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February 7, 2018

Escaping My Self Made Prison: Choosing Happiness over “Success”

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My father was my best friend. After he unexpectedly died, taking over our family business was a no brainer for me. For over 20 years, I ran the business with my brother and sister through decades of fantastic growth.

The business provided a nice lifestyle for many families. I loved learning about being a leader and how to create a  positive culture. My dad would have been proud. Like him, the business defined me. I was the face of the business, and it was my identity. For over 15 years, I enjoyed the fast pace and my ability to create a successful team while adapting to a changing industry. It snuck up on me, but little by little, I became less energized. The business started to feel heavy and less exciting.

I began to question myself. I had a successful business, a great wife and kids, and a nice house. Yet I felt that something was missing in my life. I tried many things to get more energized. I hired new people, changed my role to be more strategic, and expanded our product offerings. None of these changes yielded more vitality.I didn’t know what to do next. A friend recommended that I attend a Conscious Leadership retreat. In that first weekend, I recognized that I was blaming others (siblings, employees) for my own unhappiness at work and in my life. I was frustrated, and I believed that they needed to change before I could be happy.

As I continued to spend time in the Conscious Leadership program, I got feedback that I had created a prison at work that prevented me from being happy. At first, I was defensive and angry. Over time, I was able to own the truth of the wisdom in that feedback. I realized that I wasn’t focused on what I wanted. To discover my wants, I would need to let go of a lot of “shoulds”:  

  • I should run the business the rest of my life.
  • I should take care of my siblings and employees because they couldn’t succeed without me. It’s what my dad would have wanted me to do.
  • I should stay as CEO because it continued my dad’s legacy.

It took a few years to release my attachment to living a life of shoulds. I made the decision to let happiness guide my decisions. I initially felt guilty and judged myself as selfish. What would my siblings and employees think of me?

As I let go of the guilt and judgement, I let myself get excited about what my next career might be. What kind of life did I want to create? With happiness as my focus, my wants emerged:

  • I wanted a career that where I would have deeper connections with others and impact their lives.
  • I wanted to find more joy, passion and creativity.  

As I started to tell my story with friends and customers, they reported similar experiences. I shared what I was learning from the Conscious Leadership Group. The same tools that were helping me supported them. It felt good to help others. I began to get excited again. It was then that I realized that being an executive coach was my path to finding what was missing. I was so excited that it propelled me to leave the business and let go of all of the shoulds that were holding me back from realizing my dreams.

I now help executives fill what is missing from their lives. For some, it means creating a new role within their company that best uses their talents. For others, it may mean changing careers. Since I’ve been down this path, my experience and support help them get what they most want in their lives. Some of my friends are thinking about retirement. Not me. I’m thinking that I could do this work forever.

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