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Gini Dietrich

The Success Trap and Regrets of the Dying

By: Gini Dietrich | May 8, 2013 | 
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The Success Trap and Regrets of the DyingLate last week, I was having a conversation with a friend about life. He said he’s frustrated because he feels like he’s behind some of his peers at this stage in his life.

I don’t know if other cultures do this, but Americans tend to compare ourselves to others, particularly in terms of what we don’t have. You know, the whole keeping up with the Jones’s thing.

It’s hard not to do.

We also tend to think, “If I finally had X, I’d be happy.” But then when X happens, as it turns out we’re still not happy.

When I worked at FleishmanHillard, I was well on my way to making partner. I had the BMW and the six-figure salary and the title well in sight.

And then life happened. I got tired of seeing my ex-boyfriend flaunting around town with my ex-roommate and decided I had to get out of that city. I gave up all of those things I had worked so hard to achieve on my way up the corporate ladder because of a stupid, cheating boy.

But I did so to start a new journey. One that brought me to live in Chicago all by myself. One that taught me how to build a business under someone else’s watch. One that eventually led me to the man of my dreams.

But, still…

I look at my peers, who happen to be other business owners, and I think, “Why have I been doing this for eight years and they’ve only been doing it for five and they’re more successful than me?”

The Success Trap

It’s a very dangerous trap to get in. What is someone else’s definition of success should not be our own.

And yet, we continue to compare ourselves. Well, she runs a business and has kids and keeps herself in shape and cooks and cleans and, and, and. Or he started a business when he was younger than me and look where he is today. He doesn’t have to work anymore.

But what we don’t see is that her marriage is falling apart so she has to keep herself busy or she’ll dwell and become depressed. Or his wife is dying of cancer so he doesn’t have the luxury of work right now.

One of the things Sheryl Sandberg alludes to in “Lean In,” is woman can have it all, but her definition of it all is a family, a great marriage, and an executive-level position at a Fortune 500 company.

Does that mean the rest of us who don’t have those things aren’t successful?

That would be a big, fat no.

We have to define our own success and sometimes that means giving up the executive position at a Fortune 500 company to start a business that creates jobs…very slowly. Or it’s to stay home with kids so we can teach our future leaders. Or it’s to not get married to focus, instead, on a career or philanthropy or 16,000 other things.

This is a long way to get to an article Christopher Barger tagged me in on Facebook yesterday.

What Will You Regret?

Top Five Regrets of the Dying” is an old one and you may have read it last year, but it still resonates really well.

The top five regrets are:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I’d let myself be happier.

Ding, ding, ding!

Notice none of those things are I wish I’d had a BMW. I wish I’d had a six-figure salary. I wish I’d made partner at that PR firm in my 30s.

We are rational beings. We know these are the things we’ll regret, yet we continue to work 15 hour days (at least, I do) and chase after some big material purchase we can’t take with us when we die. We stay on the hamster wheel and we live to work instead of work to live.

I realize I can’t change an entire culture with one blog post, but I think it’s something worth thinking about for all of us.

What is one permanent change you can make in your life today to stop comparing yourself to others and live so you have no regrets when you die?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

162 comments
RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

How ever did I miss this post? This is just amazing Gini, and I thank you for it. I know this quote has done the rounds, but there is a lovely quote about how there is never any sense in comparing your reality to someone else's highlight reel. It's even harder with social media these days to get a real sense of comparison when you are judging yourself against what very well could be lies, or at the least dramatic exaggerations. I mean yes, I've got double digit growth professionally, but I also just bought more underwear so I didn't have to do laundry. That top 5 is perfect- thank you for some much-needed perspective. 

Carley1111
Carley1111

Currently I have a friend whose Dad is dying of a terminal illness. She is a marketing professional struggling to let go of her work, and focus her energy on her dad in his final days.  This blog post really resonated with me, as I watch her struggle through this time. In dedication of my dear friend, here is the change I vow to make today:

I vow to be gentle on myself. I vow to give myself the time to take a breath and decompress. I vow to put myself first, and trust the rest will follow. I will to laugh in the good times, and cry in the hard. I will surround myself with people that build me up, and ignore the ones that knock me down. I vow to love with all my heart, and laugh with all my might. Lastly, I will remember that in my struggles I find strength, and from darkness there comes light.

Thanks for the post, Gini. 


dbvickery
dbvickery

Enjoyed this, Gini. I was cruising along nicely (and still am, really), and then I made a tough decision regarding moving back to Seattle to be a more active partner in my business - or stay put in Denver where my daughters were in crucial stages in their life. I chose reduced compensation/ownership to stay in Denver.

