Gini Dietrich

The Success Trap and Regrets of the Dying

By: Gini Dietrich | May 8, 2013 | 

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, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

  • Thank you.

    • jasonkonopinski I told ginidietrich that when you are blog reading you can’t be fishing destroying poor fishy families who really just want to swim upstream….all they want to do is swim upstream.

    • jasonkonopinski You’re welcome!

  • How is it that you write the perfect pieces right when I need to read them?

    • katskrieger She’s good like that.  ginidietrich

      • jasonkonopinski 
        katskrieger she emails me each night at 8:05pm for me to approve the blog topic. And I rejected it. But ginidietrich said But Kat needs this one. Can you please take her into consideration?
        First time I didn’t make her resend the topic choice 18 times.

        • Howie Goldfarb jasonkonopinski katskrieger Oh Howie. LOL!

    • katskrieger Perhaps our brains were connected for life last week?

  • Funny, I had this conversation with someone the other day. How, let’s face it, we could all be dead tomorrow. Sounds grim, but au contraire my friend. It means “LIVE FOR NOW!!” – take risks, be happy, enjoy your friends and family, try not to stress over money issues (I am the queen of stressing over money issues, BTW). It could all be gone tomorrow. When I left a stable, unionized, 20 years seniority job with a pension and 5 weeks vacation, people thought I had lost my mind. Some probably still think that. It’s been rough, and there have been many bumps, but I’ve never once wished I was back at that company where I was so miserably unhappy.

    • belllindsay I think you’ve lost your mind every, single day.

      • ginidietrich CAN’T YOU BE NICE TO ME JUST ONCE!!??

    • Kerwyn Hodge

      When Superstorm Sandy hit NYC, I spent time in the affected areas visiting neighbors to offer comfort on some occasions, and to help rebuild on others. Common sentiments were ‘I lost everything,’ or ‘my whole world came crashing down.’ Yet they were still alive, able to rebuild while many others still lived in shelters, or worse lost their lives. Learning to measure happiness less in terms of how much we have and more in terms of how we use what we have and live our lives is a necessary paradigm shift. Doing so allows us to be truly happy.

  • You know, I stopped comparing myself to others a long time ago, because it does nothing except affect your health and well-being. 
    In the last couple of years, I’ve seen “successful” people lose their marriages, die of a heart attack at 32, become hooked on uppers to keep the midnight oil burning and more.
    There’s only one success I want to enjoy – being the best husband and father I can be. Everything else is just a bonus.
    Nice post, miss.

    • Danny Brown you made me cry with your moving comment. Who said Kilt Warriors can’t be softies at heart 😉

    • Danny Brown What? The uppers aren’t a good idea?!

      • ginidietrich Danny Brown Robo-Gini finally reveals her secret.

    • Danny Brown Amen brother.

    • Danny Brown Preach it, Padre.

  • I turned down major nepotism in banking in NYC to go live by the beach in Los Angeles and make it on my own. I estimate I have given up probably more than a few million in total compensation since that decision and for now dealing with financial struggles that really suck. But I remember the untold number of times meeting doctors bankers lawyers rich people…who when they meet me quickly force the conversation to focus on my life….because they never got to live theirs.

    Wow you are a brain surgeon? ‘yes so tell me about burningman’
    Wow you helped close a billion dollar bank merger and have 4 homes? ‘yes what was going to grateful dead shows like?’
    Now it’s ‘That is so cool you make award winning craft cheeses’ ‘Yeah but what is it like knowing ginidietrich  Danny Brown and that d-d-d-d-dorman guy bdorman264 ‘

    • Howie Goldfarb You make award-winning craft cheeses!?

    • rustyspeidel

      Howie Goldfarb ginidietrich Danny Brown bdorman264 SO true. It’s money or life. Sure, you can retire at 50 with everything, but you haven’t lived enough to always appreciate that. Unless you’re really lucky to be able to earn that $$ doing something you truly love.

  • Very well said, Gini. Ultimately, you have to look in the mirror and feel that you’re on the path where YOU belong (not what everybody else says is the right path).

    • SteveWoodruff It’s hard to do, but you’re absolutely right. Hope you got home safely…and enjoyed your visit to the Windy City!

