Below is the text of my Key Note Speech at the 2001 Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner on January 5, 2001, in San Diego
Thank you for inviting me to speak at your annual event. I am a very casual person, so at first I was concerned that this is going to be a very formal and serious evening. Then I was greatly relieved to know that right after my speech, you will have a karaoke singing contest. That’s really great! I think we Chinese tend to work too hard, and take things too seriously. It is good to know that you do get to relax and enjoy yourselves.
But let me warn you, karaoke singing could be a serious thing. I remember when I worked in Hong Kong, there was this bank officer who takes karaoke singing very seriously. He practices his singing everyday. When he sings with his colleagues after work, he gets mad when people sing off key, or when they don’t make enough of an effort. After a while nobody wants to invite him to karaoke parties, even though he sings really well.
So I hope all of you will just relax and have a fun time tonight.
WE ALL STRIVE TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS, BUT AT A GREAT PRICE
We in this room are all involved in one kind of business or another. Indeed doing business is a serious thing, too. We all know and experience on a daily basis what a tough “dog-eat-dog" world it is out there. In Chinese, we say “the business arena is like a war zone". Capitalism is commercial Darwinism, where the fittest survive. It is brutal. It is hand-to-hand combat.
Most businesses (except some dot-com which crashed) have done relatively well in the last few years, thanks to a booming economy. But we are all working harder than ever. It seems competition in business gets tougher everyday, and we need to work harder just to keep pace. Whether you are in the high tech business, or in a low tech business like banking, we are all working longer hours to stay ahead of competition.
- In the Silicon Valley of Northern California where I come from, it is common for people to work 80, 100 or even 120 hour weeks.
- I was told that Japan is full of workaholics, and there is a special term for committing suicide due to the stress of overworking – “karo-ji-sat-su". But Americans have quickly caught up. A recent report by the International Labor Organization discovered that since 1993 American workers have overtaken the Japanese in terms of working hours. On average, American workers work 63 more hours a year than the Japanese.
- This statistics probably includes just blue-collar and office workers. American management executives and professionals most likely work even longer hours. More than the hours spent, the mental burden from stress and worries are escalating.
- In another survey of 5,000 American executives conducted by Management Recruiters International, 82% said they mix business with pleasure (i.e. taking work with them when they are on holidays). Many Americans have put in extra hours during the weekends and holidays, or at least maintain contacts with their work place by pagers and mobile phones.
Ironically, the economic boom has made more,not fewer, workaholics out of Americans. And modern technologies and convenience are supposed to save us time, but they have not brought us more leisure. In a research paper published two years ago, sociologist Steven Lagerfeld wrote:" Americans are good at work. It’s leisure they stink at." (I used to feel guilty when taking vacations!) Even though the leisure industry is now a one-trillion-a-year industry, Lagerfeld’s study showed that " Many Americans developed an imaginary ‘potential self’ who did in their mind’s eye all the delightful things they couldn’t seem to find time to do in real life." In other words, they want to enjoy the idea of leisure more than actually go out and do it. I guess that’s what explains the popularity of these dangerous vehicles called the Sport-utility vehicle – most SUV owners never take it for any kind of sport or off-road driving at all. They just imagine that they are using it for off road leisure.
Why are we working such long hours? Is it a necessity, or by choice? Sure, the economic boom, the low unemployment rate, and the drive to achieve greater productivity are some of the reasons. But at the management levels, the burning desire to succeed, to get ahead, to crush the competition, to improve the financial status, and to realize one’s full potential are probably the driving forces. Americans’ desire to win (both in sports and in business) is probably best summed up by a quote from the famous football coach, Vince Lombardi, who said " Winning isn’t everything, it is the ONLY thing". Americans are obsessed with success. We worship success. We put successful people on the pedestal (or on the front covers of magazines).
How do we define success in America? There are various tangible measurements/ yardsticks, such as:
- In businesses, success could be measured by: growth in revenue, growth in net income or gross margins, stock prices, return on equity, market share, new products and services, etc.etc.
- For individuals, some would measure success by their annual income/bonus and their net worth — i.e. how many zeros they have in their bank or stock account. Until a few months ago, it is also measured by the value of our stock options.