There are days that I have regrets, but then I look at the wonderful life we have.

It's an interesting case study in my little self-centered mind. I grew up rough and a runaway, with nothing, with a father that died when I was 4 and a mother that married at least 4 times. Out of that I chose to NOT hoard...and to always adore my wife and daughters. Of course it helped to have a loving grandmother who passed my heart over to the care of my lovely bride!

My biggest regret is that I lose sight of these blessings daily as I go through "first world problems". My biggest redemption is that somehow - before that day is over - I remind myself of those blessings.

rachaelseda
rachaelseda

I am so glad I read this. I really needed it and it's something I think we will all struggle with on a daily basis. Recently as I prepare for my wedding I have noticed I personally have started reevaluating my idea of success. My main focus after college was my career, so I moved to DC and chased that, always with the goal of moving back to where my family and boyfriend are. A few years later I was able to do just that but a new job, long hours, wedding planning and buying a house have really tested my priorities. I don't think that will ever change, at each step of your life something new will test your priorities and a new step may help you adjust your own idea of success and happiness. But I think it's important like you sad to reflect on that, stop and remember the top regrets of those dying because it's very easy to get caught up in the business of your daily life and forget to reflect on what's important to you.

CogentCoach
CogentCoach

It's amazing what you can learn from people of all ages if you just stop and listen!  Fortunately, I was able to receive the message and make some big changes :-)  

Michael

Andrea T.H.W.
Andrea T.H.W.

Surely success can be a trap, On my last post for example I talk about how strange it is that on the blogosphere the top dogs are influencers yet they seem to be the busiest people on Earth and forget about enjoying yourself on Caribbean shores. Practically you simply exchange one rat race for another. Why? To be successful?


Maybe I'm the only one who find this strange. :)


We are the only one who can decide or feel when we are successful and to do it we must find our own definition of it like happiness, money, BMW, whatever.


I personally thinks that when you have food to eat and a decent roof everything else is relative and sentiments together with health are the only thing that matters. As we say here in Italy a coffin has no pockets.


But the best way to keep things in the right perspective is imagining you have to die one month from now, everything then falls in the right place and we should do this at least weekly. Surely money arrives last. :)

Latest blog post: Hypnosis What? Is it Real?

ColinStorm
ColinStorm

This topic really resonates with us (my wife and I). When we were expecting our first child in October of 08' We decided I should leave my job and go for my business full time. That was in July. In August the whole financial system froze, and the majority of my industry froze with it. Welcome to at-home-dad world! It is not the arrangement we wanted, and my business has suffered a lot over the last 4 years, but we are so thankful that we can afford to have one of us home with our kids every day, even if it is not the one of us we wanted.

LauriRottmayer
LauriRottmayer

This is great and I was just having a similar discussion with a friend. I'm glad I've gotten to a place in my life where I realized it before it's too late to enjoy my brand of success. :-)

PeterFaur
PeterFaur

Hi, Gini. Great post. I set a goal for myself, years ago, of being a VP of PR at a Fortune 500 company, and I achieved it. (It took longer than I hoped/expected/anticipated.) And then I found myself asking, so what? It got to be all about politics and posturing and power. It was financially rewarding, but it was also highly unpalatable.

So now, as I look back on my career (and I'm old enough to do that!), the things I value the most are the opportunities I've had to make a difference in employees' and vendors' lives with good jobs, interesting projects and establishing a good environment for collaboration. I can't think of any major regrets. For a kid who grew up two blocks from the brewery in St. Louis, it's been a great ride, and I think it will be for years to come!

Hope you're well. 

Latest blog post: The power of yes or no

jennimacdonald
jennimacdonald

Thank you @ginidietrich you just solidified a decision I have been negotiating for the last several months. This is exactly what I needed, a reminder of what is really important and why my decision is the best decision for me.

Kato42
Kato42

Oh, Gini, thank you so much for writing this. My husband and I have made some financially disastrous decisions over the past year, with eyes wide open, because we decided that for us, raising our daughter around her extended family was more important than money. Your post is a welcome reminder to stay true to that goal at a time when I'm getting frustrated by the lack of communications work in my small but beautiful corner of the world.

And we ARE happier here, finances be damned! So I'm going to work on #5 and let myself enjoy that.

Jake Meador
Jake Meador

Great post Gini, reminds me of the blogging that Rod Dreher has been doing lately. 

From one post“Louisiana is a great place to be mediocre. In Washington, everybody is consumed by ambition. They all want to change the world. In Louisiana, you can be not very successful, and that’s okay, because people will still love you and invite you to the crawfish boil.”