  • As a wife, mom and career person I’ve always wrestled with balancing my responsibilities with what I’ve wanted to achieve. I have come very close to losing my family while trying to prove myself in the business world. Success is nothing if no one is there to share it. So I’ve revised my definition of success and it now involves: balance, health, family and happiness. So far… so good:) Thanks for reminding me Gini!

    • hessiej “Success is nothing if no one is there to share it.” Amen, sister!

  • Gini, sweet Gini. This is a lovely post and one near and dear to my heart and my life right now. My brother is dying. We all are, really. But he has one of those timelines that is pretty hard to ignore. Some days it wrecks me. Completely and utterly wrecks me. I think “wow, what would I do with x number of months and why isn’t my brother doing that?” That’s not fair, but it’s what goes through my mind. None of us will ever know what we will do with our last days, other than to live each day to the fullest (cliche, I know, but true), and not get caught up with what the Jones’ are doing. I see him evaluating his life and measuring it up against what he thought he’d be now. It’s a tough measuring stick, one that I don’t want to hold, but one that is always there for him until he lets it go.

    This experience with my brother has been tremendous. It’s brought us closer, made me appreciate my family more, and without fail, helped me to see my kids in an entirely different light. I have my moments…trust me, where I fall down on the gratitude job and forget to be grateful. I begin the comparison thing and fall down a rabbit hole of doubt. But for the most part, I think of it as a slap in the face to my brother (and others like him) if I don’t recognize that we’re all on our own paths, doing our best jobs, achieving whatever level of success works for us, in this moment of time. Let’s be grateful for that.
    Thanks again, Gini. I hope I didn’t bring the tone down too far. I rarely talk about this and it’s been helpful and timely.

    • EricaAllison Aaaaaaaaaaand tears.

      • jasonkonopinski Awww, J-bird. No need for tears, love. Life is a beautiful ride. I’m glad to have friends like you sharing the journey. xoxo

    • EricaAllison Thanks for sharing, Erica. Prayers are with you. I really hate this for you. But, if it’s one thing I’ve learned about tragedy and lives that are taken all too soon, it’s that it helps the rest of us learn valuable lessons about life and living to the fullest. It’s funny how such a simple idea can be so hard to accomplish. But, I think it’s a worthy endeavor if we can learn to just be happy and grateful for the many blessings we have in this life.

    • EricaAllison some have heard about my evil grandmother who just passed away at age 101 alone and miserable. I hadn’t seen her but once in 14 years. So your brother is very lucky to have family and friends who love him around him through all this. Hugs and blessings for you and your family.

      • Howie Goldfarb Thank you, Howie. How’s my little girlfriend these days? I’m sure she’s taken up permanent residence in your heart and I’m so glad for you. We are lucky. Yes, we are.

    • EricaAllison Wow, Erica. I didn’t know this. Thank you for sharing it with all of us. You have always been such an inspiration for me and this makes you even more so. Love you, my friend!

    • EricaAllison My thoughts & prayers with you & your brother & your family. I am sorry I wasnt aware you were going thru this until now.  Thank you for sharing it with us…and we are here for you.

  • SUCH an important post for people to read.  Those top five regrets resonate so loudly to me.  I just finished reading (and am re-reading because it has moved me so) The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer  (thanks to Lori Gosselin  )and it speaks to learning how to find our happiness/contentment by finding out who you really are…very compelling and aligns well with your post today!  
    xoxo (expressing my feelings)

    • SocialMediaDDS I’ll have to check it out. This is heavy on my mind right now. The 18 hour work days are wearing me down and I have to figure out a way out of loving what I do, but balancing it with having a life.

  • Thanks for posting this powerful commentary. Living a fearless life with no regrets is what this journey is all about.  I have the great pleasure of helping and inspiring people to create and achieve their professional and personal vision of success. What is amazing to watch during this transformation is that when we figure that out, we are happier, more productive and more successful in all areas of our life.

    • wandawhitson Wanda, thank you for this (and for your email, which I’ll respond to separately).

  • Great minds … I heart this post. These kinds of posts touch on the deeper things, the things we should be thinking about more than the ‘success’ things … but seldom do. Next topic: fear of failure.

