Success is not simply dollars and cents, it’s who you become through the process of the journey. Look at all the miserable wealthy, famous, people, they “have it all” yet where is the happiness, joy, the success of becoming the person they were intended to become.
Have you ever noticed how often we equate success with more? Whether that’s more products, more profits, more activities or more accomplishments, we buy into the belief that we have to do more to have more to be more. And that will sum up to success. And then along comes The Great Resignation. Where employees are signaling that the “more” that’s being offered — even more pay, more perks, and more PTO — isn’t summing up to success for them. We visited with leaders who are redefining what success means now. Their answers might surprise you.
As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jordan M. Spencer.
Dr. Jordan M. Spencer, DO is a PGY-4 resident physician in internal medicine and psychiatry, at the Medical University of South Carolina. He plans continue with further specialization in the fields of both pain and addiction and hopes to use multimodal therapies to help others with addiction, pain, primary care, and general psychiatric care.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
The seminal life experiences that most shaped who I am today are my service as an LDS missionary, my ongoing development as a husband and father, and my medical education which together sums up the last 12 years of my life.
We all have myths and misconceptions about success. What are some myths or misconceptions that you used to believe?
Full disclosure, many of these misconceptions and principles I share in this interview regarding success are still things that I am trying to work through and develop myself. I do not come as an expert but as a student in the middle of the learning process, with mountains more to learn.
I have long been a student of “success”, motivation, and high achieving individuals, it is a subject that has always excited me. The idea of “cracking the code” and doing all the “brain hacks” to make my life’s functionality more efficient has been a fun journey. Through the learning process I have come to find my definition of success having gone through many iterations. Having started with wanting all the classic teenage dreams that are associated with being “a millionaire”, to my more current appreciation of the subject matter which is explored in this article.
I have found there are a litany of YouTube videos that are full of snippets from motivational speakers. One common theme mentioned in these videos is that you have to work harder, and “grind” harder than everyone else to be successful. Elon musk talks about how he slept under his desk for only a few hours every night and would wake up only to continue working (I hope MAYBE a shower here and there) for a number of years early on in his career. While absolutely commendable and impressive I would caution that this type of “grinding” risks an individual to become unidimensional and unable to function in other fields of life. Yes, did he live through that trying time and come out on the other side? Absolutely! And because of that he is very very “successful”! However, it is very likely that there were some parts of his life that suffered because of the years of super focused attention on his career. One easy example being the physical health toll on his body, it can be assumed that he took a significant metabolic blow because of his chronically elevated stress hormones, chronic sleep deprivation, finding himself always being what is called “sympathetic overdrive”. This is all associated with decrease on overall lifespan.
Here is where we meet the impasse and need to find our new definition of success. If one believes that success totally hinges on the amount of dollars someone makes or their level of notoriety or fame, then the example of Elon Musk works perfectly as an example of success. However, we are multimodal creatures with many needs.
If we only get one of our basic necessities (food, shelter, water) we die; Either as a well hydrated individual who never had food or shelter, or a well-fed person who died of thirst. We require each of our basic necessities in appropriate proportions and periods of time to survive. Would it not then make sense that a similar concept is required for us to thrive?
I find that culture at large is starting to demand a broader definition of success which includes multi-faceted aspects of quality of life over the singular striving for astronomical financial prowess or being “top dog” within your social or business status.
We (USA in general) are in an age teeming with abundance where it is highly probable anyone reading this has their basic needs met. *I must note that if for some reason you/your family cannot provide at this time there are social systems in place that assist those who are struggling. Use these resources when needed and give to them when you can! In the book Abundance it provides strong arguments that if we were to have equity throughout the world everyone could be provided with their basic needs, and therefore live an abundant life.
With all that being said it feels like our current definition of success feels somewhat outdated… because it is. We are in an era of time, where we have time.
We no longer need to scramble to get food, basic shelter and so forth (of course there are those who are struggling with these things. *I deal with individuals who fall in this demographic almost daily. I do not mean to discount their circumstances in any way, as mentioned above there are multiple services and social constructs that help provide basic needs to those who ask. Use these resources when needed and give to them when you can.
