Life Lessons and the Ultimate Question: Success at what price?

by John Zajaros on July 19, 2010

Life Lessons: The Ultimate Question?
How do you want to live and define your life?

Throughout our lives we are faced with many decisions, some of them are very difficult and present themselves at crucial points along the way. Many of the decisions we are faced with will ultimately shape and define the course of our lives; and, the become life lessons!

These choices, when they present themselves, are almost never easy and usually have to do with a price that must be paid, at times a high price, in order to achieve a certain goal or result. In most cases, the result or goal we are seeking is something we must trade for, something we will receive in return for something we must give of ourselves….and others, directly or indirectly.

In other words, in order to achieve the goal or goals we view to be so important, we may have to pay a heavy price.

Interestingly, the decisions we must make and the commitments we are required to make along with them, for goals we are (or were) actively pursuing, goals we had determined to be essential to our overall success in life, may not be the same decisions and/or commitments we would make in retrospect, with the added 20/20 perspective only hindsight can provide.

Not only do many of the goals seem unimportant once we achieve them, we may also question the decision making that went into such a quest to begin with.

Once again, many of these goals come at a significant cost, not only to ourselves, but also to those we love and care for.

I am often reminded of the saying:

Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it!

This is so true!

Significantly, many of the career and life goals we set out to achieve early in our careers, the goals we set for ourselves and for our family, come at too high a price.

In many instances, when faced with the ultimate question:

Success at what price?

Many would be unwilling to pay the price if they knew then what they only come to know much later.

Goals and Material Things

This is particularly true when the goals in life are linked to material goods or “things.” Many of the “things” we attach so much significance to when we are young just do not appear to have the same value later in life. Many of the material “things” are generally not worth the price that must be paid by ourselves and those we love to attain, achieve, and/or acquire them.

This realization is generally viewed from a perspective of time and proximity!

In other words, the closer we get to whatever it is we once believed to crucial to our success, the achievement of a goal that will in some way define us and transform our lives, and those of our loved ones, the more likely we are to see it in an entirely different light.

Additionally, the more severe the cost, particularly in terms of the human cost, trading our time (our absence) for an object or a gratifying moment, the less apt we would be to pay for it had we to do it over again.

Think for a moment about that before getting defensive and saying “You are just being negative!”

Do you know what Sam Walton’s last 3 words were?

One of the most “successful” men on the planet and the founder of Wal-Mart said this:

“I blew it!”

Thanks to my friend Marc Warnke, author of Family First Entrepreneurship (awesome book about time, proximity, and family!) for that video!

What we have invested in, usually our blood, sweat, tears, and time may no longer seem important…or even appropriate given time and proximity.

Perhaps an example will help!

In 1984 I got a job with an advertising and marketing company and immediately went to a solid 6 figure income. I had just walked away from a business I founded and still owned part of because I had become the Dunkin Donuts guy! Remember him? Talk about a memorable USP (unique selling proposition)!

“I made the donuts!”

Well, I was that guy. I was working 16 to 18 hours a day 6 days a week and then doing paperwork for several hours on Sunday…just to catch up. Only to begin again on Monday. What had once been my baby and the most important thing in my life had turned into something akin to the entrepreneurial version of the Bataan Death March, in both physical and psychological terms!

The havoc that schedule was wreaking on my health after three years was noticeable and the effect and impact on my mental outlook was nothing short of disastrous. I was beginning a new life, my son was still young, and I didn’t want the rest of my life to be an everyday death march, passing myself coming and going 365 days a year.

So I got out!

Not right away, mind you..but I knew something had to change. It took getting sick, mononucleosis as a matter of fact.  Mono seemed particularly appropriate for some reason because I owned a health club and trained athletes. But what mono really did for me was it allowed me to step away from the trees long enough to see the forest. Once I did, the decision was easy. I was killing myself bit by bit but was so invested in the “ownership” of the concept the business was built up0on I lost sight of the fact that the business no longer looked anything like the one I started 4 years earlier.

And, I had indeed become The Dunkin Donuts Guy!

The decision was made easier when a friend, Dave M, walked into my office and put his paycheck on the table. He knew I was one of those people you call a “born salesman,” even though I hate conventional sales tactics, and particularly script selling. Dave also knew I was thinking about moving on to a new venture….but what?

Well, Dave looked me in the eye and asked me how long I was going to continue to kill myself when he knew for a fact that I could make at least as much as he had put in front of me, week in and week out and not work half as hard. The paycheck, for a 4 and 1/2 day workweek was in the mid-4 figures.

Now, when I started my business we were bringing in between $20,000 and $30,000 a month, during the late 70s and early 80s recession, but that was channeled right back into the business and I rarely took a dime. As time went on, although the business was doing well, I never bothered to take a paycheck because the business was mine, until I started taking on partners (big mistake and the topic for another post), and I really didn’t need the money.

Nice, huh?

But I was intrigued with Dave’s offer!

I said I would think about it, talked to Connie about the traveling involved in a advertising and marketing gig and the stress of a marketing job like that, and decided to go ahead with it.

