F-words to master when designing a beautifully balanced life.
There are very few things in life more exciting or rewarding than the act of creating something new. For entrepreneurs, the allure of freedom and fortune found in building a business is both intoxicating and addictive. In the time it takes to read this post, 20 new businesses will be created, but only 1 of those new business will earn enough to be even the primary income in their household. Those 20 new entrepreneurs will charge onto the business battlefield despite the overwhelming odds of future failure, devoting the best part of their lives to the design of the perfect business in pursuit of profits. Entrepreneurial success is glorified and romanticized in our culture, but there is a darker side of entrepreneurship that we rarely talk about. Building a business is a high-risk high-reward endeavor, filled with stress, conflict, anxiety, depression and often isolation. Even the most successful entrepreneurs can hide personal failures behind the facade of financial success. After learning this lesson the hard way from my own experiences, I set out to redefine the measures of entrepreneurial success and redesign a beautifully balanced life.
My entrepreneurial journey started about 20 years ago, when I set in motion a plan for my future. It went something like this: quit my job, start my own consulting firm, make tons of money, sell the business and live a fabulous life. A simple five phase plan, but it had one major flaw. I had filled in every detail of the plan but failed to define what a fabulous life looks like to me.
It wasn’t until I was in the final phase of the master plan that I realized this oversight. I was quickly approaching fifty, and by all outside standards the plan for my life was a success. Then I got a call from my wife while I was out of town on business “I filed for divorce today, emptied the bank accounts, you should stay at the lake house when you get back”. My dumbfounded response “OK”. My marriage of 22 years had failed. I didn’t realize the collateral damage caused by my intense focus on the master plan until I was on the stand in divorce court. I was being interrogated by some Harvard lawyer with a stack of bank statements walking me through some crazy common core math in an attempt to establish an inflated income amount for alimony. I walked out of the courtroom with a five-figure monthly alimony payment, a new single dad life, and still a business to run. That was the moment I dropped the first of many F-words that would change my life.
I spent the first few nights alone in an empty apartment with a bottle of bourbon, binge watching Brene Brown talks, feeling sorry for myself, a victim of my own success. But when I got over my vulnerability hangover, I began analyzing what went wrong. I was now faced with the challenge to rebuild my life, my family, and my business. I had spent the last 20 years measuring and modeling risk adjusted profitability analytics for some of the largest banks in the world. I was an expert at quantifying what seemed to be unmeasurable, a real numbers nerd. Surely, these skills were transferable to solve my little math problem. I was confident that I could create a new model for success.
I began by asking the really tough questions of ‘how will I finish my life?’, ‘where was the freedom expected from entrepreneurship?’, ‘Why did my master plan fail?’. and ‘what are the measures in life that matter most?’.
They focused Faith, Family, Friendships, Fortune, and Fitness. A pattern of F-words began to emerge. Given the bitterness of my situation, I let the F-bombs flow into statements that would re-design the second half of my new life. My F-word manifesto became the blueprint for my Future, but it still didn’t provide the answer of why I failed. Like any good management consultant would do with a client, I began quantifying my strengths and weaknesses on each of my F-words, comparing my target state design to actual performance to find my answer.
I concluded that my pursuit of Fortune had robbed the most important relationships in my life of the one thing I could not manufacture, borrow, or steal; time. And throughout my master plan journey, I was trying to solve the void left by my absence in these relationships as a financial problem. Big houses, charitable donations, designer clothes and iPads for the kids, can’t replace time lost. Time is the currency we must invest in great relationships. My master plan problem was no longer a quantitative analysis; it was a lifestyle design problem and my number nerd skills were not applicable. I was out of my element and needed research.
No mid-life crisis that has you searching the internet for lifestyle design is going end well. There is no magical rewind button that was going to transform me into a man-bun millennial, living an ambiguous lifestyle, wandering the Andes in a t-shirt and sandals. I was searching for a life design for the balding middle-age guy, super type A lifestyle, walking down wall street in a suit. I quickly realized that it didn’t exist.
What I did find are the design principles used by artists, architects, developers and designers to create things of beauty. And that is what I wanted for my second half of life, a beautiful life filled with the emotions, moments, and memories that would leave a legacy to those I love. Like a gallery masterpiece, the iPhone, or a great art deco building, I wanted a lasting beauty in the design of my life that left a legacy for years after I am gone. So, I began merging my F-word manifesto into the design principles that I would use to paint my Future picture.
