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Redefining Success: How Peak Performers Find Deeper Meaning in Work and Wealth

Peak performers like founders and executives typically define success based on performance and financial metrics: getting that next promotion, reaching a certain level of compensation, or achieving a target business valuation.

But even after attaining these career and financial milestones, it’s not uncommon to still feel that something is missing. So how can we find deeper meaning in our work and our wealth to inspire feelings of true success?

In a recent episode of Off the Wall, David Armstrong CFA and I had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Julie Gurner, a nationally recognized executive performance coach who works with highly successful business owners, c-suite executives, and professional athletes who operate in fast-paced, high-pressure, and highly competitive environments. She shared powerful insights into why peak performers sometimes feel unfulfilled and advice for finding meaning in work and wealth. Here are some of the takeaways from our conversation. You can listen to the full episode here.

What is a Peak Performer?

Being a peak performer is something to be proud of. It’s similar to being a “high achiever”—but it’s more than that. Peak performance is a result of focus and dedication that’s beyond typical or ordinary, a level of obsession and perfectionism that creates a superior level of success. We’re talking about the 0.01%.

As Dr. Gurner explained, peak performers don’t just work hard: “They live it, they breathe it. It’s hard to catch somebody with that level of obsession in their life.”

But all that drive and focus has its drawbacks. Peak performers tend to get caught up in the day-to-day grind required to keep a successful career, only to find that there isn’t much room for other ambitions.

This can leave them feeling successful, but not satisfied.

So what’s the solution? She teaches her clients to take a step back, identify their core values, and realign their priorities with what really drives them.

Identify Your Core Values

Do you really know what you value most? The first step to finding deeper meaning in your work requires evaluating and identifying your core values with honesty. In the episode, Dr. Gurner shared some practical ways to understand where you place the most emphasis in life currently—and how you can change it if your activities aren’t values-aligned.

Look at Your Calendar

You may be surprised at how simple it can be to identify your values based solely on your current calendar. For instance, if you say that you value your family but they have no real estate on your calendar, it might not be as true as you think.

According to Dr. Gurner, “You have to make sure that what you say you value is actually reflected in the calendar that you keep. The thing you truly value is going to show up on that calendar.”

This exercise can be very helpful in identifying the things that you value but aren’t making enough time for. For example, if you value family time and health but these aren’t well-reflected on your calendar, you might start scheduling family dinners and workouts. This might sound like mechanical or generic advice, but it can truly be a game changer. Looking at your calendar in this way will help you find time for valuable activities and hold you accountable for taking action where your priorities truly reside.

For me, personally, I want to both be fulfilled by my work as a wealth advisor and also be present as a parent. That’s why I have a “hard stop” on my calendar most days at 4:00pm to pick up my son from daycare. This not only makes me more efficient and focused during my work day, but it also ensures I have dedicated time with him in the evening.

Identify Your Drivers

In my experience working with high-performing clients, I have noticed that the ones who truly seem fulfilled have a clear understanding of their values and align their life goals and aspirations accordingly.

For those who struggle to find that sense of purpose in work, Dr. Gurner recommends looking inward to really understand your drivers. Why are you where you are today? What are the underlying reasons you want to accumulate wealth and success?

These might be questions you’ve never really considered before and the answers may surprise you if you aren’t totally in tune with your values and motivations.

The answer might be something like, “I never want to live in poverty again” or “I don’t want to be limited by funds.” If there was a time in your childhood when healthcare was sacrificed due to lack of money, one of your drivers might revolve around always being able to afford healthcare for loved ones or taking care of your aging parents.

When it comes to feeling truly successful, your drivers must align with your day-to-day activities and long-term goals. If you’re successfully building wealth, do you really know what the money is for? Are your drivers aligned with your overall wealth plan as well as your day-to-day spending habits? Do you focus on directing your energy and money toward things that align with your long-term goals and values, or are you on a hedonic treadmill? If you answered “no” to these questions, you may find yourself building a career, portfolio, and material things that aren’t actually making you happy.

If you have a clear understanding of your core values and goals, you can align your work and wealth, and direct where your wealth goes rather than feeling like your wealth, your portfolio or the markets control you.

Realign Your Time

Another hallmark of being a peak performer is struggling with overwhelm. This can hold you back on both business and personal fronts, and keep you from focusing on the values you identified.

“Overwhelm is caused by increasing demands and multiple demands,” explains Dr. Gurner. “We want to have sharp priorities to know where you are best, then start really focusing on those things.”

Prioritization, delegation, and action are crucial components of conquering overwhelm and maximizing your effectiveness. Otherwise, you’ll lack the capacity to move toward your newfound priorities and goals.

This requires learning how to delegate tasks and redirect your time and energy to activities that align with your drivers and values. For instance, if you’re a founder looking to scale your business or prepare for an exit, you must be able to give responsibilities to others and make it clear what they own. “Accountability is huge,” Dr. Gurner says. “It’s something that so many people struggle with.”

Giving clear and specific directions is crucial for effective delegation. You can’t be vague. You must be able to tell someone, “You own this specific task from ABC and then you will hand it off to me at XYZ.”

As a business leader or executive, you have a lot of information stored in your head that others don’t. If you ask someone to do something without providing enough clarity, they won’t understand the 20,000 steps between the beginning and completion. This may prevent you from passing off responsibilities effectively and, thus, freeing up your time.

The main takeaway here is that delegation is critical to freeing up the time necessary to get clear on your values, drivers, and goals which will help you find purpose in how you spend your time and money.

Realign Your Financial Plan

Once you’re clear on your new priorities, you can do the important work of creating a purposeful plan for your wealth. Do your spending, charitable giving, saving and investing strategies serve your core values?

Wealth is about more than just your finances. It opens up new opportunities for you to lead your life with purpose. It grants you the freedom to do the things you enjoy, and leave a legacy you can be proud of.

A successful wealth plan will be reflective of your specific goals and priorities, and evolve as these things inevitably change. If one of your values is taking care of your family, a goal might be to leave your children an inheritance. If you value adventure, you might have a goal of traveling around the world. If you value solving social problems, you might have a goal to donate to a cause you’re passionate about. Or maybe you lost a loved one to cancer and want to support others going through the same experience. Rather than just writing a check to a related non-profit organization, your contribution can make a bigger impact by setting up charitable giving strategies like a donor-advised fund (DAF).

Going through a wealth design process can help you identify your values, objectives, priorities, and strategy for how you’ll create and pass down your wealth.

Build Wealth with Purpose

Peak performers are inundated with tasks and competing priorities, and it can be difficult to sift through it all to find a deeper purpose in work and focus on what really matters.

Whether you’re a business owner who has built something from the ground up or a top executive in a competitive environment, your drive and talent brought you to a place many others only dream about. It can be difficult to step back and question, “What’s it all for?”

Your wealth and potential for growth is an opportunity to create something of meaning and purpose in both life and work. If you’re looking for a wealth partner who will take the time to understand your values and what you want to achieve, our collaborative, creative approach to Private Wealth Design ensures that every portion of your plan is catered to your specific goals and long-term plan.

Peak Performance for Executives & Finding Purpose in Your Wealth

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Jessica L. photo

Jessica L. Gibbs, CFP®

Vice President & Partner

Jessica was inspired by a podcast to become a financial planner. At the time, she was working at the Brookings Institution as part of their fundraising team. Even though she enjoyed working with individuals on their philanthropic giving, Jessica decided that wealth management was a better way to build the type of long-term, advice-driven relationships she values. After completing Georgetown University’s Certificate in Financial Planning program....

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