What are the seven biggest traps in life and work?
There are universal obstacles all people go through while pursuing success in work and life. From transitioning careers, strengthening relationships, and finding purpose, we all stumble on the common pitfalls towards happiness. How can we address these particular issues while we’re knee-deep in them? Better yet, how can we learn from others to avoid them altogether?
David M.R. Covey has practiced the seven habits since birth and he's the former co-COO of FranklinCovey. He's an expert in leadership, complex sales, and the concept of interdependence. He is currently the co-CEO of SMCOV, a learning and development company working in over 80 countries. He's also the managing partner at Thomas Leland. His new book is Trap Tales: Outsmarting the 7 Hidden Obstacles to Success. I recently interviewed David on the LEADx Podcast, where he walked me through some of the main obstacles in life, and how to surmount them. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: Your new book discusses the seven obstacles through a fable. Tell us about that.
David Covey: This is a story that when Stephan and I started writing this book, we started to write it more as a regular self-help on personal success. After about three weeks, we were so sick of it. We just couldn't stand it. It was like, “Ah, we don't need another book like that.” So, we said, “You know what? Let's be unique. Let's be different. Let's write it in a story.” We got a lot of inspiration from Ken Blanchard's books. Patrick Lencioni writes in this style as well.
We decided to write it in the form of a story. The protagonist is Alex and his wife, Kim, they live in Los Angeles. They have two kids, Lara and Michael. The story takes us through these seven traps that Alex finds himself in. He's struggling a little bit with his relationship with his wife. We go through all of the seven traps in this story. I think it's a fun and engaging and interesting way to talk about the seven traps versus the old style and approach of self-help and personal success books.
Kruse: There’s the money trap, the focus trap, change trap, learning trap, career, and purpose. Could you expand on the relationship trap?
Covey: The relationship trap. Alex finds himself in this trap for sure. He was raised in kind of a well-to-do family and his wife, Kim, was raised in kind of more of a middle class, where her parents lost a lot of the money. So, she's more careful and conservative in her spending, where Alex is a little bit more extravagant and is willing to run up a lot of debt.
In the story, what we find or what we see in life is that we see people who are married but they still operate as if they were a married single. In other words, they haven't got on the same page on three main things that we mentioned in the book.
The first is around finances. How are we going to manage our finances and who's going to take care of finances? Finances end up being one of the money issues, and debt end up being one of the main issues why people separate or get divorced. You got to get on the same page on that. If you have kids, how are you going to raise them? Child-rearing philosophies can be very, very different from family to family. With two people coming into a marriage and they have very different philosophies, and so you got to decide how you're going to raise and discipline your children when that discipline is required.
Then the last is what are the roles going to be in your family? In this situation, you have both Alex and Kim working outside of the home but Alex grew up with more of a traditional family where his dad worked but his mom was a homemaker and stayed at home. He's used to that and is expecting that Kim is going to do all of the housework and take care of everything, just like his mother did. Yet, she's working just like he is. I think in today's society, we see a lot of that. Unfortunately for a lot of the men, this is where we need to step up to the plate a little bit more and take on more of the household duties and responsibilities. That's the third thing that we suggest is how are the household duties going to be divided and managed.
The reality is a lot of people are not on the same page as it relates to these three things. It is a relationship trap when they operate as a married single.
Kruse: You say the cause of some of these differences is because we think that our upbringing was superior to our partner's.
Covey: Yeah. It's very true. We think that the way that we were raised is the right way to raise our kids or the right way to manage things. We don't consider that the value system of our spouse or partner may be very, very different. We tend to look at the way we were raised as the right way or superior way.
We also are unwilling to change. Or we only agree to change if our partner changes first. Of course, if we operate by that mentality, we're going to be waiting a long time. The best approach is to be willing to make changes first. I think that when you do that, you find that your spouse or partner reciprocates. If you wait, they tend to wait as well and then nothing ends up happening.
Kruse: Describe the purpose trap for us.
Covey: The purpose trap is the trap of accumulation or acquiring things, which we think is the purpose of life. I call it the ultimate lie that we don't discover until the end. I say that because if you look at the deathbed literature, it's very interesting. The deathbed literature is interviews with people who are on the verge of dying. They talk about what's important to them or what they care about. Guess what? They don't talk about money. They don't talk about successes or accolades or awards they got. What they care about is their relationships, and they care about service that they provided, and they care about their experiences. Those are the things that they care about the most.
Unfortunately, a lot of people don't discover that until the end, meaning the end of their life. We have this accumulation mentality where we're conditioned to believe that the purpose of life is to accumulate more stuff. We're in the continual pursuit of happiness and we think that buying more things or acquiring more things is going to make us happy. Then we're caught up in this whole competitive consumption where we view acquisitions as a measuring stick for success. We look at our neighbor and they have all these toys, and they have all these things that they do, and they have a bigger house, and so we try to keep up with them. We think that life is about acquiring things. We think the more that we have, the more successful we must be.
That's just simply not the case. True happiness, and every one of the traps we talk about, what's the epiphany breakthrough? The insight that will lead to a breakthrough in behavior. We talk about how true happiness really comes from providing service, making meaningful contributions, and building lasting relationships.
Possessions can play a supporting role but they shouldn't play the primary role. I think that's where most people get it wrong, is that they think possessions and acquiring things is the primary role, is the purpose of life. It's not. Relationships are the most important things.
Study the deathbed literature. Believe it because we're going to all find ourselves there one day. Rather than discovering this idea at the end of our life, why not discover it now?
Kruse: I feel like we should be pursuing meaning more than happiness.
Covey: Yeah. For us, this was really illustrated when we moved to Australia for two and a half years. I was just 30 years old and this was really my first management responsibility that I had at FranklinCovey that I was going to manage the office there in Australia. The company told us that we could ship our household items either slow boat or by air. If we did it slow boat, it would take two months. By air, it would take two weeks. But if we did it slow boat, they would pay us the difference that it would cost between air and slow boat. In other words, we'd get the extra money in cash.
We decided to send our stuff by slow boat. When you're moving across, literally, across the world, you really think, “Do I really, really need this?” What we did as a family is that we left 90% of what we had. We left it, we put it in a storage unit, and we took only 10% of what we had. When we got to Australia, we found that we literally missed none of the possessions that we had. I hadn't been married very long either so it wasn't like it'd been a couple of decades accumulating stuff. But for us, it helped us realize that there's really not that much long-term happiness and joy in possessions. They can provide some temporary pleasures, they can serve a role, but real happiness comes in the relationships and the experiences we build together.
Kruse: I want you to challenge us. What's one specific thing we can do today to get closer to success?
Covey: I was thinking about this. The one suggestion I would have is to repair a broken relationship or strengthen a weak relationship with someone you care about. I think that we have a lot of things, a lot of to-do things on our list, and we'll always have that and that's never going to change. But if we really are serious about relationships, we need to think about where do I have a relationship that's broken, where it needs repair, or where can I strengthen a relationship that's weak? It's obviously the ones that you care about. I would just ask your listeners to reflect on that and then to go about doing that with one relationship. Don't try to tackle too many things at once and say, “Okay, well, I have 10 people that I care about.” That's probably too many things to try to do. Just pick one and go about repairing and strengthening that relationship.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.