- Others would measure success by the status they have achieved in their business, the size and location of their office, and the title on their business cards.
But there is just one problem – there are people who believe success is relative/comparative, just like in any competition there must be a winner and a loser. Yet these measurements are usually rather personal and confidential in nature, and it is difficult to compare your own success with others. So they measure their success by comparing how prosperous they are relative to their peers, neighbors, friends, and relatives. And the “things" people compare with others include:
- the kind of car you drive,
- the value of your home,
- the value of your country club membership,
- the kind of vacation you take,
- or the kind of private school that your children attend.
These comparisons (showing-off) on the snobbish scale do not just happen in Taiwan or Hong Kong, where people are exceedingly status-conscious. It could happen right here in San Diego, too. The whole idea is that it is not enough to be successful yourself, you have to be (or, to act) more successful than others. Novelist Gore Vidal once observed:" It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail."
IT THAT ALL THERE IS?
Such is the title of a famous song by the writing team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who wrote many well-known songs in the 50’s and 60’s. It was originally sung by Peggy Lee (some of us are old enough to remember her). “Is That All There Is?" The song describes the experience of a 12-year old whose father took her to the circus to see the greatest show on earth. While she was watching, she felt “something is missing". After the show, she said to herself “Is that all there is to the circus?" Then the song described the girl falling in love with his dream boy, but the lover left her. She thought she would die, but she survived. Then she thought: “is that all there is to love?" The song goes on to describe that before she died, she looked back at her life and asked herself “Is that all there is to life?" This song captures the unmet expectation and the disappointment when something one longs for turns out to be less than totally satisfying. The reality does not match the hype! We said “getting there is all the fun" because often times the destination turns out to be below our expectations.
Could material and career success cause the same disappointment? Will we be as dissatisfied about our own life when we depart? Is that all there is to success? If success is not everything in life, then what is there beyond success?
Let me suggest to you: material and career success is not everything. First of all, success comes and goes, it does not last. We don’t need dramatic examples like Mr. Wang An, who made the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1988 and built a successful multi-national giant which later went out of business. Or the once high-flying dot-com companies, whose stock prices have plummeted by nearly 100%. Even successful businessmen, once they are off the scene due to whatever reasons, no one remembers what they have accomplished. (Who remembers who Ben Hom is, or has done?) These things do not last during our life time, and, worst yet, we can bring none of it with us when we depart. Napoleon the Great, before he died, asked that his hands come out of two holes on the two sides of his coffin to tell the world that he did not bring anything with him.
Secondly, while success may give us some short term pleasure, such pleasure is like the little girl’s circus experience and love experience – it is not that great once you have experienced it. It gets stale. The pursuit of more success is an addiction that cannot be fully and truly satisfied. Wealth may bring some temporary pleasure, but wealth alone cannot bring true happiness and satisfaction in life. Dr. Aaron Beck and his associates did a ten-year study of patients hospitalized with suicidal intentions. He published the results in The American Journal of Psychiatry. One of the fifteen major risk factors contributing to a suicidal frame of mind was listed simply as “Financial Resources". The terse commentary was: “Risk increases with resources."
Thirdly, success at the expense of the other more important things in life is simply too steep a price to pay. We all know that things like freedom, health, love, family, honor, peace of mind, joy, hope etc. are much more important than material success. Unfortunately, the single-minded pursuit of success many times means we sacrifice some of the more important things in life. We work so hard, and are so tired mentally and physically from running the rat race that we just have no time or energy left to invest in the more important things in life. Then we wonder:
- why are our children or our spouse estranged from us; or
- why is our health failing (could it be from the mental stress?); or
- why are we not able to build deep and lasting friendships or relationships; or
- why we don’t seem to have true fulfillment in life; or
- why are we totally insensitive to the needs of people around us.?
No wonder John D. Rockefeller once said:" The poorest man I know is the man who has nothing but money".