    • KateFinley Oh I big on failing. It’s the only way we learn. I remember an advisor said to me once, “Have you ever really failed at something?” At that point, I hadn’t. And then the company nearly went bankrupt and let me tell you what I learned!

      • ginidietrich KateFinley Haha! I literally just wrote a blog post yesterday entitled “How to be a radically awesome failure”

  • KateAchelpohl

    Boy, did you hit a nail on the head there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that exact feeling — not so much “Why not me?” as “What’s wrong with me & why haven’t I gotten there?” Thanks for the reminder, which timed out better than you could possibly know!

    • KateAchelpohl I feel like we could all use this reminder maybe once a month!

  • Great post Gini, for me it’s not necessarily about where my peers are but where I am in relation to the expectations I have set for myself. Do I regret not being Batman? Absolutely, but I also never had a billion dollar trust fund or even Batman’s big giant brain (the must underrated of all his gadgets). But years ago when I wasn’t where I wanted to be, I made moves to achieve the goals I put in front of me. Sadly, none of them lead to me being Batman (sorry 8 year old self).
    All kidding aside, I really look at number 5 and wonder what I can do to let myself be happy. I think finding a way to focus on those one or two things that bring joy across the board are where I should focus, but then the trials of life, family and work get in the way. I think today is the day I pause and consider, then take the first steps to happiness.

  • rbowden56

    The message in this post has been pinging in my head like a pinball for a few years now. I wake each day with comfort and little regret but as the day turns those uncomfortable itches creep a bit. Ultimately there’s only one success I want, to be a good human being. Cliché maybe, but it is what gets me to that waking point the next morning. Thanks for the reveal and reflection Gini.

  • Yes to all of this. I have had dear people within the last week ask the very logical and timely question of “What’s stopping you?” when I bring up paths I want to pursue. I have friends in my same age range (late 40s/early 50s) echoing the “is this all there is?” question (and these are vibrant, dynamic people — my point is we ask ourselves that and we can use it as a catalyst or not …..). I also have the challenge of a 16 year old who is really struggling right now — with “how do you feel happy?” — a question to which my attempts to answer really seem to fall on deaf ears. Anyway, I won’t comment on Lean In until I have read it — if I had commented on Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother before reading it, my comments would have been sadly and grossly misguided. But I agree that the definition of “all” is often very narrow in our culture. As a parent, being with your child when they are learning to walk, learning to share, learning to read, learning to “be” is an investment that can’t be quanitifed by $$.

    • biggreenpen And… memories you can never replace.

  • Hi, Gini – the only people worth comparing yourself to are those awesome wives/husbands – mothers/fathers who invest the very best piece of themselves into their families first.
    I was watching a piece on Sony’s recently fired CEO, and during the program he said things like, “I only see my family/ kids a couple days a month,” or “They don’t see me often, but when I do come home I keep them happy with gadgets and electronics.”
    While he was in a factory with company workers he said, “These people are my family; you’re my family.”
    Pretty sad really. But, I completely understand where he’s at… There hasn’t been a day since my 16th birthday that I haven’t thought about business (all day, everyday) and going after the vision in my head.
    It doesn’t and wont shut off. 15 hours? You just ‘might’ be able to keep up with me, Gini 😮
    Business is not work for me. It’s what I am. I live it, breath it and enjoy it. I love what I have the opportunity to do everyday; create businesses out of thin air.
    If I simply invested the effort and time I’ve invested in starting businesses over the years, I would be better… You know, like those awesome wives/husbands – mothers/fathers I mentioned above. My family does not get what they deserve. I can do better. Much better.
    I don’t know that I will ever change. There’s too much need in the world, too many hurting people and I desire to contribute to fixing/ solving these problems by simply building and creating real opportunities for good people.
    I live for improvement everyday – but sometimes that desire to be/do better is invested in all of the wrong places 😮

    • Mark_Harai Crap. If I compared myself to Mr. D, I’d be miserable. Instead I focus on complementing his weaknesses.

