The innovator’s other dilemma: Being accomplished without sacrificing a personal life


Does one sacrifice receiving a great eulogy when chasing a great résumé? Or can we have both? (Jason Redmond/Reuters)

Is it impossible to have great professional success without damaging your morals, and harming your relationships? Can you have a great career and great personal life?

New York Times columnist David Brooks addressed the issue in a TED talk, “Should you live for your résumé or your eulogy?

“The résumé virtues are the ones you put on your résumé, which are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that get mentioned in the eulogy, which are deeper. Who are you, you in your depth, what is the nature of your relationships. Are you bold, loving, dependable, consistency. And most of us including me would say that the eulogy virtues are the more important of the virtues,” Brooks said. “But at least in my case are they the ones that I think about the most? And the answer is no.”

He cited Joseph Soloveitchik’s book, “The Lonely Man of Faith,” which says we have two persons within us that represent these differences forces, and they’re constantly at war.

“Adam 1 is the worldly ambitious external side of our nature. He wants to build, create, create companies, create innovation. Adam 2 is the humble side of our nature. Adam 2 opts not only do good but to be good. To live in a way internally that honors God, creation and our possibility,” Brooks said. “Adam 1 wants to conquer the world. Adam 2 wants to hear a calling and obey the world. Adam 1 savors accomplishment, Adam 2 savors inner consistency and strength. Adam 1 asks how things work, Adam 2 asks why we’re here. Adam 1’s motto is success, Adam 2’s motto is love, redemption and return.

“We happen to live in a society that favors Adam 1 and often neglects Adam 2. And the problem is that turns you into a shrewd animal who treats life as a game. You’ve become a cold, calculating creature who slips into a sort of mediocrity where you realize there’s a difference between your desired self and your actual self. You’re not earning the sort of eulogy you want. You hope someone will give to you. You don’t have the depth of conviction.”

There are definitely tradeoffs in life. It’s impossible to have it all.

Accomplishing great things often means making sacrifices in other areas. Take the scientist Robert Millikan, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1923. Millikan almost missed his own wedding because he was distracted reviewing a scientific manuscript in his office.

Work lives and personal lives have a way of intruding on each other. So is there hope that one can innovate and have a great eulogy?

Google chief executive Larry Page’s remarks earlier this year — in which he defended the merit of giving money to Elon Musk — suggest these sides don’t have to be opposed. For Page, companies can do things that are worth being mentioned in eulogies.

“We have a lot of employees at Google who’ve become pretty wealthy. You’re working because you want to change the world and make it better; if the company you work for is worthy of your time, why not your money as well?” Page said.

Of course, companies with the lofty ambitions of Google and Tesla are rare. It’s hard enough to find companies willing to prevent the dangers of climate change. Most of us don’t work in places where Adam 2 is taken seriously.

Where do you stand on this debate?

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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