MOVING FROM SUCCESS TO SIGNIFICANCE
There is one thing I think is much more important than gaining success, and that is significance. If our lives and our business have no significance beyond financial success, it is a three-wheel vehicle. It is imbalanced. It is bound to fall over. From success to significance — I borrowed this phrase from Mr. Bob Buford, who is a successful executive in the communications industry. When he was around 40 years old, he found that wealth and success did not bring meaning and satisfaction to his life. He felt empty inside. He then re-evaluated the first half of his life, and decided to completely change course in the second half in order to focus his time and energy from the pursuit of success to the pursuit of significance. He wrote two excellent books, called “Half-Time" and “Game-Plan". I myself had a similar life experience when I turned 40 eight years ago. I did not write it off as just a mid-life crisis. I put together a plan, and five years later I retired on January 1, 1998 at age 45. The last three years have been the most meaningful and rewarding time of my life, as I re-channel my time, my energy and my whole focus in life into service and personal growth. Slowing down and investing my energy and time into areas that I have not traveled into previously, they bring much satisfaction and fulfillment.
I am not recommending that every business executive takes early retirement at age 45. Even if you have the financial means to retire early, you must have a mission in life so you don’t rot from sitting by the pool or playing golf all day. But I urge you to set aside some time to evaluate for yourself: what kind of meaning you want to bring to your existence, and the kind of legacy you want to leave behind when you are no longer here. To achieve these goals, you may need to change your mindset or even whole approach to life and business career quite drastically.
I mentioned the word “legacy". It means something we leave behind, or something that we want to be remembered for when we are no longer around. Our legacy will outlive our lives, it is bigger than our own existence. Some of us may have played the game called “Writing your own eulogy". (An eulogy is what they read out during a funeral service about the dead person). I did this in 1992 when I was reflecting on the second half of my life. What you do is to pretend that you are writing your own eulogy. You ask yourself: What accomplishments in life would you like to be remembered for? How would you like others to describe your life? How have your life touched and influenced others in a positive and significant way? What would your wife, your children, your grandchildren and your colleagues say about you?
Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist who made his fortune by inventing dynamite and other powerful explosives, which were bought by governments to produce weapons. When Nobel’s brother died, one newspaper accidentally printed Alfred’s obituary instead. He was described as a man who became rich from enabling people to kill each other in unprecedented quantities. Shaken from this assessment, Nobel resolved to use his fortune to reward accomplishments that benefited humanity, including what we now know as the Nobel Peace Prize. Writing your own eulogy is a sobering exercise that may help you to focus the remainder of your lives, and how we ought to move from mere pursuing success to pursuing significance.
Thank you once again for inviting me. I hope my comments have not spoiled your fun. Have a good time singing. Thank you.
超越成功 — 從成功到意義
- 有人告訴我，日本充滿了工作狂，而且由於過度勞累的壓力，有一個特殊的自殺條款 – “karo-ji-sat-su”。但美國人很快就趕上了。國際勞工局最近的一份報告組織發現，自1993年以來，美國工人的工作時間已超過日本人。平均而言，美國工人每年工作時間比日本人多63個小時。
- 在另一項由Management Recruiters International進行的對5,000名美國高管進行的調查中，82％的人表示他們將業務與娛樂相結合（即在假期時與他們合作）。許多美國人在周末和假日期間增加了額外的工作時間，或至少通過尋呼機和手機與他們的工作場所保持聯繫。
具有諷刺意味的是，經濟繁榮使得美國人的工作狂更多，而不是更少。現代技術和便利應該可以節省我們的時間，但它們並沒有給我們帶來更多休閒。在兩年前發表的一篇研究論文中，社會學家史蒂文·拉格菲爾德寫道：“美國人擅長工作。他們不擅長休閒。” （我常常在度假時感到愧疚！）儘管休閒產業現在已經是一萬億次的產業，但拉格菲爾德的研究表明，“許多美國人發展出一種想像中的’潛在自我’，他們在腦海中創造了所有在現實生活中，他們似乎無法抽出時間做些令人愉快的事情。“換句話說，他們想要享受休閒的想法，而不是實際出去做。我猜這就是解釋這些危險車輛（稱為運動型多用途車）的普及程度的原因 – 大多數SUV車主根本不會將它用於任何類型的運動或越野駕駛。他們只是想像他們正在將它用於越野休閒。
- 對於個人而言，有些人會根據他們的年收入/獎金及其淨值來衡量成功 – 即他們在銀行或股票賬戶中有多少零。直到幾個月前，它還以我們的股票期權的價值來衡量。
但是只有一個問題 – 有些人認為成功是相對/比較的，就像在任何競爭中一樣，必須有贏家和輸家。然而，這些測量通常是相當個人和保密的，很難將自己的成功與其他人進行比較。因此，他們通過比較他們與同齡人，鄰居，朋友和親戚相比的繁榮程度來衡量他們的成功。人們與其他人比較的“事物”包括：
這就是寫作團隊傑里萊伯和邁克斯托勒的著名歌曲的標題，他在50年代和60年代創作了許多著名的歌曲。它原本是由Peggy Lee演唱的（我們中的一些人已經足夠老了，可以記住她）。 “這就是全部嗎？”這首歌描述了一個12歲的孩子的經歷，他的父親將她帶到馬戲團看世界上最偉大的節目。在她看的時候，她覺得“缺少了什麼”。節目結束後，她對自己說：“這就是馬戲團的全部嗎？”然後這首歌描述了這個女孩愛上了他的夢中男孩，但情人離開了她。她以為她會死，但她活了下來。然後她想：“那就是愛的全部嗎？”這首歌繼續描述，在她去世之前，她回顧了自己的生活，並問自己“這就是生命中的一切嗎？”這首歌捕捉到了未滿足的期望和失望，當一個人渴望得到的結果小於完全令人滿意。現實與大肆宣傳不符！我們說“過程很有樂趣”，因為目的地往往低於我們的預期。
讓我向你建議：物質和事業的成功並非一切。首先，成功來去匆匆，它不會持久。我們不需要像王安先生這樣的戲劇性例子，他在1988年創建了全國發明家名人堂，並建立了一個成功的跨國企業，後來卻倒閉了。或曾經高速發展的網絡公司，其股票價格暴跌近100％。即使是成功的商人，一旦他們因任何原因離場，再沒有人記得他們所取得的成就。 （誰記得Ben Hom是誰，或者已經做過什麼？）這些事情在我們的一生中並不存在，而且，最糟糕的是，當我們離開時，我們不能把它帶到我們身邊。拿破崙大帝在他去世前，要求他的手從他棺材兩側的兩個洞中出來，告訴全世界他沒帶走任何東西。
其次，雖然成功可能會給我們一些短暫的快樂，但這種快樂就像小女孩的馬戲經歷和愛情體驗 – 一旦你經歷過它就不那麼好了。它變得陳舊。追求更多成功是一種無法完全和真正滿足的成癮。財富可能帶來一些暫時的快樂，但僅憑財富無法帶來真正的幸福和滿足感。 Aaron Beck博士及其同事對因自殺意圖住院的患者進行了為期10年的研究。他在“美國精神病學雜誌”上發表了研究結果。導致自殺心態的十五個主要風險因素之一被簡單地列為“財務資源”。簡短的評論是：“風險隨著資源的增加而增加。”
我認為有一件事比獲得成功更重要，這就是意義的。如果我們的生命和我們的業務只有財務上的意義，那麼它就是一輛三輪車。這是不平衡的，它必然會垮掉。從成功到意義 – 我從Bob Buford先生那裡借用了這句話，他是通信行業的一位成功的高管。當他大約40歲時，他發現財富和成功並沒有給他的生命帶來意義和滿足感。他內心感到空虛。然後他重新評估了他生命的前半部，並決定在下半場徹底改變方向，以便將他的時間和精力從追求成功轉移到追求意義。他寫了兩本優秀的書，叫做“半場”和“遊戲計劃”。八年前，當我40歲時，我自己也有類似的生命經歷。我並沒有將其視為中年危機。我制定了一個計劃，五年後我於1998年1月1日45歲退休。過去三年是我生命中最有意義和最有價值的時期，因為我重新調整了我的時間，將精力和整個生活投向服務和個人成長。我放慢了腳步，然後將我的精力和時間投入我之前未曾進入的領域，因此帶來了很多滿足感和成就感。