  • Wow oh wow – sometimes we are so in sync – even when we haven’t spoken in ages.   I have that Top 5 Regrets list on my hard drive so I can re read it regularly.   I too had the 6 figure salary and was on my way, and then things changed and I knew I couldn’t keep working just for the money.  I need to love my work – I am just built that way.  I am a huge LeanIn fan (I don’t think Sandberg thinks we should all want what she has – just that IF we do, we should stop feeling guilty), and I am finally admitting that my career fulfills me, and that it’s second to me after my family.  And I’m not guilty about it anymore.
    In the last 45 days I’ve lost 3 friends; 2 to suicide.   I am in that zone where I am hyper aware of how short life is.  I don’t care about the BMW anymore (although I do like driving it); I care about having a meaningful life and doing meaningful work.   GREAT and most timely post.

    • AmyMccTobin OMG Amy. That’s terrible. I realize it makes you keenly aware of how valuable life is, but it’s still terrible.

  • Great post, Gini. When I feel like that I step back and remind myself that I made the choices I made for good reason. Like right after college when I saw friends with engineering degrees making almost double my salary (go, English major!), I’d have to remind myself that not only would I be desperately unhappy as an engineer, but my mind just isn’t equipped that way to even get the degree.
    My sister is a wildly successful consultant who takes fantastic vacations and has the best of everything. But she spends her life on planes and recently crossed the million miles threshold. I would die if I had to do that. So again, most of chose the path we’re on for a reason. And when comparing ourselves to others we have to look not just at the destination they’ve arrive at, but the long path they had to take to get there.

    • RobBiesenbach “Go English major!” made me laugh out loud. 😉 I can relate. I’m old enough to have been in high school when, if you were into computers, you were a loser/geek. Now those friends make wayyyyy above 6 figures, and have done for decades. Oh well. I s till wouldn’t change where my choices have guided me – they’ve made me who I am today, and gosh darnit, I like me!! 😉

      • belllindsay Gah! I remember a BASIC programming course in college that killed me! That was a useful skill …

    • AnneReuss

      RobBiesenbach I was an English major too. You rock. We all do! 😉 Though I remember moaning big time when I graduated and my father had to keep telling me “Sweetie, all the intellectuals took English. I promise it’s fine”

      • AnneReuss We DO rock! So glad I did it. Though I wonder if that’s even a viable option for “the kids these days,” with tuition costs and such …

        • RobBiesenbach AnneReuss I am an English major too!

    • rustyspeidel

      RobBiesenbach None of that $$ comes for free. You give up a lot.

    • RobBiesenbach I did that kind of travel last year and I was miserable. I’ve noticed a slight decline in business development because I decided this year I’d only take one trip a month, but it’s well worth it for my well-being. AND I get to ride every day, which I didn’t get to do last year.

  • I think I’m good, especially with # 2; not # 2 in the literal sense, but # 2 on your list….
    Have fun whatever you are doing, and you won’t have many regrets.

  • MichaelBowers

    Great post Gini. It is really tough following and staying true to your compass. There are so many societal pressures to keep climbing the ladder of success but when you realize that the ladder is leaning on the wrong wall you have to be willing to jump off. I recently declined to apply for a high level position with the State of Ohio. Sure I had a lot of support and I could have done the job but it wasn’t a fit for me. I know that had I chased that next position I would have missed so many other things with my family and my local community here in Columbus that I would have been miserable.  It is important to make decisions based on what you want not based on other’s perception of success.

    • MichaelBowers That community you have in Columbus is pretty incredible. I only experienced it for two days, but I’m not sure I’d be willing to leave that, either.

  • I love this post. It resonates. A permanent change I will make, I am making? To cut way back on the comparisons to others and to beef up the appreciation for my own gifts and talents. Thank you for putting words to some of the same thoughts that have been wandering through my mind these past fews days.

    • AnneReuss

      allenmireles I second that.

    • allenmireles YOU, my friend, are one of the most compassionate people I know. You already appreciate your own gifts and talents and that of others where they complement you.

  • Ah, the comparison problem. I know I have it too. It feels like it happens more as a business owner, for some reason – especially when you see others who have achieved greater levels of success faster, younger, etc. I think this happens because we’re competitive beings. While that’s often a very good thing, it can trip us up too.
    I think we all have our own journeys and special gifts that we add to this world. It’s a hard thing to remember sometimes. One thing I try to do when I see others succeed is be happy for THEM. I want everyone to have good things. It shouldn’t be an either/or. And then, if the jealousy creeps in, I try to remember how far I’ve come. I still have to pinch myself that I’m my own boss! We get so focused on the next goal or milestone that we often forget to look back at the road we’ve already traveled.
    I could go on and on. And, by no means to have this all figured out. But, I think this is perhaps one of the most important lessons we can learn in this life – yes, even more so than how to measure PR! 😉

    • lauraclick So true, Laura. As a business owner, we’re inspired by the success of others and yet, tempted to be resentful or jealous at the same time. I learn from others all the time and want to soak it up as much as I can. I see that in you as well!

