Dirk Gently’s Key to Succeeding in Life

The year was 2000 and with 17 years of business experience up to this point, I questioned why I found myself in yet another auditorium, listening to yet another business leader lecturing on how to be “more successful.” Albeit, it was Joe Hamburger-an industry veteran and well known in the world of financial advisors. I settled in…I was here already, after all.

I braced myself for this yet-to-be heard symposium on what I assumed would be some abstract, self-improvement topic. As Joe found his way onto the stage, microphone in hand, his presentation entitled “The Five F’s,” began to unfold. I opened my notebook and started mechanically taking notes as I had so many times before.

As Joe continued on, I questioned how this was going to help advance my life or, at that point in time, my business. I admit that I was only half-heartedly listening and came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t. After all, there was no magic secret to success in my business. However, it seemed that my practices of hard work, persistence, determination and sheer grit demonstrated over the last two decades had resulted in what I thought was success. 

In my mind, I had it all: a thriving and flourishing business that was rapidly growing at the time, and I had a family, whom I loved and cared deeply for. Why would I need to make any changes or improvements? Why upset the status quo if it all seemed to be working so well? 

Later that year, my life turned completely upside down. My wife and I were going through a separation, I lost touch with my family and friends, I wasn’t practicing my faith and I was physically and mentally exhausted. How did my life get here? My career was, and always had been, my top priority, as I spent mornings, evenings and weekends tirelessly working away at the office.

Consequently, I missed out on the little things that meant so much, like spending time with my kids after school or enjoying our family dinners together. In the span of a few years, as I climbed the ladder to “success” with a positive, forward-moving, fast-paced stride, I gave everything I had to my career. This came at the expense of my personal life, and as I would realize later, I was not an active participant in the most valuable parts of it. I ended up with severe consequences from my misappropriated priorities. I was extremely unhappy and lost; I was only going through the motions. I had lost sight of what truly motivated me and drove me to strive for success in the first place. 

In 2003, I came to an inevitable turning point in my life where I had to decide, “do I want to be bitter, or better?” It was at that moment I decided to take control of my life instead of letting my life control me. I knew I had to make some serious changes. Instead of relying on auto-pilot, it was time for me to step outside of my comfort zone. It was time for me to develop mind-sets that I could adopt and implement into my daily life, such that it would become so ingrained in me, I wouldn’t have to think twice about prioritization or balance any more. 

But how was I ever going to accomplish such a tall order? It seemed there was no right or wrong answer, no perfect mixture of science and art as I’d hope there would be, but rather a framework of ideas I could utilize as a starting point. I knew that finding happiness and creating a truly meaningful life for myself and my family would require  introspection.

Late one evening that year, I found myself mulling around in my office cleaning out and organizing my files. My mind wandered to questioning myself and how I was going to move forward with any sort of meaning or purpose. I came across that same notebook that I had once so wearily opened at Joe Hamburger’s lecture all those years before where I had taken notes in such a perfunctory manner.

As is so often the case with epiphanies, the answer to my unhappiness was right in front of me the whole time; I just didn’t realize it. I started reading through those notes with a sense of zest, vigor and hope as I realized the simple notion of the importance of the Five F’s was going to be my turning point!  As I reflected on the course of my life over the past 5 years, I realized I had to go back and revisit the Five F’s with the same positive forward-moving stride with which I had always approached in my business. It was time to actually incorporate the pivotal lessons I had heard on that afternoon in the symposium held by Joe Hamburger: the Five F’s.

I’m going to share with you what the Five F’s mean to me and how I incorporated each F into my life. Most importantly, I hope this piece is helpful to you, as you venture through life’s ups and downs, in striving for success in all aspects of your life.

So what are the Five Fs?

Put simply, the Five F’s represent your top priorities in life. Take time and truly think about it. What and who is most important in your life? How and where do you want to spend your time? How can you realistically balance your time in each F? When sitting down to create your Five F’s, these are the types of questions you should be asking yourself. 

The Five F’s I live by each day, prioritized in order of importance for me are: Family, Faith, Friends, Fitness and Financials. As a bonus, I also included “filanthropy” and fun. The Five F’s are my guide, and what I believe to be the key to achieving true happiness and success. I look to them everyday to remind myself of my top priorities, where and how to allocate my time, and the progress I am making towards each of my goals. Each F is a building block towards success, and importantly, no one F can stand alone. All F’s must work in concert with one another to ensure true and complete success.

FAMILY

Family is the foundation of the Five F’s. It took time for me to grasp that true wealth and happiness is derived from the valuable relationships we build with our family and loved ones.