The general populace is wanting to change some of the definitions of success to be a more holistic and all-encompassing standard. With basic needs being met for the average American, we can move on to focus on a broader set of goals and values. We can extend the definition of success to aspects of her lives that while previously were laudable and well regarded for the masses, were at times unrealistic.
An example of this would be the age old quest to be the “best parent ever”. Sadly, in many cases, ideal family life had to be sacrificed so that parents could go out and provide basic necessities. While they wanted to be and do more as parents they were limited in the feasibility of that reality. Goals and aspirations that were once “larger than life”, when all our time was taken up by basic needs now are possible because of the ample time we have been provided from our time saving luxuries.
How has your definition of success changed?
Recently spoke with someone about my path thus far as a student/resident, as well as the goals I have for the future. During this visit I realized how in many ways my definition of success has unfortunately led me to falsely believe if “you” are not miserable you are not progressing/succeeding/trying hard enough..
The phrase “no pain no gain” is something that most everyone hears starting at a very early age (the earliest mention of it I can think of in my childhood was the movie Space Jam– amazing the things that stick with you). Don’t be fooled, you are inherently going to have some pain to have some gains in all aspects of life. Pain leads to discomfort (physical, emotional, or mentally) which in turn leads to change/growth. A great example is lifting weights. You are literally causing micro-tears within your muscle and thus are generating pain. You then create gains as your body puts extra musculature and fiber in place of the tear causing hypertrophy (growth) of the muscle.
As with any truth in life, anything taken too far can, will, and does cause damage. The concept of “no pain no gain” is no exception. We must and will go through brief periods of time where we may feel miserable or defeated. I would compare this to someone who is actively sprinting. There is nothing fun about doing an all out sprint, mentally and physically it is a painful trying experience. Do Olympians on occasion have to sprint? Yes. Do they sprint all the time every time they go out to practice? No. Reality sets in and reminds us that this would not be sustainable for our mind or our body. The body was not made to be going at 100% at all times, it simply cannot do it. In the big scheme of things, I think most everyone can appreciate this fact. No coach of any sport does the worst conditioning workout, every day of the season. If they did when it came to gametime their athletes would be exhausted. They would have been unable to let their body go through the rest/hypertrophy process mentioned above and therefore would NOT have made “Big gains”, despite TONS of work and effort. Conceptually this makes sense, and as mentioned earlier most people agree. But when we translate this over to academics, careers, or success in general we often find ourselves believing we have to sprint 100% of the time.
When taken too far this mentality, “if you are not miserable (sprinting 100%, 100% of the time) you are not trying (hard enough)” can be just like any other good things in life, when used in excess paradoxically causes harm. It is easy to fall into developing the idea that if you are having fun while you are doing something you must not be trying hard enough, and that if you were trying harder, you would be “hurting more” and thus you would be doing more, being more, or succeeding at a higher level. When considered rationally, with tempered consideration, the principle of “no pain, no gain” can build, groom, and make better, so instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater I have earned to keep that phrase in mind but with checks and balances. At the end of the day if you don’t find enjoyment in doing something what’s the point.
The pandemic, in many ways, was a time of collective self-reflection. What changes do you believe we need to make as a society to access success post pandemic?
I believe the COVID pandemic has allowed us to push the pause button on many of our lives and has given perspective on how things really are and how they can be. We have been able to get off the incessant hedonic treadmill of career development, and busy culture of life, with the opportunity to reconnect with self.
Any US citizen who is living and working at the median national salary undoubtedly has the ability to have all basic needs met and frankly compared to those who lived 100 years before us or even 50 years before us, live lives of lavish luxury. Can you imagine an American household at median income and their house picked up and dropped side-by-side with a 1%er of 100 years ago? Yes the 1% would have a number of very nice things like art and fancy foods, but they would be unbelievably jealous of the in-house plumbing, the incredible microwave, the refrigerator, and so on. While these luxuries are now-a days commonplace, we must remember that these do indeed make our lives far easier and allow us to spend much more of our time doing things that we LIKE as opposed to doing things that we NEED.
