What is success?

By Fred Comella…..

How does one define success? It’s a question for the ages with no simple answer. Was Steve Jobs a success despite his shortened life? Certainly he was a visionary in terms of personalizing technology that changed the world. Or was Oskar Schindler’s evolving conscience the better measure of a man’s success, considering his insatiable appetite for financial status vs. the lives he would ultimately save from the Nazi death camps. A little deep?  Maybe… But man’s/woman’s walk with aspirations and success comes with many caveats and trade-offs along the way, a balancing act if you will, that can sometimes leave us emotionally and spiritually lacking. I suppose whether its family or faith, a person must find their way through the cloud of mortal expectations and perceived priorities and finally to the truth of what He desires for all of us. As a means to that end, harnessing the power of one’s Christian faith seems an obvious avenue.

Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

To be sure, those material things and people we seem to “exalt” these days are a varied and sorted bunch. In many ways, our standards for measuring those successes aren’t what they once were either. With that said, I’d like to stay focused on the more traditional path(s) of success, as measured by those things our parents always wanted for us. Along those lines, I would imagine that becoming the President of a major Insurance company like “New York Life” would make most parents at least mildly ecstatic. fred inoffice

The irony of meeting ones urologist, who said that you couldn’t have children, in the same building and on the same floor as your fertility doctor; and then receiving his congratulations on the birth of your son, has to have a profound effect on one’s faith and psyche. For Fred Sievert, it would be one of many epiphanies and spiritual moments in a life which reads like a road map to that place of balance we all seek, but few ever find. I spoke by phone with the 66 year-old retired President of New York Life Insurance Company recently, and got some eye opening advice on ways we can balance the aforementioned aspirations and success against the true fulfillment which only comes from family and a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Amen…

Michigan born Fred Sievert married his high school sweetheart Sue 44 years ago and has five children, three girls, two boys, oh and two grandchildren. He’s essentially what most would call a “success story”, a prime example of someone living the “American Dream”. But he’s also the prime example of someone who understands hard work and dedication, and who managed to navigate the pitfalls of a driven personality as the chief executive for a major company. Fred’s life experience would ultimately influence his faith and family life in ways he could never have imagined. Educated at Amherst College and later as an actuarial student at John Hancock, he capped off an immensely successful executive career at New York Life in 1991, retiring as President in 2007. He maintains several industry leadership positions and teaches business school courses at Fairfield University, while continuing to serve as a trustee on five nonprofit boards and two insurance industry for-profit corporations (RGA and CNO).

Throughout his career however, Fred came to experience and ultimately reconcile the trials of raising a family, tending his faith, all the while presiding over a multi-national Fortune 100 company. The lessons he learned along the way, as well as the lives he touched through his personal experiences, would eventually lead him to Yale Divinity School upon his retirement. There he would tie it all together, receiving his (Master’s in Religion) in 2011.

As we spoke of today’s economy, a mere shadow of its original prowess,  and how many are now forced to do more in less time and with fewer resources, I was pleased to hear this successful businessman acknowledge that those pressures can and do certainly affect how we manage our God and family time. Fred told me of an interview he did with a Buffalo television station where he explained his five priorities for living life, those being: first his relationship with God, second his wife, third his family, “forth his job”, and fifth his leisure time, which he admits is almost non-existent for the most part. He went on to say he was explaining these priorities in front of a group of board members as well, realizing later that he’d put “his job” in the fourth spot. The context was simple as he remembered. Look where I am, and these are my priorities. In many ways, some of us need only see the example to understand it is possible to have that balance. Fred talked about the many opportunities and requests he’s had since his retirement to go and share his message of success and how his new book “God Revealed”, which chronicles his journey to that aforementioned balance, is touching lives all over the country. He’s been on television numerous times and spoken before countless groups of executives and church goers alike. Fred shares his faith using the examples in his book, and the discussions they generate, to further his mission of giving hope and confidence to those who struggle with finding a way to apply their faith to their success.

In the book, which is subtitled “Revisit your past to enrich your future”, Fred talks about the messages God is sending by way of so many things in our lives we either put aside or simply don’t stop to consider. He explained how his spiritual journey forward began first with a journey backward. A reflection on difficult moments, now in the rearview mirror, which proved God was with him all along. It’s these times which ultimately define us he told me.

