JACK SKEEN, PHD, is the founder of Skeen Leadership Group, an executive consulting firm. Skeen coaches successful leaders, addressing every imaginable leadership, business, and life issue with wisdom and professionalism.
GREG MILLER, PHD, is CEO of CrossCom, a technology services company. Miller has successfully led CrossCom to become a market leader through process efficiency, technology innovation, and rigorous execution.
AARON HILL, PHD, is the William S. Spears Chair in Business Administration at Oklahoma State University.
Enlarging and Balancing Your Circle
The Tale of Two Brothers
Two brothers were raised in a middle-class home in a stable, loving family. Both played sports. Both graduated from high school. Both appeared to be living good and meaningful lives and seemed destined to continue on that path. But, appearances can sometimes be deceiving.
In college, the older brother chose to party instead of study. Soon his grades began to suffer and he found himself at risk of failing out of school. He hid his failure from his parents. When he was finally kicked out of school, he pretended he was still enrolled and continued to take his parents' money. His parents took on debt to support him.
When his lie was discovered, he came home and got a job. He really didn't like working any more than he liked studying. He found a girl who liked to work and married her. But she soon tired of supporting him, and they divorced. He moved back home.
Eventually he moved to another town and got a job. His parents hoped he was finally making something of himself. He married again and had two little girls. Unable to sustain success, he lost his job and hid it from his wife. He pretended to go to work but instead hung out with friends. He couldn't sustain the deception for long, though. His wife took the girls and left him. He moved back home again.
The older brother was stuck in patterns of self-destruction. His efforts to improve his life repeatedly collapsed in on him. His Circle never grew and was unbalanced.
The younger brother had a much different story. He worked in the summer and applied himself to the job, regardless of the task. He worked hard in sports and was often chosen to be captain of his team. He became good enough at baseball to earn a scholarship. Like his brother and many other college men, he liked to have a good time and party-but he generally did so in moderation so as not to put his future at risk. He met someone, fell in love, married and started their life together. They both got jobs and worked hard. His job wasn't much fun but he knew it was the first step toward a successful future, and he stuck with it.
He and his wife were devoted to their three girls. The younger son moved on to a job with more of a future. He became one of the most successful employees among his peers and was promoted to a position that required travel. Despite being gone from home much of the week, he coached his daughters' teams and attended their school events.
How did one brother get stuck while the other kept growing? What did the younger brother learn that his older brother missed?
Of course, this story is not only about these two brothers. It's about you and me and the people around us. Why does one person excel while another fails? Why does one life stagnate while another is vibrant? Why is one person bitter and resentful, while another is grateful and giving?
We frame these questions in the context of the Circle. Why does one person's Circle expand, while another's does not? The older brother in the story did not expand or balance his Circle. Meanwhile, the younger brother successfully expanded his Circle beyond self-gratification. The balancing of his Circle created character growth, productive work, a partner and family, and a vision for a meaningful life.
Your Life Is Meant to Thrive
From birth, our lives comprise a series of developmental tasks. The successful completion of each task prepares us for the next. The first task was to start breathing. Then we learn to suck, cry, smile, hold our heads up, roll over, sit up, crawl, and walk. These tasks are elements of early childhood development. Health and child care providers as well as parents track a baby's progress toward these tasks as a sign of overall health. If a child consistently fails to meet developmental milestones, it's known as "failure to thrive."
As you mature, the necessary developmental tasks become more subtle and quite profound, such as learning to trust people and to believe in your gifts and talents. Early childhood tasks give way to broader areas of development. Much like failure to thrive as a child, failure to thrive in young adulthood and beyond is similarly associated failure to learn a lesson or master a skill. Your development is arrested when you fail to gain awareness of and take ownership of your Circle. In early childhood developmental tasks are linear-you can't learn to sit up or crawl until you learn to hold up your head. This is true also of the Circle. As a young adult you must work to gain mastery and balance of the Circle's areas of development in a linear fashion, as we will highlight for you in subsequent chapters. The areas of development in the Circle are independence, power, humility, and purpose. Any effort to expand what is in your Circle beyond its current point is limited and/or doomed to failure until you become aware of the Circle Blueprint and work toward mastering and balancing its elements.
Adults who fail to thrive have the small and most unbalanced Circles. They don't value much. Their interests are self-indulgent; their dreams, if they have any, limited to self-protection or pleasure. Their impact on those around them is negative or nonexistent.
Adults who thrive, on the other hand, have learned to expand and balance their Circles by developing their character and cultivating their sense of purpose. Those who grow and balance their Circles develop personal habits that support a higher quality life. They are productive and make good choices. They find success comes to them and they are a positive force in the world. Before we explain the four areas of development, we first highlight some ways that our Circles grow.
Perhaps the smallest Circle is one that encompasses only momentary pleasure. If that is all that is in your Circle, you will indulge every whim and desire, even if those choices are ultimately detrimental to your own well-being. When pleasure defines all that is important to you, it often leads to addiction, reckless indulgence, and crime. There is little or no capacity to create anything that requires discipline, productive labor, or delaying gratification. Such a small Circle results in a very dysfunctional and unhappy life.
It is only as you expand and balance your Circle that you escape the limitations you have imposed upon yourself. The first step is to include your own well-being in your Circle and remove those aspects of pleasure that are detrimental.
Caring for Self and Your Well-Being
It is fundamentally necessary to include your personal well-being in your Circle if you want a meaningful and happy life. Caring for yourself sometimes requires you to do things that are neither fun nor easy, such as education and/or training for work. In order to succeed in your education, you learn to delay gratification through self-discipline.
Self-care and discipline are the foundation of all future success. They are necessary to a successful relationship, partnership, family life, and career.
Caring for Others: Family, Acquaintances, Friends, and Partners
Throughout life, you develop personal relationships with others-the earliest are usually with your family members. Some people you come to know are merely acquaintances, while with others the relationship develops to where you share a bond of friendship. These personal relationships expand your Circle. Committing to a life partner is a special relationship that creates a huge expansion of your Circle. Until you make the commitment to share your life with another person, your life is your own. Your choices only affect you, or at least, you only have responsibility for your personal well-being. You can be as self-focused as you please. But, when you add another human being to your Circle everything changes. That person's well-being becomes important, and for your life partner, it can become as important as your own. Your time and possessions are now shared. Your decisions impact another person to whom you are responsible and deeply love. You simply cannot successfully have lasting meaningful relationships, particularly a thriving intimate partnership, if your Circle has not expanded beyond your self-interest. And, in growing beyond self-interest, you master the amazing skill of selflessness. Great relationships-whether with your family, friends, or partners-are built on the foundation of selflessness. And, selflessness expands your life immensely.
There are two ways to be in a relationship. The first way is to look out for yourself. For this to work, you only give to the extent the other person in the relationship gives to you, and you take to the extent the other person takes. You must always be looking out for yourself to ensure it feels fair-keeping score by adding and subtracting who has done what to determine the next action to take. The second way is to quit keeping score and give yourself completely to the relationship. You give no thought to what is fair to you and you quit worrying about what you have added and taken relative to the other-you quit playing tit-for-tat and just engage selflessly in caring well for your partner.
The first approach is likely to be fair but comes at a cost: Not only do you spend valuable time and mental resources keeping score and worrying about who owes...