Executives & Meaning Beyond The Balance Sheet

Every executive who reaches a certain senior point in his or her career is familiar with the highs of success: Making the numbers, reaching the goals and then reaping the accolades and the financial rewards. The confidence and momentum that comes from this success is a powerful motivator for repeat performance and multiple encores. However, at some point, often in the early forties to the early fifties, executives are at risk of bottoming out on the excitement that has kept them going in the past. The calendar flips to December 31, all the dials reset to zero and the realization arises, I have to do this all over again.

An awareness that something is missing can start to form, bringing the opportunity to step back and take a look at what’s really important, aside from what has been, until now, an all-consuming absorption in business and a total identity based on who they are at the office.

Often taking place after a series of setbacks – the missed deal, the loss of a client, an aging parent’s failing health – It’s a sobering realization when this takes place and suddenly, it can all seem so fragile and transitory.

Executives at this stage often start to ask themselves “what’s my larger purpose and how do I find a sense of meaning beyond the balance sheet?”

Here are three questions I offer my clients who’ve reached this milestone in their lives. The answers can begin to reframe their lives in ways that are grounded in purpose and meaning, providing some balance and an antidote to the emptiness they’ve encountered.

  1. What is the larger purpose of my life?
  2. What brings me meaning?
  3. What sustains me?

My purpose comes from how I show up for the people in my life. Am I present for them? What will they remember about me? No one remembers the numbers or the balance sheet. They remember my kindness, my love, my honesty, my commitment. When I know that I’m there for my family and my loved ones, in a certain sense I’m free. I know I don’t have to do anything more than that to live a good life.

The cultivation of a worldview that includes exploring questions like these protects against the passion problem, the emptiness that often accompanies great material success. The end of an executive’s identity being limited to who they are on Wall Street is often the beginning of finding out who they really are.

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