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.

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