

by Tom Koulopoulos

Your One True Measure of SuccessThe greatest success comes from the ability to make choices about the most important thing of all.

Leading a business requires sacrifice. There is no way around it. Anyone who’s been there knows about the long hours, the sleepless nights, and the myriad tradeoffs that have to be made. Add a family to that equation and you’re bound to be feeling the pressure of balancing one against the other. Yet, in life and in business we all make time for what we really want to do. It’s not accurate to say “I don’t have time for what I want.” We all have the option of making conscious choices for which we pay a conscious price. The trouble comes when our choices aren’t conscious–when we allow circumstances to dictate our time and our priorities. That’s when success lulls us into the complacency of its momentum.

“The trouble comes when our choices aren’t conscious–when we allow circumstances to dictate our time and our priorities.”

During more than 30 years of building businesses, and helping others build theirs, I’ve come to realize that we all have different definitions of what success looks like and what it feels like, but at the heart of every person’s definition lies one immutable truth; that the greatest success is to spend your time the way you want. Success buys freedom to decide for yourself. That sounds so incredibly simple and intuitive. After all if you have enough money you should be able to do that, right? It’s not that straight forward.

Years ago I had a close friend, who was also one of my board members. I recall having lunch with him one spring day when he began to tell me about how he had his most profitable year ever with an enviable seven-figure income. Then he told me about how his first-born daughter was going off to college in a few months. I took both of those as a good thing and congratulated him. But he turned to me with an odd look of disillusionment and said, “You know what Tom, I missed it entirely.” “Missed what?” I asked. “My daughter,” he paused, “While I was busy building my career she grew up. Now she’s going off to school, and I’m afraid I missed it.” For all the advice, good or bad, that I’ve received from my colleagues and friends over the years, that one phrase, “I missed it,” haunts me on nearly a daily basis. It’s become a compass setting for me in living my own life.

When I sold my business in 2003 my kids were four and eight years old. I had the option to go back into start-up mode or jump into several new opportunities. Instead I slowed down my travel, stayed with the acquiring company for a few years, waited for my team to find their way, and then left to be on my own. In no small part because I wanted to watch my kids grow up. I wanted to be there. I didn’t want to miss it.

“Just be sure that your success is something that you own rather than being owned by it.”

I settled into my home office, shortened my commute from two hours to 90 seconds– including the stop at the Kurig–took on the role of full-time dad, and watched my kids grow up. Did I give up millions by doing so? I know I did–trust me on this, I’ve done the math. But I made a conscious choice. If we’re lucky we have the option make choices that reflect our definition of what’s important. That doesn’t mean you have to abandon everything, trade in your Tesla, and head for Walden Pond; just be sure that your success is something that you own rather than being owned by it. That may mean drawing some hard lines around what you really are unwilling to give up and letting everything else take 2nd place. You know where those boundaries are–don’t ignore them.

“…the greatest success is to spend your time the way you want.”

It’s easy to become a hostage to your business, to let it stand in the way of other things that are important to you–I’m convinced it’s one of the easiest things to do; the success of a business builds enormous gravity that’s virtually impossible to escape. My advice is simple, ask yourself, “How do I want to spend my time and who do I want to spend it with?” It’s a very personal question, but answering it honestly and then living up that answer is ultimately the greatest success any of us can achieve.

This article was originally published on Inc.

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Thomas KoulopoulosTom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.

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