Reconciling an external focus and an internal focus

I received a note from a long time reader who read yesterday’s post and wondered about conflicting messages with previous posts that typically talk about an internal focus.

I’ll start with a line from yesterday’s post  – Our external success, instead, is a function of how well we understand the exact nature of the problem others around us would like solved. 

The key word in the line is external. At the end of the day, every one of us needs success to be external and internal. Our external success comes from work – the organizations we build and the customer value we create. Our external success helps us earn wealth to live comfortably. Or, to put it differently, the absence of a certain amount of external success makes it very hard to internally successful and fulfilled.

My approach, over the past few years on this blog, has been to focus on internal success because this is incredibly hard. Wealth doesn’t guarantee fulfillment and happiness. Often, the relationship looks inverse as a desire for excessive wealth is caused by the absence of internal fulfillment. And, external success with fulfillment feels empty.

So, can there be one without the other? I go back to something a wise friend told me – When you find yourself asking if it should be this or that, take a deep breath and ask yourself if you can replace the or with and.

So, it isn’t internal success or external success. It is internal success and external success.

I typically write about these in terms of “process” and “outcome” and emphasize the importance of a focus on process and a directional outcome. But, processes are “good” only when they achieve their desired directional results. So, processes and outcomes must talk to each other.

Life is a balance between both.

PS: One final note – the same reader asked about my praise for Steve Jobs’ work when I had shared a line a few weeks ago from Scott Galloway’s newsletter that was critical of the idolatry of Steve Jobs. Again, I think there’s a difference between the idolatry of Steve Jobs “the person” (who was idolized) versus Steve Jobs “the product manager.” I may not love the former but I admire the work the latter produced.