Several years ago, management consultant Dr. Gerald Kushel did a thorough study of America’s top executives. He found that a very small group – only 4% - rated themselves as “very satisfied” with both their personal and professional lives.

I doubt many people were surprised to find that genuine contentment is a rare commodity in corporate boardrooms. We’ve all known hard-driving businessmen who ended up frustrated and burned-out, even if they met their professional and monetary goals. And, of course, the executive who sacrifices his personal life to meet his business objectives is almost a proverb.

Dr. Kushel found commonalities that separated the 4% - the ones who were “very satisfied” with both their personal and professional lives - from the burned-out majority.

It turns out that “the 4%” met NONE of these stereotypes:

They’re practitioners of positive thinking.
They take their work, the company, and their career very seriously.
They ruin their family lives with their preoccupation with work.
They operate under great stress.
They are weighed down with multiple problems.
They are real infighters.
They have a strong need to control others, including both their peers and their subordinates.
They stick to their guns when they’re right.
These qualities – which together represent almost a caricature of the harried business executive – were almost completely absent among those who were happiest with both their home and work lives.

One executive, Dick Barnes, pled with Kushel, “Please don’t let anyone know. If the people back at my company found out how lightly I take my job, they’d feel very much let down. They enjoy thinking of me as a workaholic. So sometimes when things go wrong, I feign worry and upset. They love it. Sometimes I act angry just to get my people moving. Acting angry can be productive, but really being angry usually makes very little sense. Deep down, I never forget that there are many, many more important things in this world than making profits.”

Who Are You, Exactly?

Kushel discovered that fully effective people have a sense of identity that is deeper than their job titles or even their family roles.

“The most important question that any person can seriously ask himself,’ writes Dr. Kushel, “ is ‘Who am I?’ The answer, if taken to heart, not only indicates who you are, but also what you will become.”

He found that the most successful individuals had defined themselves completely - and on their own terms. They were not simply the President, the Chairman or the CEO at work. Nor were they just the husband, father or son at home. Often they defined themselves more by their values, their principles, or their interests. And their heightened sense of self made it easier to accept occasional setbacks – even serious ones – with equanimity.

Kushel writes, too, that these individuals “relied on a spiritual definition of themselves… Although most were not religious in the formal sense, each had a strong self-image that was mystical and larger than life.”

The “4%” also had a powerful tendency to take responsibility for the circumstances in their lives. They virtually never saw their problems as the result of their spouses, their colleagues, their children, bad luck, or “the breaks.” Instead, they consistently went out of their way to place the responsibility for unhappy outcomes on their own shoulders.

If they didn’t get the promotion, it wasn’t because the boss was biased, it was because they hadn’t earned it. If they found a ding in their car door in the parking lot, it wasn’t because of some careless jerk (who I’ve seen over the years is generally a three-year-old getting out of the car unassisted), it’s because they hadn’t taken the effort to park further away from the other cars in the lot. And so on.

Acknowledging that you are responsible for your circumstances gives you the power to change them. Just as valuing some things in life more than money often allows you to achieve material success with relative ease.

Kushel’s survey of America’s top executives shows that those who want nothing more than money, power and prestige often cannot get it. Why? Because they want it so badly, they cramp their style and undo their own efforts.

In short, Kushel found that getting everything you want is not always a matter of “wanting it more.” Sometimes it is putting it all in perspective… and, ironically, wanting it less.


Author's Bio: 

Alexander Green has just launched Spiritual Wealth (

What is “Spiritual Wealth,” exactly?
According to Alex:
"Anything that can be measured in dollars and cents, I call material wealth. Everything else – the love of our families, the health we enjoy, the time we spend doing things we enjoy or working on things that really matter – I call spiritual wealth."

Alex is also the Chairman of Investment U, where his actionable investment ideas are published three times a week. He’s the Investment Director of The Oxford Club, as well, where he’s beaten the S&P 500 nearly 5-to-1 over the last five years.

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