Chip DeClue had pursued and won the American Dream, with a long-time executive position at a major rental-car company, a beautiful wife, and two daughters—yet he still felt unhappy. He lacked a sense of security and peace. When he learned to pursue his calling, instead, security, health, and happiness followed.
I came of age in the 80s. My friends and I all knew we would be CEOs one day. I met the woman of my dreams, a wonderful, preppy woman with similar aspirations, and told her when I proposed that I would really have to be married to my job for the next several years so I could make partner. I worked 80 hours a week for a while, then “took it easy” working 70 hours a week at my next job. My life was measured by my financial success.
And I had the success—but my life was all about my work. I was obsessed with driving performance; I looked at the people in my life and evaluated what extrinsic value they provided. This came to define not just my work relationships but also my home life. I expected my wife, Karla, to perform a certain way, and I looked at my daughters through the same lens. Karla told me one night that our daughters actually dreaded when I came home because the fun would stop and everyone would have to get in line.
By most measures, I was successful. I had a beautiful family who had fun. We took great vacations, lived in a nice house, and had a membership at the country club. But I didn’t have security or happiness. Everyone in my life was a constant disappointment to me, including myself. In fact, the more money I made, the less secure I felt, like everything could come tumbling down at any moment. And it did.
In the 2008–2009 recession, I saw my income, which was based on commissions, drop so steeply that the company told me they’d front me 40% of my old pay on the condition that I would pay it back when I started making money again. Karla and I had to very suddenly learn how to live on a budget.
In this time of steep financial decline, we started looking at how to establish new priorities. We started going to church for the first time since high school, and I read a book called Halftime: Moving from Success to Significance by Bob P. Buford. The idea of moving into the second half of my life and defining it by my significance to the world spoke powerfully to me, as did the message of selflessness and service I was learning through my faith. I wanted to change internally and make a difference in the world.
I decided to reorient myself toward putting others first and asking not what they could do for me, but what I could do for them, in every area of my life. I went from being someone who put the process before the people, who rode my employees hard so they’d produce, to wanting to invest in people’s lives—and everything changed. My employees, whom I’d pressured so hard, performed better because I was managing them by putting them first instead of managing through fear. My marriage developed new meaning and intimacy. My daughters and I became closer. And I found my own heart healing because I was serving others.
As I reoriented myself in my relationships, I also reconsidered my activities. It started when I was practicing Guitar Hero because my daughter and I played it together. I looked down at the little plastic guitar and its multicolored buttons and I thought, “Chip, you have an American Standard in your basement. What is wrong with this picture?” I put that Guitar Hero controller down and never picked it back up. Instead, I started playing my old guitar again—not because it would give me peace (though it did) but because I could use it to help other people. Now, I play at church.
I had always rewarded myself for hard work with activities that entertained me, but as I considered moving from success to significance, I wanted my activities to help other people or improve my relationships. The things that emerged as a waste of time, like the country club membership and my video games, got kicked out of my life. The Red Wings season tickets I’d used to get away from my family with the guys became my way to get one-on-one time with my daughters. And I started volunteering with the middle-school youth group.
Karla and I also looked at our physical health. We don’t see becoming healthy as a goal unto itself, but as a means to an end. That end is being able to help others. We envisioned our perfect life ten years from now and knew that if we wanted to serve others effectively, we had to be healthy. It’s an interesting truth that to serve others, you have to take care of your own needs or your needs will consume you. We committed to follow a book called The Plan by Lyn-Genet Recitas this January to get our eating habits on track and are recommitting to yoga. Cooking and exercising together is an amazing way to stay motivated and strengthen our marriage. And we already feel healthier.
If there’s one word I can emphasize, it’s intention: Being intentional and purposeful with my time and resources has made my life meaningful. I set my intention every day with meditation, prayer, and nutritional supplements. I listen for what my purpose is, where I can best serve the world, and what makes me tick. And in this halftime of my life, I am going to create a second half that allows me to be involved with and passionate about the people I’m serving for the rest of my life.