His recent book The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, is a really nice balance to all the "lean in" rhetoric going around right now.

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

I'm also not a fan of age-based goals. "I'm not who I thought I'd be at 30!" No one ever is. Sadly, most of the folks I know that pushed themselves that way are humorless, driven and...boring. 

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

Number one gets me all the time. When we live according to what others expect, we can never be happy. We must follow our path. The challenge can often be in un-doing the shackles that come with figuring this out later rather than sooner. 

I just started commuting to a job because I needed a change for ME. I needed to re-focus my career path towards what made me feel good about work so I could return to my own expectation of excellence. I just wasn't finding it where I was, and I know myself well enough to realize I am NOT a founder that will build his own business. The results? Less stress, Better sleep. A sense of purpose and accomplishment every day. Steady paycheck. Not massive but steady. 

I have had to give up a few things that I am going to have to get back, like my cycling and musical communities, but one thing at a time. 

I think some people are just competitive. They need to win at something, and that dominates their lives. Whether it's work, or sports, or family, they can never be satisfied. My suggestion is put all that energy towards finding some peace at the end of each day. 

BTW, a 15-hour day is too long, unless work is what drives you. But don't act like it's not if you're working that much. ;)

Tinu
Tinu

So you know about my whole thing last year. There's this feeling I used to have, when falling asleep, that tomorrow would come. I've had several ear brushes, but the first night I woke up after passing out and not knowing I would wake up... Whole different sense of urgency to life. Part of why we don't all change in light of these facts is because though we know, intellectually, that we'll die, that feeling you're completely out of time isn't persistent or dramatic enough for some of us to change. Add to that the increasing distractions of life, and you can live all your days never having contemplated what you hope they will amount to in the end.

I still lose that feeling sometimes. But it creeps back in the quiet.

MagnetCons
MagnetCons

Really, really great post!! I'm not sure what change I need to make today, because I feel like I made it a year ago when I started my own business and decided I wasn't working 12 hour days again. Turns out my kids and my husband know me better now (and they still like me) and I get to choose really great clients vs feeling like I have to work with people who don't share my values.  I love where I am right now and glad you do too!


RichBecker
RichBecker

So I met this man a few years ago and he dared me to write down everything I had, everything: family, friends, things, experiences, etc. And then he had me write down another list to include all my desires. When I was done, he pointed out the obvious. Compared to what I had, I wanted for nothing. Great post, Gini.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@dbvickery The thing about you, is this exudes from every part of your being. Not only do you live in my second favorite city in the nation - surrounded by mountains and nature and year-round outdoor activities - but you also care very deeply for your family. I know it's hard to give up some of the financial and title and business rewards, but I think you have life figured out better than most.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@rachaelseda And...as you get older perspective begins to weigh in. You've either done all the things you thought you were supposed to do and still aren't where you want to be or you haven't done them and are still on the journey. Either way, you're not happy. So it's time to take responsibility for what happiness means to each of us and not let others get in the way of it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@RichBecker Rich! How are you feeling? I assume everything went well last week by the sheer fact that you're here commenting?

Kato42
Kato42

@ginidietrich @Kato42 If only more business owners & managers would follow your lead on virtual offices! It still boggles my mind that, despite having demonstrated that I can do media relations, social media & web communications for a researcher who lives on - literally - the opposite side of the country, somehow its inconceivable that I could work virtually for an organization in, say, Edmonton. Clearly I need to work on my persuasive skills! Maybe I'll just start sending your blog post with my resumes ;)

Tinu
Tinu

Probably depends on the person, the experience & the intensity of the experience. I'd had brushes with death before, and it isn't death that scares me. It's the feeling of falling into nothingness, not knowing if I'd wake up again. Indeed I wasn't sure if I was dying or passing out. So it wasn't, for me, just the near-death part. It was the intensity of knowing that I didn't know what was important to me. The people I loved and the things I never said, family and friends I wasn't spending enough time with. Knowing that experiential ly, not just intellectually, made the difference for me.

MagnetCons
MagnetCons

@ginidietrich well, it means some trades offs.  I suppose we would be more successful/make more money if we put in 12 hours a day but my biz partner and I both decided we didn't want that.  We'd rather earn less and take time for health and vacations and relationships. 

RichBecker
RichBecker

@ginidietrich Thank you asking, Gini. I am recovering quickly enough that the biggest challenge is remaining prudent. As this pace, I might feel obliged to where a sign that says "It's not as easy as it looks. Don't try this at home."

I've been reading plenty, but this post really struck me this morning and I wanted to do more than share it. Suffice to say, I'm blessed, but those blessings are shared among fine people like you. 

Trackbacks

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