I learned that great design uses Lines, Shapes and Forms as the focal point, and for me these were my Faith, Family, Friendships, Fortune, and Fitness. I created a list of questions to ask daily to keep me on my path.
- Faith – Am I confident my actions reflect my character, my morals, and my beliefs?
- Family – Does my love show through life’s busyness with every opportunity?
- Friendships – Am I showing up for those I choose to do life with?
- Fitness – Am I compromising my mental or physical health for convenience?
- Fortune – Am I measuring the richness of life beyond financial terms?
The canvas of my future life design needed plenty of Space, because the Freedom I desired would only be found in the margins of white space purposely absent. I needed to put myself in close Proximity to the Forums of my mentors, advisors and hero’s for learning and inspiration. And I was committed to be a part of the Hierarchy that passes those learnings onto the lives of those who Follow in my footsteps.
- Freedom – Freedom only comes with intentional margin
- Forums – The communities of mentors, advisors, and hero’s that guide my life
- Followers – The lives I invest in to leave a lasting legacy
I needed a fresh Perspective of the word Failure by recognizing the opportunity failure provides to reimagine success. My future picture should show Unity and Harmony by bringing my Fears and Finances into alignment towards a unified planned purpose.
- Failure – The opportunity to reimagine success
- Fears – Rational fears should motivate the right actions
- Finances – Not a measure for success, but a means to achieve it
We are never sure of the time we are given on earth, so I needed changes to happen Fast but also Flow naturally with the Rhythm and tempo of my life. My design required the Repetition of great habits that that would build a great life, executed with both Frequency and Flexibility.
- Fast – Move with a sense of urgency, time is short
- Flow – The continuous persistence to find a way
- Frequency – Great habits build great lives
- Flexibility – The openness to move around the rigid edges of life
The Size and Scale of my life’s journey would only be realized by the Intensity found with Focus and the Fortitude to stay the course, avoiding the Fixation on beliefs that do not serve me well.
- Focus – Focus on the things that matter most and eliminate distractions
- Fortitude – Find the fortitude to maintain a purposeful intensity
- Fixations – Avoid fixations on beliefs that do not serve me well
Life is filled with Contrasts that provide little Balance or middle ground. To overcome I had to choose the Dominance that best served my life’s purpose. For me, that was creating the discipline to make decisions based on Facts not Fallacies, to be Frugal not Frivolous, be Focused in the moment and not Fragment my attention, and to live my life in Faith not Fear.
- Facts not Fallacies – Make decisions based on facts, not fallacies or assumptions
- Frugal not Frivolous – Protect the resources of time, money, and trust
- Focused not Fragmented – Be present in this moment, it only happens once
- Faith not Fear – One of these will control your life, choose wisely
Finally, my life’s design became clearer, but it lacked the Colors, Textures, and Patterns that truly make any work of art beautiful. Life is easy when you are operating in monochrome colors that blend easily with the crowd. I challenged myself to break out of my comfort zone, to be Fiery, Frisky, and Fearless because life is short, and it is the only one you get. I decided that mediocrity was miserable, and to do everything in life with Flair and Finesse, because excellence is a choice. I would be Festive, celebrating each of life’s little victories with gratitude for every new day.
- Be Fiery, Frisky, and Fearless because life is short and it’s the only one you will get.
- Do everything with Flair and Finesse, excellence is a choice.
- Be Festive and celebrate life’s victories, with gratitude for each new day.
The biggest lesson I learned by mastering the F-words for my life’s design was to allow myself to Feel all of my Feelings, in truth and transparency. And, I learned the best color to paint my future picture was the color of Forgiveness, only then could I hang my masterpiece for the world to see.
In the time we have spent here today 15 more businesses have shut down. What if the narrative on those Failures changed from leaders failing to build a successful business to businesses that failed to build a better life? What if half of those shutdowns were considered successes, if only because they were necessary for building a beautifully balanced life? When we define success solely in financial terms like sales, growth and profit, we set ourselves up for ultimate failure. We all should put the same passion for design, creativity, and innovation into our personal life as we do our products, programs, and professions.
My passion and prayer for you is whether you are twenty-five or fifty-five, there is always space left on the canvas of your life. I hope you scream F-words at it until it conforms to the beautiful masterpiece you desire, and it leaves a lasting legacy to those you love.