      • EricaAllison Thanks, friend. I certainly do try. The more I see, the more I realize I have yet to learn. 🙂

    • lauraclick I’m so glad I share a name with you Laura. You are an awesome spokesperson for all of us “Laura-tarians” out there!

      • LauraPetrolino Thanks, Laura!  Laura’s FTW!!!!

    • ChristinaHuerta

      lauraclick Is it possible to translate this way of thinking into a business? I’m curious because from a marketing perspective, we focus so much on knowing your competition and out-doing them to win over clients.

      • ChristinaHuerta Great question. I don’t have the answers, but I’ve talked a lot on my blog about that balance – knowing your competitors, but still having the focus to “run your own race”. I think from a business positioning standpoint, you can still do your competitive research, but focus more on what YOU do best and YOUR special sauce. Find ways to live life and do business differently. I think some of this has to do with not taking ourselves so seriously. I think showing that your business believes in having happy, healthy employees is a HUGE differentiator and may be the best thing you can do instead of out-doing employees. Make sense? Does this help?

    • lauraclick I try to do that same thing, Laura. It’s hard to do sometimes because of jealousy, but I think it makes us better people to work really hard on being happy for others.

  • CogentCoach

    I put my youngest son to bed one night and he said “Dad, are you going to be here when I wake up?”  I was a pilot and manager in a corporate aviation firm and on the road over 200 days a year.  
    At that moment I decided to leave that career of 15 years behind and start my own firm.  It’s been a wild ride and I’ve met lots of wonderful people on the way.  
    I’m not only loving what I do, but I make every soccer game, birthday, holiday, etc. with my family.
    Staying on the path of ladder-climbing may have been the easy and obvious choice, but dramatic change was needed to live life.
    Great article!

    • CogentCoach Wow. What a powerful message from a little boy. I’m so happy to hear you were able to make some changes.

  • Michael Nelson

    Great article, made a similar change a few years back!

  • Danny Brown

    I bet you feel better for it too, Michael!

  • susancellura

    I still wish I was thinner, but, once I had my daughter, everything changed. My first priority and love is her. I am currently in a job that pays me less than I used to make, but it’s closer to home so that I can be there for her and celebrate her achievements and pick her up when she stumbles. Being involved with her  is the highlight of my life. Being there for her is my moment of glory. I’m learning to do things now versus putting them off because life is not predictable. The inbox will still be full when I’m gone, so I quit stressing about it. You live once, and my daughter only continues to grow. I don’t want to miss a thing.

    • susancellura Heck, I think we all wish we were thinner. Why do you think I ride my bike like a maniac?
      “The inbox will still be full when I’m gone.” Amen.

  • I have made two very significant changes in the past couple of years because they synced up with goals so that I won’t die feeling like I didn’t try hard enough to live the life I want.
    I read a line in a book this week that stayed with me. It ties in with my desire to see my kids grow up, have grandchilden, great grand children etc.
    Anyway, if lie moves in the “natural” order I won’t see all of the things that happens with my kids. My story will end before theirs does and part of that bothers me a little, but it is also a reminder to focus on myself too.
    In the interim I am doing all that I can to build the kind of life that gives my family more of the things that are important to us.

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes It would bother me a little bit, too, to have my story end before my children.

  • Disable my Facebook account.

    • bradmarley I read this comment earlier and laughed out loud!

  • Excellent post.  This way of thinking is what led us to start SYDCON. This way we could be there for our kids when they needed us while they were young versus when we could get the time off to be there for them.

    • sydcon_mktg The problem is, as business owners, we get sucked in to so many things we didn’t anticipate. And that take time. Lots of time.

