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; this division held assets worth $15 billion. When I left, I started another student loan company that made $450 million in the first few months, 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, that looked good on paper, 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 father to my kids and the best partner if I wasn’t caring for myself? I needed to confront my deficiencies and take control of my life.
My divorce, though painful, was a catalyst to be better. 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 avoid self-analysis and ignore those imbalances. Many don’t stop to realize they’re standing in their own way. Ego, pride and fear might all play a role.
When I decided to work on being the best version of myself, I started asking specific questions to re-evaluate my path. With a solid commitment to re-evaluation, 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.
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. Here are some things to consider:
- Look at the things you work on each day. Determine which items should be highest priority and those that can be moved further down the list. You might have to stop and re-evaluate 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.
Sometimes it pays to be predictable. You can’t control everything, but applying a routine to your mornings and evenings can help you handle the chaos in between.
- Put yourself first. You are often a 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? It’s all about confidence.
Be ready for the unexpected. Hold onto your inner confidence because you need to believe that whatever situation arises, you can handle it. Confidence keeps you level-headed, calm and focused. 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 that 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 challenges and how you arrive at solutions is a defining leadership moment.
4. Do I embrace the bad? Roll with it.
One of the ways to mitigate the high levels of stress and anxiety is to embrace it and change your mindset. It’s easier if you:
- 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 can actually keep you sharp and focused.
- Take a negative situation and put a positive spin on it. You might find your tolerance for stress is much higher. There will be opportunity for you to see where the holes are, and which 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 almost always pushes you to learn and examine. Here are some thoughts on this:
- 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. Zen practice states that, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.” There’s always something new to learn and it can arise at times when you least expect it. If you aren’t open-minded, you’ll miss amazing opportunities to improve your life in every way.
It’s been years since that difficult time, and a lot has changed in my life. If my personal life didn’t undergo such a difficult phase, I wouldn’t have stopped to consider where I was headed. It isn’t just work ethic and intellect that determines a path to success. There has to be a true connection with yourself.
Related: 7 Life Truths I Wish I Knew Sooner