Given we have much more time to do things that we LIKE, there are more opportunities to learn, to grow, and develop. As we no longer need to focus so much on simply basic survival. We are privileged to involve new definitions of success that were not realistic 100 years ago. Life was not as comfortable during those times and huge financial success was the most direct method to procure those comforts that did exist and security. In our modern day world we are privileged to have most if not all of the luxuries that those 100 years ago desired.
What do we need to do to access success post pandemic? Change our perspective. We already have it all and we don’t even realize it. Remember the Mirror of Erised reference at the beginning of this interview?
What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic? We would love to hear a few of your stories or examples.
One of the positive outcomes from the pandemic has been the liberalization of remote working. We waste hundreds of thousands of man-hours every year traveling to work. We have since the pandemic, democratized the ability to work from home and have made it much more commonplace in society at large. I think there are always going to be times when being face-to-face with someone is needed, but after the pandemic I anticipate that we will be far more efficient with our time and resources as we lean on remote work and the flexibility it offers.
We had a meeting the other day as a residency and discussed potential applicants for next year’s class. We had to laugh because the vast majority of them had “pandemic hobbies”, things such as baking, gardening, knitting, and being the parent of a new pet. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to reconnect with some of the more “slow” hobbies/skills of life that may have been forgotten for a time in all our hustle and bustle.
We’re all looking for answers about how to be successful now. Could you please share “5 Ways To Redefine Success Now?”
- Success is not simply dollars and cents, it’s who you become through the process of the journey.
Look at all the miserable wealthy, famous, people, they “have it all” yet where is the happiness, joy, the success of becoming the person they were intended to become.
2. Redefine success to be the best version of you.
You have strengths and talents, use them to your advantage. Direct your efforts towards developing those skills in a way that you enjoy doing it. Don’t compare yourself to other people, they are not you, they don’t have your background or your story.. If you are consistent in beating your PR’s on a regular basis you will likely out achieve the vast majority of those around you.
Michael Jordan (i think he is on my mind after the Space Jam reference above) really couldn’t compare himself to others because he was on the top. He was always going to be better than the “other guy” because he was Michael Jordan. Sure he probably looked at some players growing up as role models but once he hit a certain point in his career he didn’t care about the other guys he wanted to beat Micheal from last season, and from the season before that.
3. Make the centerpiece of your goals to be well rounded:
If success is about who you become through the process of life, it stands to reason that a completely unidimensional individual would likely not meet anyone’s definition of success.
The word “polymath” is meant to define a well rounded knowledgeable person in a wide variety of subjects, examples being Leoardo Da Vinci, Aristotle, Helen Keller, Benjamin Franklin. These people at the end of the day were INCREDIBLY good at a few things but were overall, very good at most things. Just like the athlete who does cross training, you become more hearty, less prone to burnout, and enjoy the process of self betterment as you go if you are balanced in many domains. .
4. Focus on the Long Game:
I am not negating the fact that short term goals get you to your long-term achievements, but never sacrifice your long-term success for short term victories. Careful accumulation of habit over many years is what creates who you become. If you tell me your three or four most common habits I can tell you who you will be in 10 or 20 years. Use the short game goals to help inspire you in creating those habits, and keep you engaged, they should never result in you being absolutely exhausted, burnt out or unable to function. In the long run this causes more damage than good.
I plan on working until I am in my 80’s(ish). I anticipate that the majority of my decades of work will be on a part time basis. Why? I will have already established myself in my career and become financially stable, not necessarily needing money as much as needing the purpose that comes from my occupation. Why will I work part time even when I can work full-time? I won’t burn out! Work will always be enjoyable because I GET to go not because I HAVE to go. If things ever morph into me feeling I HAVE to go to work that will be a good sign that I need to pull back and reassess. Otherwise I anticipate I will be excited to go to make a difference and to help others in the way my career allows me to do so.
