Empty Success

A simple and powerful life lesson

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Now, onto Issue 38.

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Empty Success

In 1985, Jim Carrey wrote himself a $10 million check.

He dated it 10 years in the future for “acting services rendered.”

Carrey was 23 years old then.

A fledgling actor struggling to find work.

He carried the check in his wallet everywhere he went.

If acting didn’t work out, he was likely headed for a Canadian steel mill.

But it did.

10 years after writing that check, Carrey was a star.

Ace Ventura, The Mask and Dumb and Dumber had changed his life.

There’s a famous Carrey quote on success.

After making it big in the movie business, Carrey said:

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

You can roll your eyes at the quote.

It’s easy when you’re rich to say being rich “is not the answer.”

But there’s a powerful lesson in that quote.

It’s the lesson of empty success.

All of us pursue a superficial version of success at some point in life.

Money. Fame. Power. Status. Whatever.

Author David Brooks calls this the “First Mountain.”

Then through wisdom and growth we find our “Second Mountain.”

The version of success that’s not empty.

The version that’s fulfilling.

Here’s my main takeaway from this:

We must define “success” for ourselves.

Everyone else’s definition will leave us empty.

There’s nothing wrong with being rich and famous.

But if we spend our lives chasing the world’s scoreboard, we will lose.

So, this raises the question: How do you define your own scoreboard?

In Issue 15, I wrote about the concept of the Inner Scorecard.

While society tends to be outcome-focused and driven by extrinsic motivation, to define our own “scoreboard” we must turn inward.

This is how world-class people measure success.

  • Effort

  • Values

  • Principles

  • Standards

  • Excellence

  • Commitment

  • Performance

It’s a process-focused mindset driven by intrinsic motivation.

Developing your own definition of success is much more “art” than “science,” but here are three questions to help guide you:

Question 1: What are my core values?

Your values drive your behavior.

Your behavior drives the Inner Scorecard.

Examples of values:

  • Courage

  • Integrity

  • Service

  • Ownership

  • Faith

Your values can be anything, but they shouldn’t loosely held.

Your values should be the bedrock principles you live your life by.

Clarifying them is a good first step.

Question 2: What is my personal standard?

Your “standard” is the unwavering commitment you make to how you live your life.

Think of sports teams.

  • They all train

  • They all practice

  • They all lift weights

  • They all watch film

  • They all play games

So what separates elite teams from poor teams?

The standard at which they do those things.

Now, think of companies.

  • They all want to make money

  • They all want to be No. 1 in their industry

  • They all want to dominate their market

  • They all want to have great culture

What separates them?


Your standards guide your Inner Scorecard.

Question 3: What makes my life meaningful?

This is what Jim Carrey was getting at when he said he wished everyone could become rich and famous so they’d see it’s not “the answer.”

Achievement without meaning is meaningless.

It is empty success.

Thinking about what gives your life meaning — what gives you a sense of purpose — is a powerful place to start in building your own definition of success.

There are no “right” or “wrong” answers to these questions.

The answers are entirely up to you.

Take the time to think deeply about them and develop your own perspective.

Life is a gift, and all have the opportunity to define it for ourselves.

Teddy’s Recommendations

This past week I listened to Jocko Willink’s podcast with Mike Glover, a former Green Beret and the founder of Field Craft Survival.

With his company, Mike’s mission now is to help people be prepared to survive emergencies in everyday life.

His conversation with Jocko focuses on how important it is for all of us to plan and prepare for emergency scenarios so we’re equipped to take care of ourselves, our families and our neighbor should we ever find ourselves in those scenarios.

If you have a long drive, listen to this episode.

I’d love to hear from you

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See you next Sunday.

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