In Your Career and in Your Life, Does Success Precede Happiness?

MEM students are driven. In fact, it’s one of the characteristics that sets them apart. Most of our students have a natural curiosity, a desire to see outside of the engineering box, to excel, and they turn to the MEM degree as a career booster. A question we don’t often address in higher education is whether this success correlates to happiness. As your career advances, are you happy with the results? Are you happy in, and with, your life? With the work you’re putting into the world? Take a moment to reflect with Professor Verinder Syal and learn more about four books you may never read in the classroom, but might want to read anyway because they may just change your life.

VKS 1-8-13By Verinder Syal, entrepreneur (Filterfresh of Chicago and Syal Consult) and Northwestern adjunct professor (Entrepreneurship and Leadership) 

From a young age, we are told to study hard, get into a good university, find a good job, live in a good neighborhood, marry well, save money. . . and somewhere in the distant future we will find happiness.

The real question is: could this formula be backwards?  What if happiness is the precursor to success?

This week I offer four book recommendations. Each came from a friend or completely by accident. I have a desk and a Kindle full of books yet to read, but sometimes a title just jumps out and grabs me. Each book—in one way or another—deals with happiness, the purpose of life, and meaning.

What are you hoping to understand about your life?

One of these books may be able to help you find the answer, but each seems to point in the same direction: the answer lies within, not without. John Milton wrote: “The Mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” The Buddha put it this way: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with out thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”

What type of world do you create with your thoughts?  What type of world do you really want to create?

The Happiness Advantage

Shawn Achor


A student (thank you, Kevin) recently sent me a link to this TED talk. Take twelve minutes of your life to watch the video and you will be laughing, excited, and intrigued. I downloaded the book just a few minutes later. Here are a few excerpts:

“We think: If I just get that raise, or hit that next sales target, I’ll be happy. If I can just get that next good grade, I’ll be happy. If I lose that five pounds, I’ll be happy. And so on. Success first, happiness second…. But with each victory, our goalposts of success keep getting pushed further and further out, so that happiness gets pushed over the horizon… the formula is broken because it is backwards.”

The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower—and Inspire You to Live Life in Forward Motion

Phil Stutz, Barry Michels


This book came courtesy of my wife (thank you, Leia!), who actually lent it to me for a day while she was still reading it. Phil and Barry are two well-known psychotherapists from Southern California who attend Hollywood stars as well as us mere mortals. The five tools they offer are practical tools that have helped countless patients over several decades—and may help you just as they are helping me now. The tools provide ways to overcome fear, anger, intimidation and worry. They are also a call to action to make the most of every moment of this precious thing we call life.

“Everything about the way Phil thought seemed completely new… (his) focus was on the solution, not the problem. He was absolutely confident that human beings possessed untapped forces that allowed them to solve their own problems. In fact, his view of problems was the opposite of what I’d been taught. He didn’t see them as handicapping the patient; he saw them as opportunities to enter this world of untapped potential.”

Added bonus: A mindmap of The Tools!

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box 

The Arbinger Institute

51UOBi8b6uL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_I was researching a book on Amazon when this caught my eye and I felt compelled to download it. Have you ever been “in the box,” when the whole world is to blame: the country, the government, my family, my business associates—the list is endless. I know when I’m in the box; I can feel it in my gut but often choose to focus on others as the cause of my ailment. The answers, of course, lie within. Want to get out of “the box”? Do explore.

“Self-deception. . . blinds us to the true causes of problems, and once we’re blind, all the ‘solutions’ we can think of will actually make matters worse. Whether at work or at home, self-deception obscures the truth about ourselves, corrupts our view of others and our circumstances, and inhibits our ability to make wise and helpful decisions. To the extent that we are self-deceived, both our happiness and our leadership are undermined at every turn, and not because of the furniture. “

The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling

Stephen Cope


A few months ago I was in a funk and a friend of mine (thank you, Spencer) recommended this book. I chuckled, wondering what is it about my American friends (Jewish, Christian, but not Hindus) who keep pointing me to the scriptures of Hinduism? This is not a religious book, but it is steeped in the fundamental puzzle of life—what is my true calling? What is my dharma? Discovering the dharma is easier said than done, but this book can help. It examines the lives of figures like Jane Goodall, Henry Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, and Gandhi to shed light on how these people achieved their dharma. It also includes the lives of ordinary people who are struggling to find their true calling in life. This book is a guaranteed call to action if you’re looking for inspiration.

“Have you had periods in life when you leapt out of bed in the morning to embrace your day? Once this happens to you, once you live this way, even for a few hours, you will never really be satisfied with any other way of living. Everything else will seem vaguely wan and gray. Everything else will seem, as Henry David Thoreau said, like ‘a distraction.”

By most measures I have been quite successful. But still the question arises, am I making use of every ounce of God-given talent? What else can I do? What else must I do? I have adequate material wealth, but even then why is happiness fleeting? Why does it come and go? When am I most happy? When I do what I love. What is that? Is that not my dharma? How can I do even more of that? What stops me from going all in? Frailties, fears, and phobias: for I am only human. Everyday, I must get up, take life straight on, and plunge into the melee. Life, after all, is for living.

MEM has discussed the topic of civic responsibility and the importance of engineers who can take a stand in helping make the United States and the world a better place. Does not a better world start with you and your actions? What role will you take in that journey? How can you use your education to help you become a happier and better person? Share your thoughts today.

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