Soon after Apple went corporate they sent a letter out to their board and said something to the effect of “we may not look like we are trying to get gains for next quarter or the next year… Because we are not,” but rather are looking ahead 10, 20, 30 years. Apple was built on providing a strong foundation for the long game and not quarterly bumps and swings. We should likely structure our lives in a similar manner.
5. Redefining success includes redefining your outlook on yourself.
You can do everything in the world and accomplish more than anyone else in the history of all time, but if you don’t learn to care for yourself and enjoy who you ARE and who you’re becoming it will always be a hollow victory at the end of the day.
It is very common for Olympians (or other professional athletes) after winning a medal and retiring to become severely depressed within a year or so after having their victory. We would assume that this person who reached the Apex of their sport would be “happy forever“, however once their sport is taken out from under them they often find that they have not developed skills in other areas of their lives and they struggle. This includes finding ways to enjoy themselves and their small wins outside the context of their athletics. Developing a well rounded personality within multiple domains that you enjoy to do an help you like yourself is paramount.
How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?
As I said earlier. What do we need to do to access success post pandemic? Change our perspective. We already have it all and we don’t even realize it. Remember the Mirror of Erised.
In the book Mans Search for Meaning Victor Frankel ( a Jewish Psychiatrist who survived the holocost-[watchout soap box coming at you] If you have not read this book PLEASE do so. Its relatively short with ~100 pages, but hits you hard. It is one of the books that i feel everyone should read at least once in their life no questions asked) spoke about how a number of the Jewish prisoners found joy, happiness, and purpose even while in the greatest depths of hell: that of a concentration camp. .
In large part this ability to find the good was as he saw it because of the perspective that these individuals had on their circumstances. Perspective did not change anything about what they were doing, or what others were doing to them. But it had everything to do with how they viewed themselves and their circumstances.
Once we as a society no longer strive for unreasonable excess of the things that really don’t bring us joy, the sooner we will find true happiness and success in the characteristics of who we become as individuals. Remember the MIrror (yes I know im being redundant, its called a theme), the happiest man in the world would see himself.
What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of our redefined success? And what advice would you offer about overcoming those obstacles?
The biggest obstacle is ourselves. I recognize this is a very cliché thing to say but our own pride, our own dogged desire to be the best within the current definition of success is so alluring it is difficult to let go. Changing the perspective of society as a whole is a massive undertaking and frankly isn’t done overnight. Hopefully little things like these interviews, positive influencers on social media, good books and other people trying to make a difference can slowly over time start changing how we think for the better.
Where do you go to look for inspiration and information about how to redefine success?
There are likely another hundred interviews with the same questions above on this website. I think that would be a very easy first place to start.
As mentioned above there are a plethora of YouTube videos on success, motivation and encouragement. I try to watch about 10 minutes of one of these videos every day. Warning overabundance of the principles that are preached in these videos will lead to unidimensional achievement.
Read the biographies of the greats throughout the history of time. You can also focus specifically on the people in your chosen profession or chosen hobby who have “made it to the top”, see what they did, how they did it, and how they think. Take the best and leave the rest.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she or they might just see this if we tag them.
Short game: My immediate thought is some of the Pain Medicine Fellowship program directors who are over the programs I intend to apply to. I am in the process of preparing my application for this upcoming season, and the more I can develop relationships, the better my chances of landing a competitive spot.
Long game: I would love to meet with a big wig philanthropist, Bill Gates, MIchael Bloomberg, Philip Knight, Warren Buffet, and see if I could get them to give me a big grant, to allow me to go out and help/build others unencumbered . One measure of our success in life is how many people you influence for good, who did we build to become stronger, better and in turn more able to go out and help others. With ___ million dollars in my hand I would gladly use it the rest of my days building people for good .
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Y’all are welcome to visit my LinkedIn page, and if anyone has questions or comments I am happy to receive messages there or at [email protected]
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.