Success in itself is not the goal
When I relocated with my family to Costa Rica in April 2014, at the apex of a successful career, I walked away from it all.
By age 35 I’d built a thriving firm, Quantuvis Consulting, and sold it in a seven-figure deal to Genworth Financial. After serving on the executive team for four years, I spent a year traveling with my family. I returned to join the executive team of United Capital. Along the way, I wrote a monthly magazine column, was labeled an industry influential, made the cover of a magazine and published a book for Bloomberg Press.
Success. Money. Prestige. I had it all. But something far more important was driving my move to uncharted waters: a deep search into my soul for what was missing. What had been holding me back? What keeps so many of us from reaching our full potential?
I had a few clues to work with. I knew that behind my success, I was constantly beset by stress, anxiety, fear and doubt. I had every comfort and convenience, yet I couldn’t relax inside… ever. No matter how much I made, how hard I worked or what achievement I checked off, something inside me wasn’t settled. My life wasn’t satisfying.
And I knew from consulting with hundreds of advisers that these were common symptoms of lives that not only were not fulfilled but were being held back by mysterious forces.
A SEARCH FOR SIGNIFICANCE
What did I learn? Like every other human being on the planet, I was struggling for acceptance and belonging. If you stripped it all down to the essentials, my drive for success was really a search for significance. Like many, I believed that making more money would give me meaning. Upon reflection, I learned that success can be a very convincing disguise, especially to the person wearing it.
If you’re anything like I was (and statistics say over 50% of you are), you aren’t as happy, healthy, wealthy, successful or satisfied as you would like to be. Add to that that many of you, like I did, find yourself with the same negative people, situations and experiences showing up like intruders in your life. Even the most successful of us still suffer from procrastination, persistent stress, tension, anxiety and fear. The top people in our profession spend as much time worrying as working, and wonder why their so-called success still feels lacking.
If you find yourself dealing with as much chaos as clients; if you struggle to run a well-oiled machine, and are constantly working harder to meet the demands of your success, or have chronic challenges you can’t satisfy, then you, too, may have a deep desire to change your reality. And yet you feel powerless. Where do you start?
A coach I worked with put it perfectly when he said, “We all work from our wounds.” It seems we’re all, at some level, driven by our inner issues, by the dysfunctions and wounds we carry within us. If we don’t wake up feeling loved, accepted and validated, then we go into the world seeking those things. As a business owner, you can look wildly successful from the outside and still have issues that hinder and hold you back. We’re all carrying around a lot of unexamined assumptions that drive us in ways we’re largely unaware of, and which ultimately define our success and happiness.
When you’re driven by your inner issues and external expectations — often disguised as the hunt for growth and greater levels of achievement — you can lose the passion and purpose with which you began. You become a slave to your business, and to the puppet master inside us all.
You may think you’re in charge of the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that drive your decisions — and business outcomes — but science says otherwise. Cognitive neuroscientists have concluded that only 15% of our decisions, emotions, actions and behavior is conscious. Some studies show as little as 5% is. We’re consciously aware of only a small fraction of what’s taking place in our minds.
So, if you want to know where to find the puppet master pulling your strings, defining your reality and driving you like a slave to a master, don’t look “out there,” look within. The puppet master is you.
Neuroscientific research has recently concluded that our success is defined more by what is happening inside of us than by external circumstances. Our limitations are self-imposed. Fortunately, this research also has proposed a solution, called neuroplasticity: the recognition that we — all of us — have the ability to retrain our brains in ways that allow us to lead happier, more fulfilling and successful lives.
Harvard trained psychologist Shawn Anchor has a solution for rewiring ourselves for success and happiness.
“We’re finding it’s not necessarily reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality,” he said. “If we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single business outcome at the same time.”
Simply put, how we view our world is what creates it.
As a simple example of this, a decade ago I was consulting with an adviser who led a highly successful firm. In a conversation centered on his brand, we made our way to a discussion of fees. By all accounts, his fees were low. After discussing this in the practical sense with little progress, I finally asked what turned out to be the defining question of our work: “What is it that’s holding you back? What are you afraid of?”
After several minutes of reflection, he said, “What if someone says no?”
He came to realize his limitations and his true value, and raised his fees. I run across him every so often and he thanks me with excessive earnest each time we meet. But he did the real work.
We will explore this example and others in columns ahead. If you’ve ever discounted fees, taken on clients who don’t meet your minimums, struggled with staff, had an unprofitable year, regretted a business deal, taken on too much, — insert your challenge here — then this column applies to you.
REAL WORLD EXAMPLES
As we tread into uncharted waters, we’ll explore what’s happening “in here” and how it’s showing up “out there” in your business. We’ll explore practical, real-world examples of the advisory business and go behind-the-scenes to explore the daily challenges that come with running a firm.
After much reflection in my voluntary self-exile in Costa Rica, I’ve just come to realize that this conversation is the most important one of my career.
I have had the good fortune of being both an entrepreneur and executive in my career, and I understand the challenges and opportunities that come with the responsibility. The constant wonder and worrying, the swing from euphoria to exasperation and feeling stuck with less-than-ideal circumstances — these are the direct result of conversations you have with yourself under the surface. After working with hundreds of advisers, I can tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way.
How do I know this? Because I’m you. I excelled at business, and built a successful firm that ran exceedingly well. But in the interest of full disclosure, I can think of many ways where my leadership of both my own firm and those I worked with after its sale limited the business, and the people within it, from achieving all that was possible.
I now enjoy my life because I woke up and did the work. Life had to hand me my head on a platter before I got the hint. I had to traverse some very dark and lonely landscapes to find the light. Now I have a passion for going beyond the boundaries of practice management into performance coaching that helps other leaders change their businesses, and lives, for the better.