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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Success as Joy and Meaning
Last week’s wisdom came in practical form from Gretchen Rubin. This week’s comes in more theoretical form from someone else, a guy named James B. Comey. 

“Let me start by defining what I mean by successful. I don’t mean making a lot of dough. A lot of successful people make a lot of dough, but a lot of people with dough are not successful the way I’ve defined it. Successful people are those who have lived lives of achievement - certainly - but also lives of joy and meaning. That’s what I mean by success.”  - James B. Comey

Now, James B. Comey is not a baker. So you can be sure that the dough he’s talking about is not the stuff you use to make pancakes and bread and cake. James B. Comey is a lawyer, the one time United States Deputy Attorney General, and the current director of the FBI. So the dough he’s talking about is the kind you see in suitcases opened in dark alleys and back rooms of strip clubs and anonymous hotel rooms. The paper kind. 

Nevertheless, his whole point is that success is NOT about money. So I don’t know why I’m focusing on it. Probably because I’m a lesser human than James B. Comey. I certainly have less dough than he. Although, according to Studies (with a capital-S), we really do need much less dough than we think to satisfy ourselves, and I know I have reached that level. It can be hard, though, to let go of the idea that money will be the answer. It’s a bit like sugar in that you have some and you want more and more.

But listen to James B. Comey’s wisdom on how to live a life of joy and meaning. I know I have. I think he’s onto something. There are five attributes of successful people that help them live those lives.  And they are all things we can develop.

  1. Emotional intelligence
  2. Judgement 
  3. Effective communication
  4. Dare to Be Dumb
  5. Reputation is a Brick Mansion

Let’s look at them a little more closely.

Emotional Intelligence. Reams of writing exists on this topic, but it boils down to this. Emotional intelligence is “seeing ourselves and feeling what others feel.” Empathy is its root. And you can develop empathy by being a good listener. “So listen 1000 times; think 100 times; speak once.”

Judgement. By judgement, Comey means, “how to think about what you’re doing and learn from it.” It comes from developing emotional intelligence, from thinking about experiences, from love, from getting enough sleep, and from stepping away from your routine. Sharpening the saw , as Stephen Covey said. 

Effective Communication. This means thinking about what you want to say, but also about how you want to say it - and also to remember that your audience is probably only halfway willing to attend to your words, so you’ve got to grab ‘em. Comey says, “The goal of the speaker is to stop the listener from getting away.”

Wait! Come back, Readers! I’m almost done!

Dare to be Dumb.  That means what it seems like it means. Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t get something. Assume that if you don’t understand something, many other people also don’t understand it and will be glad you asked. Now, I did this once. I think it was in 8th grade, at my new fancy prep school, where I asked what the term “Parts of Speech” meant. I’ll be honest. I felt like an ass. And in fact, I ended up in the teacher’s office after class, because actually everyone else in the class already knew the term. Fortunately, I proved that I knew the parts of speech - I just didn’t know they were called “parts of speech,” and everything progressed from there. Downhill. But whatever. Dare to be dumb, people, even if every ounce of your pride tells you not to take that dare. “Have the confidence to be humble,” says Comey. It took me a few years after that 8th grade experience, but I got there again.

Reputation is a brick mansion. I like this one a lot. According to Comey, most people think of reputation as a mansion, “built one room at a time.” Instead, it is built a brick at a time. “Every human encounter is a brick.” So you want to make sure each brick is solid. That builds a solid reputation. 

I think it’s good advice. What about you?

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