One of the most important lessons I learned about success comes from the best selling author and humorist David Sedaris: if you want to be successful you need to give up something. 

In a personal essay that Sedaris wrote for The New Yorker, " Laugh, Kookaburra,"  he describes a road trip he took with his boyfriend Hugh in Australia. While there they meet up with a friend, Pat, who had retired after a successful career. She explains to them that life is like a stovetop with four burners. The burners represent work, family, friends and health. If you want to be successful you need to turn one of the burners off. If you want to be really, really successful you need to turn off two. She has chosen to turn off family and health. Sedaris says he's turned off friends and health. His boyfriend has turned off work.

"I asked which two burners she had cut off, and she said that the first to go had been family. After that, she switched off her health. 'How about you?'"

Understanding that you, or Sedaris, or any successful person, cannot have everything is one of the most important lessons we can learn in life and work. Especially when, in this age of oversharing, other people seem to have it all. The simple reality is no one has the time, energy, or resources to have everything they want. Making peace with your finite resources can reduce stress, as well as help you to develop strategies for tricking the system when you can.

Trick the system.

If you can make what you want and what you need co-exist, you can trick the system. You can walk to your meetings, transform your desk to a treadmill desk, work with your children, meet your friends at the gym, or go on hiking trips together.

My favorite? If you can work with your friends and become friends with the people you work with, you're having your cake and eating it too. 

It is true that between work and family, often friends are the first thing to go. But friendships at work can turn projects, travel, and collaborations into opportunities to get to know people and the best excuses to hang out with people you enjoy. And friendships at work will positively impact your business. 

Some of the best collaborators in business are also great friendships. Look at Obama and Biden; Oprah and Gayle King; Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton professor Adam Grant.

Manage time with intention.

Just like you can turn on and off burners on a stove, you can choose to deliberately give something more importance at the cost of something else. 

As a mother of young kids, I used to be torn between being a great parent and being a great designer. It was impossible to be both at the same time. My solution? I stopped working on weekends and became a fully present mom. And during the week I gave my work my all. 

Stefan Sagmeister, graphic designer and director of The Happy Film, turns the work burner completely off every 7 years to take a sabbatical to travel, see friends and family and to replenish his creative soul.

Once you become aware of your burners, you can develop strategies to turn them on and off with intention. 

Which burner will you turn off to be successful? 

Published on: Feb 2, 2018
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