Life’s Litmus Test is Your Health! Lessons From Failing the Executive Check-up

Social Media must be one of the greatest market places for jealousy! People are posting up pictures of their latest acquisitions from clothes to cars while “checking-in” in the fanciest restaurants and coffee shops. People seem so busy while having the time of their lives! Those we compare with ourselves with could always afford to travel, go on fantastic vacations and splurge. The old mantra of “work hard / play hard” still applies and the more successful ones it seems are those that take them to the very limits. But, who’s really to say? Who holds the scorecards in these games?

I work in an industry where working through the weekends, spending long nights at the office and being a slave to work and clients is considered a badge of honour! At one point I worked 28 days a month: all of which were billable. My wife took me to the hangar on a Monday, I flew off on a private plane to work and came back on a chartered flight at the end of the week just to repeat the process the week after. Surely, I took photos of myself and my ride. But I also missed out on important dates. The time I had to give my teenage son “the talk” was already too late!

I complained about qualifying for the top tax bracket (32% in the Philippines) only on my first quarter’s billing but really just to brag about it too! In the end, what did I really have? Maybe I had a nice 42mm watch but not enough time to measure it with! Irony!

Our idea of success is flawed! We are much more concerned about how we arrive at the reunions rather than connecting with the people around us. We spend a lot of time on social media putting our best foot forward without having time to invest in real relationships. The ironies of our lives are apparent in how we spend it. We spend a lot of time at work at high costs under a justification of improving our quality of life when life quality only diminishes with more time we spend at work. On my drive to work this morning, my wife and I were discussing the purchase of a full-sized SUV so that we could use it for road-trips only to realise that most of the driving that we actually do is to work and back. The last time we went on a road trip was last December. We didn’t even have to use our own cars. Much of our decisions if we aren’t careful are based on what we “want” to do, rather than what we actually do.

The 10th commandment reads:

“You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbour’s house, his field, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.”

Behavioural Economist Dan Ariely in his book “Predictably Irrational” cited the principle of “relativity”. In most things people are less aware of the absolute value of things rather than its relative value. It is easy for us to approximate the value of things when they are compared with something else as a reference. I live in a “relatively” upper-middle-class gated community where people have an average of 2.5 cars and 2 maids. Everyone sends their kids to private schools and eats out at least once a week. “Relatively” speaking, I guess we are “Just OK”! In absolute terms however, the Philippines’ National Statistical Coordination Board would classify us to be within the top 9% within a country of 100 million people. Qualitatively speaking from the first person, we cannot fathom to say that we are rich. It all depends on who you’re looking at, and apparently we are comparing ourselves with our neighbour!
If we moved up the hill from where we are, I’d probably say that the Volvo is not even close to good as my neighbour’s Cayenne! Perhaps he’s more successful than I, and I’ve been doing it all wrong all of these years. It’s as ridiculous as competing about who has the biggest heap of trash or perhaps who has more skeletons in the closet. Relativity and comparison get us locked into stupid competitions. The social-media is of no help to balance either.

One tragedy that turned out to be a blessing was when I failed the stress test in the beginning of 2013. Your health is apparently the best litmus test to life. We spend so much time making money at work only to realise later on that we’ll be spending more on corrective healthcare. The more time I spent at work, the less energy and fitness I had. Your body starts going on a spiral of diminishing returns or outputs. Somewhere down the line the irony of working too much will actually diminish your ability to make more money. That’s if your career does not kill you first (literally)! Many executives have fallen on that path, sometimes literally on a treadmill.

As I’ve written before in an article called “Fit for Work”

“Time is inelastic, while energy is!”

So if you wanted to find a Litmus Test to life, look no further than the executive check-up. Just as a literal Litmus Test would indicate acidity, so does a blood exam tell you your level of toxicity. What is material success if you are running out of time to enjoy it? What is a Patek on your wrist if you haven’t the time to be on time?

Spock was wise in saying: “Live Long and Prosper!” It should be kept in that order. We tend to focus too much on prospering before living without thinking that the former is more important than the latter. It is certainly easier said than done, but we all have to walk that tight rope sometimes with a dozen things in hand. What’s important is keeping along the direction of the True North, a direction towards a fuller life without having to take too many confusing detours. Live for the weekend! Savour the moment and let that adjust your targets.


Chipping Away at Success

Does it ever feel like your life is going nowhere? Do you ever feel like you’re just going around in circles without making any progress in your life?

