I was in my early 20s when my father passed away, and the loss left me with the realization that life is short. In the years that followed, I chased success while trying to figure out what that actually meant to me.
By the time I reached my early 30s, I had moved from New York City to San Diego, and I had a wife and kids. I worked hard to create a new division at a publicly traded student loan company. When I left, I co-founded another student loan company, and soon after that, I started a financial services company, Reliant Funding. I threw myself into work and found success.
So I was blindsided when my wife asked for a divorce. Everything stopped. My life was flipped upside down. My days were unfocused and the new business wasn’t where I wanted it to be. When I reflected on all of my accomplishments, they looked good on paper—but I knew I still wasn’t living up to my potential, professionally or personally.
How could I be the leader of a company and guide others if I wasn’t guiding myself? How could I be the best partner or best father to my kids if I wasn’t caring for myself? I needed to confront my deficiencies, take control of my life, and refocus.
My divorce, though painful, was a catalyst for me to become a better CEO, better father and ironically, a much happier person. The reality many CEOs don’t talk about is how difficult it is to balance our personal lives while leading a company. It’s easy to stand in your own way—whether it be due to ego, pride, fear or another factor entirely—by avoiding self-analysis and ignoring those imbalances.
Questions to ask yourself to refocus your life
When I decided to work on being the best version of myself, I started asking specific questions in order to reevaluate my path. With that solid commitment, I gained a different focus. My business exploded and my personal life vastly improved. I’m now a healthier and infinitely more fulfilled person. I only needed to stop and refocus. In order to keep myself in check, I still ask myself these questions:
1. Is my energy well spent? Take a good look at yourself to refocus.
Be completely honest about how you use your time. Ask yourself every day, “Am I spending my time wisely?” If the answer is no, redirect your efforts. If something isn’t moving you closer to your objective, get back to something that will.
- Look at the things you work on each day. Determine which items should be of the highest priority and those that can be moved further down the list. You might have to stop and reevaluate your efforts several times per week, which is perfectly fine. Use those evaluations to protect your schedule from unnecessary distractions.
- Empower your employees to make calls independently. You don’t need to know the details of every single project. Empowering your team will take you much further than you realize. If this leads to issues, you have the wrong team.
2. Do I have a routine to guide me? Identify the right bookends to balance your day.
- Put yourself first. Don’t be the forgotten item on a mile-long list. Whatever self-care looks like for you, just do it. I try to work out every morning and finish each day by reading in bed for at least 15 minutes. This is what works for me; your routine might look dramatically different.
- Don’t be afraid to change the routine referenced above. It might be a process of trial and error to find what works for you. I know it was for me.
3. Am I ready? Refocusing all about confidence.
Be ready for the unexpected. Hold onto your inner confidence to remind yourself that whatever situation arises, you can handle it. Here’s what I do:
- Stay positive. Don’t just say it, do it. Remind yourself, catch yourself and call yourself out. Turn into the kind of person who always looks for the silver lining. Notice negativity in others, too; it will show you what you don’t want to be.
- Accept the peaks and valleys. Instead of saying “it is what it is,” adopt an attitude of “it is what I make it.” Your personal approach to overcoming challenges and finding solutions is a defining factor of your leadership.
4. Do I embrace the bad? Roll with it.
- Don’t fight it because you won’t win. Growth is uncomfortable; it’s a fact. Embrace this aspect of being an entrepreneur and CEO. Use stress to propel you. Some amount of anxiety may actually keep you sharp.
- Take a negative situation and put a positive spin on it. You might find your tolerance for stress is much higher. There will be an opportunity for you to see where the holes are—ones you might have previously overlooked.
5. Do I need to check myself? Leave it at the door.
Recalibrate the way you think about yourself. Lose your ego. You shouldn’t want to be right all the time. Discovering you were wrong about something can be the push you need to reexamine yourself and learn from the experience.
- Fall in love with finding out you are wrong from time to time. Learn from it and advance. Ego stands in the way of personal development. The worst part? You might not even realize it. Let it go.
- Adopt a beginner’s mindset. Shunryu Suzuki wrote, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” There’s always something new to learn, but those opportunities can often arise at times when you least expect it. If you aren’t open-minded, you’ll miss amazing chances to improve your life in every way.
It’s been years since my divorce, and a lot has changed for me. If my personal life didn’t undergo such a difficult phase, I wouldn’t have stopped to consider where I was headed and refocus. Remember: It isn’t just work ethic and intellect that determines a path to success. There has to be a true connection with yourself.
This article was updated April 2023. Photo by Ground Picture/Shutterstock
Adam Stettner is the founder and CEO of Reliant Funding, which provides customized, short-term working capital to small and midsized businesses nationwide. With more than two decades of sales leadership and business development experience, he takes great pride in building a team of people who are empowered, educated and love what they do.