I think David Brooks raises an insightful and soul-searching question: how do I define my success? From my point of view as an entrepreneur, the utilitarian focus of shareholder value is of paramount importance, and yet the metrics that I use to evaluate success are much more. I am also confronted with a moral evaluation in every aspect of my person. At the end of the day, I want to model a life well-lived for my children, I want to serve the community that I am in, I want to deal with others with integrity, and in fact, as much as I desire to see my bottom line increase, I very much am rewarded when I make decisions that allow others to flourish as well—my employees, my vendors and even in some instances my competitors. The eco-system that we share is in my opinion enhanced by our mutual health.
The tension that I am left with though when making decisions is a moral one: when is enough enough? As a business owner I pursue the growth of my business; the more it grows the more I am in a position to shape the world around me in some manner that reflects my values. As positive as I think this is, I am always confronted with needs around me that I cannot meet. The question then remains for me, “How must I view my own needs and wants within the context of the needs and wants of those around me?” If I choose a smaller home will others needs be better able to be met? Is a high profile private school indeed necessary for the education of my child, or can a local state college suffice? Should I, in fact, provide any financial support for my child’s education, or are the life lessons more available to them in their needing to carve out their own path? In other words, to what degree do I pursue education, health, security and opportunity for myself and my own, while others are struggling to have their most basic needs met?
I might not have complete clarity but I think that these tensions remind me of my humanity, my dependence on my Creator and that all I have has, in fact, been given to me. Entering into conversations with others I am confronted with our shared humanity and our shared need. I would suggest that success then is achieved not by everyone’s needs being met, but by understanding the opportunity to more fully experience our humanity as we strive to meet others’ needs.
Joel Lueb is President and Global Steward of Bigger Dot.