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Learning the Success and Happiness Secrets of ‘The 2% Club’


Let us start with some common high-end achievers:

There’s Jon, who just closed his second financing round. Early adopters are panting to get product. The whole business is rockin’, a circus of opportunities, deadlines, decisions, channel management, and organizational chess. Jon and his wife calendar match kid coverage, social friendships, and intimate time.  And he still trains four days a week for triathlons.

Then Maura, who has an over-flowing client load. She’s competing with several hungry associates for two coveted partner slots. She juggles nanny schedules, aging parents, required industry networking, gym time, and stolen moments with her husband, who’s also making his mark in real estate.

And lastly Andrew, who must choose: 1) to move abroad to get the experience for a HQ position, 2) join the mid-stage, high-growth, apparent-juggernaut in the C-suite, or 3) cul de sac his career by staying put. His family lobbies for Option 3, but his ambition flip-flops between 1) and 2).

The Myth:

These stories typify the entrepreneurs, execs, partners, and managers in growth enterprises who rationalize that they can have vibrancy in all life areas. They believe youthful vigor, ambition, and love-for-the-mission can be blended with self-care, intimate family time, and an engaging friends network—all creating a balanced life. All but a few—the 2% Club—are delusional.

The Reality:

Almost all leaders in growth enterprises teeter on the edge of dysfunction, compromising personal health and important relationships for the insatiable allure of career growth or escalating responsibilities. For most, their lives are a clumsy dance among ever-shifting demands and reactive behaviors driven by ambition, hubris, or guilt.

The Symptoms of Imbalance:

A Ray of Hope—The 2% Club:

After working with over 2,000 entrepreneurs and executives in growth enterprises, I’ve concluded about 2% can legitimately claim to lead balanced lives—defined by holistic care, authentic relationships, and meaningful, enduring impact in their work lives.

Here’s how you have a chance to join the 2% Club:

I can hear it now: “Oh, this is easy for you to say, but you don’t understand what I have to do to …”

Stop. This talk lets you rationalize your victimhood or martyrdom, where others may marvel at all you do, but rarely respect who you are.

The gateway to life balance is taking 100% responsibility for your life. Everything in life is a choice: You don’t have to do anything, except breathe and have your heart beat—which your body does for you. Yes, there are consequences for every choice, but 2%-ers make the hard choices and take full responsibility for the outcomes.

Those in the 2% Club know how to inspire, empower, hold accountable, and then GET OUT OF THE WAY. Yet so many high-achievers become enamored with technology, financial engineering, or doing deals, and never master the rudiments of management.  They remain glorified individual contributors in management roles—trying to lead a team while still “doing all the work.” Equally insidious is the tendency to caretake or rescue others, driven by the need to be liked or the fear of letting others down.

Growth, success, winning, deals, media adulation, and lifestyle retention are all addictive. If your life is out of balance, you’re likely an addict. You can either deny the addiction until the derailment or train wreck or, like with AA, admit that you are need help and humbly seek a sponsor. Enlist someone to watch your back—whose sole mission is your well-being—so you don’t become yet another ambition junkie, captive to the approval of others and your own unquenchable aspirations. (A tip: your spouse, blood relatives, Board members, or other work associates are usually too close.) Old friends, an industry small group, or a coach—whose only interest is your holistic well-being—are candidate sponsors.

As long as you crave approval and control, you’ll be a prisoner to your work and the opinion of others—and you’ll never be in the 2% Club, where members have an identity outside of their enterprise. So, view your vocation as an invigorating game. Hone your skills and play the game with gusto, while acknowledging and accepting that it is JUST A GAME, it is NOT YOUR LIFE.

Few high achievers get this without a train wreck (divorce, bankruptcy, health “event,” or other personal tragedy). Instead, they draft off their seemingly boundless energy, the adulation of wannabe achievers, and the thrill of the game, until the crisis hits. I was lucky—my crisis was only a derailment. But it took clinical depression in my early 40’s for me to wake up. I tried to run a struggling tech company, be present with three young kids, maintain my marriage, and have some semblance of personal time. The tank was dry. On the path toward a meltdown, I chose to sell, reassess my life, and shift priorities to an impactful, yet tightly-bounded, career, well-care, and authentic relationships—over full-contact business.

The good news: You CAN have it all. The bad news: But not all at the same time. So, get clear—ruthlessly clear—on your priorities at this stage of your life, acknowledging that your priorities will likely change over time. Then, set and enforce your boundaries and build your accountability posse. Live your life intentionally.

This essay was featured in the March 21, 2021 edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper publishes News and Views that Rise Above the Noise and Inspires Hearts and Minds. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.


Jim Warner has enjoyed an ever-evolving career as athlete, computer geek, entrepreneur, executive, author, and speaker. As founder of OnCourse International he is a trusted guide to individuals, couples, families, and organizations navigating difficult transitions. He is also an award-winning author of books on intentional living and authentic, enduring relationships which include, Aspirations of GreatnessWhen Having it All Isn’t EnoughThe Drama-Free Office, and Facing Pain—Embracing Love. Jim and his family live in Boulder, Colorado.

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