  • Michael Nelson

    Best choice I’ve made 🙂

  • AnneReuss

    Ooh this gave me goosebumps! I feel there’s pressure in today’s society to have a nice job in your 20’s and get a place in the city. Sometimes it drives me crazy to see other kids my age much ahead. I longed for that but then I started focusing on what brings me happiness right now and I take advantage of what my situation offers because eventually (I hope) I will be able to become the city girl I am!  Work with what you have then make it awesome and make peace with the fact we all have our own special wild rides!

    • AnneReuss This goes into your blog post yesterday. It’s all about making time for ourselves, no matter what format that comes in.

  • Rich Burghgraef

    My first thought was to see what other people wrote and decide if my answer is better or worse than theirs. 🙂 Honestly, the change I try to make is, when I find myself comparing to others, I remind myself that I see all of me but only part of them. Until you see the full picture, you really can’t compare.

  • Pingback: Go Read This Blog Post So You Have No Regrets | Fumbling Towards Epiphany()

  • LouHoffman

    I think Laura hit the nail on the face with the “J” word.
    It’s easy to fall into the “jealous” trap. More than a cultural thing, seems like a human thing. Good reminder to take a big breath and smell the coffee.

    • LouHoffman I agree…it’s human nature. And hard to beat.

  • cksyme

    Thanks for empowering all of us with your story. Letting yourself be happier is very underrated.

  • A great reminder that it is important not only to create our own unique definition of success but to make sure it is based on our core values – because that is where fulfillment lives. An individual success definition based on our most important values is what we should measure ourselves on. To do otherwise is to set ourselves up for regrets and unhappiness

  • When I turned 30 I was talking to my Mom on the phone and I asked her if I was the person they had imagined I’d be at 30. “Did you think I’d be more traditional, have the 2.5 kids, picket fence, golden retriever type life?”
    And she said to me, “Laura, we had no idea what you would become, but it was clear from a very early age that nothing you did would ever be ‘traditional'”.
    And probably more than any other thing my (very wise) Mother has ever said to me, that was the most freeing comment to receive. It is extremely hard, especially in a world where it is very easy for everyone to create an ‘image’ to show the world, despite its reality, to not compare your life/success/accomplishments to that of others. Perspective is a hard thing to maintain, even more so  in a virtual world. But I truly believe that allowing yourself to define your own success and be perfectly content in that space, is the only way you can ever reach your full human potential. 
    I also know that anytime I’ve ever tried to be the person I thought I should be, I’ve been miserable. So I radically and openly gave up on even pretending to fit into a mold. I started redefining everything in my life on my own terms and I never looked back. In a world that wants to categorize and put everything/one in a box, this is a difficult thing to do. But I’ve learned that the people, events and opportunities that need me, find me…and vice versa. 
    Anyway, this is an amazing post. It gives me goosebumps and is such an extremely empowering reminder. Thank you!

    • LauraPetrolino  my 3 cousins on my dads side all have ivy league undergrad degrees. And they became NYU Doctor, Columbia Lawyer and Columbia Doctor. And I chose Arizona State to start college based on the big college guide at the time said ‘It’s the disneylnad of colleges’ and the number 1 party school ranking it had back in 1985. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do!
      So your folks were ok you became a Lion Tamer?

      • Howie Goldfarb They proudly display the picture of me riding my lion on a tight rope over the Grand Canyon in the living room. For Christmas last year I rigged it up with special effects so the it roars and shoots confetti at 5pm everyday…it’s amazing!
        But truly, I’ve been lucky to have parents that not only allowed me to be completely me, but encouraged it. That is a rare gift for sure!

    • LauraPetrolino Heck, I could tell you you wouldn’t have done anything the “traditional” way.

      • ginidietrich Haha! Ok, fine…maybe it wasn’t the biggest revelation! But still…..geez, way to ruin my touching mother/daughter bonding moment story Gini! There goes the Lifetime Movie contract I was hoping for! Crap!

