Don’t let your life happen by accident

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People often joke that the best day of their life is when they bought their boat, and the second best day was when they sold it.

There are similar punctuation marks in our lives — the day we’re born and the day we pass away. As busy executives, if we’re not careful, our personal lives can end up as neglected as those vessels, forever docked in the harbor (or parked in storage!).

We are big believers in building a living legacy. Your life will be more meaningful if you treat every day as if it was your last and, instead of rushing from one obligation to another, you proactively establish personal priorities and align them with your professional goals.

As readers of this column know, there are four decisions you must make to build a thriving company: people, strategy, execution and cash. In your personal life, there are parallel areas: relationships, meaningful work and health (mental, physical and spiritual). Commit to writing your goals in these areas and watch amazing things happen in your life.

At the end of the day, what matters most in life are relationships. The first step is to list the key people in your life on whom you want to have a lasting impact.

In business, you have a tremendous opportunity to influence your employees and customers. In your personal life, the important people in your life likely will include your family, your friends and those in the various communities to which you belong. Limit the list to 25 people, so you don’t get overwhelmed.

At the same time, there may be some people in your life who are destructive and/or distract you from your higher goals. Those are relationships you want to end. Doing so is important, so you can free time for the people who matter most to you.

Many CEOs find that even when they reach critical milestones for growing their company, they feel they haven’t made a real difference in the world.

Think about the major ways you’d like to make an impact through your work beyond reaching monetary goals — perhaps by mentoring others or setting up a nonprofit organization or pro bono initiative — and set objectives in these key areas.

In your personal life, you’ll want to think about how you can make a real difference to the key people in your life. For instance, you might aim to have a happy marriage, instead of just staying married, as many people do.

For me [Garrity], accepting the chairman of the board position for the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. has been extremely rewarding, challenging and an engaging way for me to give back to our community and make a difference.

Health consists of a three-legged stool – mental, physical and spiritual. They are a tricky combination to making a life that is engaging and fulfilling.

A lot of us think of mental health as “taboo” and a sign of weakness. But as I [Garrity] have told my kids hundreds of times, life is a thin thread. One minute all is well, and the next minute the thread has snapped. Never take it for granted.

And from a mental standpoint, not only exercise your thinking and creative skills, but continually peel back the onion to discover what it is to be human. The questions are much more powerful than the answers.

Physical health is an easier concept to get our hands around, but after 30 years of age, it becomes a big challenge to maintain.

Maintaining physical health isn’t just about “being in shape,” but leads to a stronger mental state of self-esteem and confidence. It takes commitment and routine to produce results.

And finally, spiritual health is the leg of the stool that often gets neglected the most, yet when it all hits the fan, this part of your health probably will be the most important in getting you through to the other side.

Spiritual health is a journey (quite frankly, all of life is a journey … spiritual is just one aspect), and looking for it in a time of crisis likely is too late. You have to challenge, discover and nurture your spiritual health when you “don’t need it,” because when you do, it likely will be too late.

It’s not easy to do this type of planning, but just getting yourself to think about what matters most is 90 percent of the battle. You want to make sure that what you leave in the wake of your life as you sail along is a legacy worth living.

Tom Garrity is managing partner of Compass Point Consulting LLC in Bethlehem. He is a certified coach with Gazelles International and a certified exit planning adviser with the Exit Planning Institute. Compass Point provides growth and business transition consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses. He can be reached at 610-336-0514 or tgarrity@compasspt.com.

Verne Harnish is president of Gazelles Inc. in Ashburn, Va., which provides executive education, coaching and technology services to midmarket companies around the world.

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