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We all want to be successful in life, but finding what it takes isn’t as easy as it might seem. In our culture, there is a strong tendency to equate success with position, power, and money, and that was my perspective as I prepared myself for a business career and as I advanced in the corporate world. I assumed that I would feel complete as a person when I achieved enough position, power, and money.

But how much is enough? It was only after becoming CEO of a startup company that I realized there would never be enough, that I needed to examine deeply the deficiency that I felt within myself, the hole that I had hoped to fill with accomplishment in my career.

It is critical to realize that time is one of our most important assets and we need to use it keeping in mind our real priorities, the things that can lead to a successful life.

As I started to take an inventory of my life, I discovered painfully that my focus on my career had deprived me of precious time with my family, my wife and three children, and I had missed family times and events that would never be repeated. My family relationships needed mending, and I started to focus on them, on what was important to me. My wife and I went into therapy, and I had special trips with each of my children for locations and events of their choosing. I identified the source of the deficiency that had driven me, improved my listening skills, and spent quality time in communication. Fortunately, I was able to strengthen my family ties and to deal with issues resulting from my earlier neglect.

Career choices need to be made in the context of one’s life goals. Life is a journey to find out who we are, and only from that perspective can we know our goals. My experience teaches me that what we do to earn a living needs to be an expression of who we are.

When we approach work in this way, life choices look different. Is that luxury car or larger house important enough to ignore who I am by accepting work that requires me to be someone other than myself? When I was flying around the world to that next business meeting and missing family events, that wasn’t who I am. It took literally years of introspective work on my part to clarify my identity and what is important, but it was worth the effort, and I am grateful for my new perspectives.

Building a career within a life of self-expression is the way to go, not starting with a career and attempting to fit a life around that. This is each person’s responsibility. Remember, no one ever says, at the end of their life, that they should have worked longer and spent less time with family.

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Bob Epperly, author of Growing Up After Fifty: From Exxon Executive to Spiritual Seeker from Human Sun Media, worked in management at Exxon Research and Engineering Co. for more than 20 years, finally becoming a general manager, and later CEO of a startup company.

Having spent much of his professional life creating win-win environments for employees and employers and co-authoring a book entitled, Interactive Career Development: Integrating Employer and Employee Goals, he continues to focus on approaches to life that unite rather than divide. During the last 30 years, he has made spiritual self-realization, psychological integration, and family his top priorities.

Epperly and his wife, Sarah, live in Pleasanton, Calif., and have three grown children and four grandchildren.

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This Post Has 21 Comments

    1. M. Catlett, thank you for sharing. It seems to me that I keep cycling back or rediscovering important, basic truths. I strongly relate to your comment about losing yourself in work and ambition, and yet there is the rediscovery of important things. I wonder how life would be if I could steadfastly maintain my focus on what is important. I’d like to find out!

  1. This is a practical and meaningful post – it resonates very much for me – and relates directly to my own experience. Thank you. Clearly you have wisdom to offer from a life of meaningful experience – both failures and successes. Thank you for your honesty and truth. It is refreshing to see a post that avoids the traps of grand pronouncements and easy answers to be found in the cosmos. Discovering who we really are is the most challenging and worthy pursuit for all of us. For me it is, at times, elusive – but the quest is what keeps life interesting and rewarding.

    1. GlenO, thank you for sharing. I agree that discovering who we really are is the most challenging and worthy pursuit, for in it we eventually find answers to all of the other important questions.

  2. A life of joyous self expression and deep committed relatedness is my end of life desire. Thank you, Bob for sharing your journey. Signposts along the way.

    1. Sarah, thank you for never losing faith in me and as I say in the front of “Growing Up After Fifty”, “To Sarah, my beloved wife of over fifty-six years, who led the way.”

  3. This is an area that is much needed. So many who “made it” in the corporate world, left feeling something was missing. He seems to have found life after work. It is new, fresh, and a perspective that is not currently being addressed.

    1. Joy, I appreciate your reflections. While I agree that I found life after work as you say, I believe it is also accurate to say that I have found life in work. They don’t have to be in separate realms! And that is where is gold is!

  4. Speaking of time, it would be wonderful if we could all learn your wisdom more quickly. So many young people still early in the journey and still quite lost. How do you adise them?

    1. Robert, thank you for your question. I advise young people just as I advise older people. Just keep learning more about who you truly are, be self-expressed, and never give up. As far as I can tell, this discovery process doesn’t end until the last breath. There isn’t a point at which you are too old (or too young) for self-discovery. One of the fascinating aspects of this inquiry is that who I take myself to be keeps changing, but so far I find the answers to be increasingly rich, complex, and rewarding.

  5. Bob, such a great summary of your life’s wisdom! Linda and I are delighted you’ve found this way to get your message out to others and we hope lots and lots of people will pay very close attention. I also really appreciate your replies to everyone, especially what you wrote to Joy–the real gold is in finding life everywhere, and in work as well as family, faith, and other more obviously “personal” parts of our worlds.

    1. Saniel, thank you and Linda for helping me summarize my experience in my recent book and feel more empowered to simply be myself in all parts of my life. As you say, the real gold is in finding life everywhere. You helped me realize that.

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