  • KevinVandever

    I need to work more on number one from your list, but I feel fortunate to have understood the regret list before it was too late. I believe, for the most part, that I have removed the other four items from that list. It wasn’t easy nor overnight and it took similar “life happened” events to what you experienced to wake me up, but as I read the list, I feel good at where I’m at today. I still have professional goals and aspirations, but so much more of my happiness is generated from those aspects of life outside of my corporate existence…and, as a result, I’m a better leader inside my corporate world because of this.
    I don’t really compare myself to others to measure my success or happiness, but I do learn from others and I am motivated from seeing others succeed under what I consider success to be, not what our culture dictates. However, to answer your question, the one permanent change I could still make is to do more to live life true to myself and not let others’ definition of success and happiness necessarily define my own. It’s a work-in-progress for me.
    Maybe this one post won’t change an entire culture, but it might. If one person changes his or her ways because of this post, you’ve made a dent. That person will talk, write, or just live his or her new found life and others will notice and emulate. More will follow and so on and so on…soon, a culture is changed.
    It is one of more important posts you’ve written and could only be topped by bringing back the corporate and speaker dress code debate. 
    Thank you!

    • KevinVandever I think one of the most amazing things you do is support your kids. I’ve never seen anything like it from any of my other friends (though some come close). You’ll never regret having spent time with them or supporting them.

  • Ok, this is a direct tie in with todays topic.  I just read this:” Ad Exec With Cancer, Given ‘Two Weeks To Live,’ Is Blogging His Life Lessons And Regrets”
    Read more:

  • 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.

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

      • 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.

        • RichBecker I can imagine it’s not as easy as it looks! You want some book or movie recommendations? I can send you some trashy magazines!

  • 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!

    • MagnetCons I really love that you’re not working 12 hour days as a business owner. I need to take lessons from you!

      • 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.

  • 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.

    • Tinu It should creep back in the quiet and in the non-quiet. I’ve often wondered if a person has a near-death experience and changes their life because of it, if they eventually go back to the life they had before.

      • 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.

  • 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. 😉

    • rustyspeidel As you well know, I’m super competitive. But the older I get, the more I realize the things I should compete in are not being the Michael Jordan of the PR world.

  • 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.

  • Jake Meador

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

    • Jake Meador VERY interesting. I’ll take a look at it.

  • 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.

    • Kato42 Stay true to that goal! We’re not near family (either side) and sometimes that really bothers me. Stay true to it!

      • 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 😉

  • Whatever happened to that guy?

    • DDGriffith He married my ex-roommate and they have four kids.

      • LOL…. I thought 3 was a curse! I was talking about the guy the post was inspired by though. 🙂

  • 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.

    • jennimacdonald Whoa! Now I want to know what it is (though I can probably guess)!

      • ginidietrich Yeah you can guess,  I’ll text you, no DMs.

  • 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.

    • PeterFaur Hi Peter! Thanks for the insightful comment. It’s a good reminder of why I don’t work for someone. I was never good at the politics.

  • 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. 🙂

  • 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.

    • ColinStorm THIS is amazing! Talk about a terrible time to go out on your own, but what a great experience you must be having.

  • 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. 🙂

    • Andrea T.H.W. I like the idea of imagining you have only a month to live. Of course, imagination isn’t always the best catalyst, but I think it would help keep us all grounded.

  • 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 🙂  

  • 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.

    • 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.

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  • 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.

    • 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 Thanks for “getting it”, Gini – and I’m glad that my behavior and lifestyle truly represent my heart’s priorities. Now, if I could just curb that temper a bit…

  • 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.

    • Carley1111 I love this! Thank you for sharing with us.

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  • 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.

    • RebeccaTodd You bought more underwear so you didn’t have to do laundry. LOL!!

  • I was happy making 75K a year at GEICO. I’m even happier living below the poverty line, writing and publishing books, and being creative. I’d rather not die, now, but if I did, I think it would be just fine.

    • ExtremelyAvg I just read about a man who is worth some $30 billion. He wants to die a poor man so he’s been giving it away. By 2016, he will have only $200K left.

      • ginidietrich ExtremelyAvg I would like to have thirty billion and do the same thing…and by same thing I mean build a robot army to take over the world after I’m gone.

        • ExtremelyAvg ginidietrich I’ll take over the world after you are gone for 15!

      • ginidietrich ExtremelyAvg I’d love to have money to be able to do things just like this!

        • LauraPetrolino ginidietrich ExtremelyAvg Yes- it’s a weird equation- money doesn’t equal success, but yet, things that successful people do takes money. Conundrum.