Fred spoke at one dinner in particular where he’d had the group broken down into tables of less than eight, so he might ask them to share their own moments of faith in a more intimate setting. As the meal progressed through its stages, Fred spoke at different points and queries, of the unexpected level of candor and emotion which eventually made its way into the overall discussion. He also shared with his audience, as he does in all of his presentations, many of his own personal stories, recalling a passage from his book  entitled “Epiphany in India”, in which he remembers being the guest of a joint venture representative and  “Max-India” Chairman Analjit Singh during an open heart surgery. Unlike in the U.S., they invited him right into the surgical room where he actually laid eyes on the beating heart of the patient, and thought to himself through all of his excitement and fear, how powerful a God do we worship who could bestow such incredible skill on a surgeon. Moreover, how magnificent are His creations whose origins and scope we will likely never fully comprehend.

The power and magnitude of God is not an isolated thing, and it was on another continent that I was reminded of the undeniable truth of God’s hand in human creation. As I observed the incredible durability of the engine that sustains human life – the heart –my faith in God was profoundly reinforced.” – Fred Sievert

In another life changing experience Fred was attending a life insurance executive’s conference in Chicago in 1998 when he heard the story of a young widow and how life insurance had saved her family from ruin. Not coincidently, Fred had been struggling with the cause of his own life’s works as he balanced it against his family and spiritual life. Fred sought reassurance from God that the massive responsibilities of his job, weighed against those of his family and faith, would somehow be acceptable when all was said and done. He wouldn’t have to wait long for an answer. You see the women who spoke at the conference, and her story, seemed vaguely familiar to him. It turned out her claim had somehow made its way to his desk, as the policy holder and husband to the widow had not yet paid his first premium. Sadly the check was still on his desk the day he was killed in a car accident. Agents now sought his executive decision in what could be a precedent setting action. In the end, Fred did what he knew was right and paid the claim. Ironically, and with tears now streaming down his face, he had just recognized yet another one of God’s messages to him. He was indeed there for a reason.

A man who could function on less than eight hours sleep, and in reality less than six, Fred Sievert knew he’d have to be creative along his life’s way. Rising at the small hour of 4AM, Fred had a routine to start his day. During the next couple of hours, he would accomplish more than many would in an entire day. During that time however, he learned and practiced ways to better manage his God and family time. Fred chose to ride an indoor bike for exercise so he could have his hands free to burn up his Blackberry, writing and returning emails, assigning work and developing strategies as well as scheduling. Mixed with the myriad of work stuff however, he would also read a single chapter a day of the Bible he kept by his exercise bike, reflect and pray about what he’d read, and send a short email to every one of his five children, essentially acknowledging them, and reminding them they were never far from his thoughts.

As he traveled often, he would include one of his children on five separate trips every year in order to accentuate that point. These small but significant actions were part of an overall strategy Fred would share with his future audiences in the hopes they would recognize their own paths to their family and to God. One size doesn’t fit all as Fred was quick to point out. However, when we focus on what’s important, and take tangible steps to better ourselves and our loved ones through simple communication and prayer, we are that much closer to true success.

Fred continued to elaborate on the messages God is sending us in all manner of our lives. Whether it was his father’s revelation that he’d been to heaven when he was in coma and suffering from terminal cancer, or the birth of his two sons when he was told that wouldn’t be possible, Fred Sievert’s ability to recognize those messages is something he is compelled to share with others.  Many write and email him with stories of how they’ve altered and re-worked their own lives after hearing his message, and thank him, as it’s made their lives profoundly better.

As he was scheduled for yet another interview, Fred and I had to say goodbye. He reminded me about his book and how many more of his life stories were included in it. He also reminded me, that while we sometimes bask in the glory of what we see as “our “road to the top, it’s actually been God whose been driving all along. Another great few moments, spent with a soul from which I may draw a little more of God’s wisdom for my own. Fred Sievert spoke of the emotion of realizing God’s plan for us, and that we mustn’t miss His messages to us, and I concurred. I’m now honored to share his story…

Please visit www.Godrevealed.com for more information about this amazing man and his book, “God Revealed”.

Final thoughts: I hope he doesn’t mind, but I believe the Psalm Fred has posted on his website, speaks volumes about who he is and what he’s saying…

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.

                                          Psalm 139:1–10

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