Perhaps the problem is that we tend to see ourselves in extreme generalities living with a clouded illusion that we’ll reach that “One Day” where we’ll wake up sailing away into the mediterranean sunset with a cold drink in one hand, and the love of our life enclasped in another. If this sounds like a dream, then perhaps it is and nothing more than that unless we “work at it”.

Not saying that all dreams are impossible. I’m just saying that we usually don’t wake up to find that we are successful. It takes a lot of perseverance and the general condition of success is actually composed of numerous goals achieved.

A month ago I found myself in my client’s car where he wanted to make a huge withdrawal that almost closed the bank! He was going away for a tour to Europe while I was left in charge of the project while he was away. We were accompanied by his brother who proceeded to talk about wanting to buy a Ferrari just to start a conversation. He turned to me and asked: “John, don’t you have a dream?” I simply said: “Of course I do! I mean, of course having a Ferrari would be nice but don’t you also think that having a tree is better than having its fruit? I’m working on planting that tree right now!”

Many people tend to have a flawed perception of success or work for that matter. The TGIF culture espouses the belief we need to get away from work to enjoy ourselves. I personally think that this should not be the case. Work is a blessing and an opportunity to live out our life’s purpose; which should be at most times greater than ourselves. Even on a busy Monday, people want to find an escape sometimes resorting to social media for some virtual interaction.

Work is not a prison! However, even if breaking out of work is your idea of success, then you should look no further than Prison Break movies one of them being “The Great Escape”. Sometimes based on real stories, you’d be amazed to find that most of these great escapes are done by digging tunnels underground; sometimes with nothing more than improvised spoons! The point I’m making is that even if your goal was simply to break out of prison, you would realise that getting success obviously takes a lot of work.

Last Monday, my wife and I were blessed to have been given free tickets to a John Maxwell leadership seminar. In his lecture he explained one of the laws of leadership called the “Law of Consistency”. He gave an illustration of how this law works by giving an analogy. He says that success is like taking an ax, swinging the same ax 5 times at the same point, stopping and repeating the same process every day. You will not chop down that tree in one day; but if we kept taking 5 swings at it everyday without quitting, then the tree will eventually fall.

John Maxwell caps the Law of Consistency by explaining:

“Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.”

President Obama in one of his speeches in revival of the American dream said something like: It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or White, Asian or Hispanic , etc., as long as you’re willing to work hard, you can make it. So apparently success (ironically for some) takes a lot of “work”.

Another question about life and success is whether it’s a sprint or a marathon. While I tend to work in series of sprints, you’d one day realise that putting all these sprints together could make up for a full marathon. Incidentally a full work week is equated to 40 hours and that a full marathon is roughly 42 kilometres. It is impossible for us to work for 42 hours straight effectively without sleep but it’s certainly more tractable to put in our 8 hours over five days. The same goes in preparing for a marathon. We usually need to put in a series of sprint distances of 10 kms to prepare us for a “Full Mary”. Running sprint distances in the world of endurance sports is fondly referred to as “The Possible Dream”, but once we’ve had a taste of this accomplishment we tend to get hooked towards achieving the bigger goal. The important thing about running in sprints is that it needs to be connected towards a bigger goal rather than the sprint itself. Can’t we say the same about work? Have patience.

One thing I need to emphasise is there is no quick formula to success. Meaning, you can’t sprint your way to your goal. I remember getting stuck in filling out a 250 word essay about success in the 9th grade. There I said that school was a step towards success and that my whole time of being in school as much as I hated it was about taking these small but important steps. Mrs. Mercado who was my English teacher seemed so proud about that essay that she told my dad about it in a dinner party. Looking back, it took me an hour to write 250 words! That seems pretty pathetic by today’s standards where I write about 1000 in an hour and a half! That was almost 30 years ago and I’ve kept on writing since then. I once wrote a short story in 48 hours which got me an A+ in college and here I am still typing away on a Sunday. If my goal was to write a book someday, at least I had a head-start 30 years ago! Thank you Mrs. Mercado.

Filipina Iron-woman and coach Ani De Leon – Brown says that winning a triathlon isn’t about who can go the fastest but rather who slows down the least! Again it’s all about consistency! It’s about perseverance! It’s about having a goal and racing towards it even if you had to do it one day at a time.


Nintendo President Satoru Iwata Dies at 55

Wow! I better get myself checked too!


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Religion and Research