The first step I took in attempting to reconstruct my life was putting family first. I made the decision to fight for my family every day, to spend quality time with them, and rebuild my relationship with my wife, Char, and kids, Lisa and Frank. I started coming home from work earlier to spend time with them. I began taking Lisa to dance rehearsal and Frank to karate practice. I made a conscious effort to spend more time with Char. My favorite mountain biking trails soon became our favorite mountain biking trails. And best of all, I was home in time for dinner. The weekends turned into beach days with the family, trips to Legoland and teaching the kids how to swim.

When I was able to shift my priorities and put my family first, my life began to turn around. My dreams became a reality…Char and I remarried! I finally had the love of my life back. My family was, and remains to this day, stronger than ever.

A simple shift made all the difference in the world: I put Family as my number one F and Financials moved way down on the list. Simple.

FAITH

My interpretation of faith, at its core, is an expectation of good things to come. It’s about believing in something bigger than yourself. 

I’ve found that during the darkest times in life, we often lose faith in the probability of better things to come. In order to change my life for the better, I had to believe that I could bring our family back together. We all know that in times of doom and gloom, it’s difficult to have faith, but that is when we need it the most. Shift your negative thoughts of defeat and despair into positivity and hope. Start a gratitude list to get yourself in a positive frame of mind. Begin to believe in yourself again.

Always remember to have faith.

FRIENDS

Friendships are all about quality, not quantity.  The friendships you create and build along your journey will no doubt be indispensable to your personal success and happiness.  These relationships will be the most important ones you build in life, outside of those you have with your family and yourself.  

Being extremely gregarious and social, I have always strived to make friends wherever I went and in whatever I did. University life at USC was complete with playing tennis, teaching tennis, and working my way through college, all which naturally brought these friendships into my life. Immediately after college, I began my career as a Financial Advisor and developed new friendships there as well.

Years later, at the point where my life began to unravel, I realized that I had lost touch with the friends that meant so much to me and had been such a dominant force in my life.  Ironically, when you find yourself at your lowest, you need your friends the most. I slowly began to rekindle those friendships. Since so many of my friendships were fostered through some type of fitness or sport, when I began reaching out to those people, it was easy to find common ground. I set up tennis matches, bike rides, and ski trips with various groups of friends.  I even formed a master-mind group with colleagues! It’s easy to pick up where you left off. 

Life gets busy, don’t forget about your friends. 

FITNESS

Fitness goes beyond just physicality: it’s about being emotionally and mentally fit as well. In short, fitness is about moving in a positive forward direction. I’ve learned in life, that we as human beings are NEVER stagnating; that is, we are either not doing enough to better ourselves (moving backwards), or making a conscious, constructed effort to become healthier, stronger, more physically, emotionally and mentally fit versions of ourselves (moving forward). If you are proactively practicing the latter, you will become more fit, in all aspects of life.

How does one practice fitness? Try reading a new book about a topic you find inspiring, go on an adventure, try a new sport…challenge yourself mentally and physically each day! 

Fitness is a major aspect of my life that I consider vital to my happiness and my health. It is an outlet for me to release stress and find harmony, as it brings both balance and clarity to even the most challenging of days. Once I started exercising my body and my brain every single day, presenting myself with challenges and goals that were tough, yet realistic and attainable, I started to feel happier, more confident and complete. It was amazing to see the positive reaction my own personal fitness elicited in others!

It doesn’t matter if you are walking or training for a triathlon, just do something athletic every day.

FINANCES

Although I said that finances moved down on the list, it’s still one of the most critical F’s and by no means is it insignificant. I learned that by implementing a solid financial plan, that I didn’t have to spend so much time worrying about money and making it the most important thing in life, because quite frankly, it’s not. That being said, being a good financial steward of your money is critical; you need to have a realistic plan and strategy to achieve your financial goals. Assess where you are now, where you came from, and start heading in the direction of where you want to be. Having an accurate awareness of this is half the battle. Only then can you successfully implement a plan to get where you want to be…How are you going to get there? It’s all about having a game plan. If you have a good plan, then money will never be your master.

Don’t let what you do for a living define who you are as a person.

BONUS: “Filanthropy” & Fun

Remember that giving back doesn’t have to mean writing a check. Give your time, practice generosity and do the right thing. If you can practice all the five F’s and have fun with a smile on your face, you have won the game of life.

Conclusion

I share my story with you in the hopes that you too can create, develop and implement your own Five F’s.  Perhaps yours will be the Five R’s.  It doesn’t matter.  What does matter, is that you learn to adopt a set of rules for yourself.  A personal value system that will not only keep you honest, but will allow you to prioritize, balance, and dedicate ALL of the BEST version of yourself to whatever and whoever is TRULY most important in your life. Life goes by 1,000 mph.  Don’t be a spectator to your own story, write it yourself. I know I did, and because of it, I’ve never been happier.  

Authored by Dirk Gently, Big Man on Campus at MegaCorp, and Member of the Banana Foundation.

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