That 6 figure position came complete with a road map to the good life. I had a new direction to my life, a direction based on a decision made at a time when I wasn’t really thinking clearly. But the decision seemed to be a good one. I was on my way, set new goals, and even said “I do!”

New job, new life, new wife, new home in my home town of Bay Village…what more could one ask for?

My attorney notified me after two months with the firm that I was officially making enough money to put me in the top 5% of all wage earners in the country!

All seemed right with the world!

“Then Depression Set In! Bill Murray in Stripes

I’ll never forget that line!

Unfortunately, I hadn’t taken into account how taxing the travel would be, 3 weeks out of every month on the road, home for the weekend only to go back on the road Sunday night or early Monday morning. Yes, Connie traveled with me from time to time but it was distracting and I felt guilty leaving her for extended periods at the hotel. Here we were, newlyweds and I was leaving 3 of every 4 weeks in the month. And I wasn’t traveling to postcard destinations!

I was going to Buffalo, Detroit, Cincinnati, Columbus, Pittsburgh, and, heaven help me, Ashtabula and Chillicothe, Ohio. Yes, the money was super and we were put up in Las Vegas on the company for as few days and I was routinely in the top 5 in the country…but the traveling was a downer.

I also hadn’t realized how much I would hate the prospecting part of the business, it had been presented quite differently! I was often making cold calls for 3-5 hours a day, Tuesday through Thursday, in order to set up my afternoon sales appointments and presentations. I got to the point where I could not pick up the telephone without getting physically ill and would be in a bad mood all day Sunday, knowing I had to go back on the road Sunday night or Monday.

Talk about hating the phone and cold calling! Something I still haven’t overcome!

I was the Dunkin Donuts guy again!

I finally came to the realization, just as I had with my own business, that regardless of the money and the commitment, I had to quit!

This was way before Seth Godin’s popularity but we would have been on the same page:

This wasn’t a Dip, this was a cliff! And, there was nothing else to do but QUIT!

The stress of being in a Type A environment and being a Type A personality, I was doomed to repeat this sort of scenario over and over again. I was selling myself to the highest bidder for a paycheck.

I needed something else…something more…or the cycle would repeat itself over and over again for the rest of my life!

The cost of pursuing that lifestyle came at a such a high price to myself and family, both in terms of time away from the family but also in terms of the high stress carryover into our family’s day-to-day affairs, it just wasn’t worth it.

Our loved ones suffer, often silently, as they watch us burn the candle at both ends, as well as in the middle, just to provide more material “things.”

Something had to change!

You know, most families would rather have us home and happy versus killing ourselves for a few bucks more in a paycheck…and a house with too many bedrooms.

Time, Proximity, and Do-Overs

Sadly, time and proximity are tough to buck!

Unless you buy into the whole Back to the Future thing and have access to a Flux Capacitor and an old DeLorean, hindsight is pretty much going to remain hindsight.

I have talked about do-overs here before and I was granted a do-over. New family, new educational opportunities, a new lease on life, literally. I got my do-over and so far have not squandered it…so far. Funny thing about time, it does things to you memory and may even alter perspective, it is a trap.

The old saying:

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it!

I will not forget the lessons of my past. The things I thought were so crucial? The goals and the things I believed important? The things that would define my success and provide the lifestyle I had envisioned for my family?

I was wrong!

I hope you are able to benefit from my hindsight. “Choose wisely Grasshopper!” Many of the goals we set for ourselves are based on what someone else pushed into our heads from early on in our lives and the things we think precious? They are right in front of you when you sit at the dinner table. They are next to you when you say good night. They are on the other end of the telephone saying “I love you Dad!” when they are away from home.

The most important things in life, the life lessons?

It’s the intangibles!

The rest is scrap! The rest is replaceable, breaks, rusts, burns down, gets stolen, is devalued or is otherwise impermanent.

We come into this world naked and we are going out the same way. The only thing permanent you will have with you as you face your maker, and Sam Walton found this out too late (I wonder how much he would have paid for a do-over? My bet? Anything! )  is the love of those you have touched…that is your immortality!

Your ultimate success will be defined in terms of how others remember you. Your ultimate success will be viewed in terms of the TIME you spent with those you love and who love you! Your success will be recognized in terms of the PROXIMITY you allowed others to have to you!

Time and Proximity

Unfortunately, as most of your moms have probably said about you, and mine said about me, we seem to have to learn things for ourselves…the hard way! I hope not!

Do you want to be able to say:

I got it right…I nailed it! My life had value and meaning!

Or will you say what so many others have said before you:

I blew it!

Thanks for taking the time to get through this. I know it took some time and I hope you feel it was well invested. If so, please pass this along, comment, provide feedback…including your own anecdotes!


John Zajaros
The Ultimate Internet Image
Lakewood, Ohio 44107
216-712-7004 (office)
440-821-7018 (cell)
Skype: johnzajaros1 (personal email address)

PS, Join me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn!

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