About Ben Sands

Ben Sands is an author, coach, and founder of Regret Free Life. He writes about careers, money, leadership and how to make decisions you won't regret.

Memorial Day tribute: A reason to live, a reason to die

Memorial Day.

A day to remember.

To remember that our freedom came at a price.

To remember that that we enjoy our liberty because of the friends and strangers who decided our freedom and liberty was worth dying for.

Remember.

Remember our fallen friends and strangers; and remember that they lived their life with a conviction that they had something to die for.

What about you?

In what do you believe so strongly that you’d be willing to die for it?

If you don’t know, that’s OK – but it’s time to figure it out.  Can you really live, without a reason to die?

Remember.

And as you remember those fallen friends and strangers, ask yourself: how will friends and strangers remember me?

**************************************

To all the fallen friends and strangers who have made my life the blessing that it is: thank you.

Advertisements

Cut the crap, ING: The problem of measuring success with a “number”

What’s your number?

Not too long ago there was an ING Bank commercial in which people carried around with them a large-to-very-large orange number – representing the “money they need to retire.”

Cut the crap, ING.  You’re making our lives harder than they should be.

Over the last few weeks I’ve spoken with dozens of really smart guys and gals – all of whom have both the desire and the capability to live an “extraordinary” life. They are full of energy – a desire to change their life, and the lives of those around them, for the better. Amen! But, as I dig deeper, I see the problem: they want extraordinary if, and only if, it’s guaranteed.  They need to know that they can still hit their “number.”

******

What is the “number” anyway?

Literally, your “number” is how much money you think you’ll need to retire and preserve a quality of life that you aspire to. Figuratively, your “number” has much more meaning: it symbolizes comfort, security and the certainty – that you will be free of money-related pain forever. Just as importantly, for many it symbolizes a “winning score” – a testament to how well you’ll have done in the game of life.

Back when I was a corporate sales executive, my colleagues and I used to joke that “you are your number” – implying that the measure of you as a person is proportionate to how close – or how far away – you are from your sales quota.

That sounds crazy, right?

I agree – it is – but it’s shockingly pervasive; as I sit down with the lawyers, consultants and Congressional staffers who tell me that they not “quite-ready-to-do-the-thing-I-want-to-do” it hits me: they all believe it too.

Here’s the deal: it’s not true.  You are not your number; unless, of course, you want to be.  My advice: measure your success another way.

Below, some smart 30-something’s advice on how to measure success.  Before we get to that, of course, here’s my two-cents: 

1. Success is not about being the first of your friends to retire

Retirement is my nightmare. It should scare you too. My dad recently helped me to understand this.

Now 73 years young, my father’s has been a heart doctor for over 40 years. When a change in hospital policy forced him to retire about a year ago, he spent 3 months fishing, golfing and traveling…and then decided to go back to work. Why?  Because he loves being a doctor.  As he shared with me, no amount of fishing could bring him the same level of satisfaction he felt in making the sick, well; and in sharing with a new generation of doctors the decades of real-world clinical experience that he has acquired, and they need.

All I know is that I want to love my job so much that I never want to stop doing it. Retirement, as author Tim Ferris (The 4 Hour Work Week) likes to say, is the “worst-case scenario” – based upon the assumption that you dislike what you have been doing (work-wise) for most of your adult life.  That is a losing life strategy.

2. Don’t use the cost of your child’s future education as an excuse for not living your life today

A lot of people will defend their pursuit of the “number” as a necessary evil – something they need to do to “provide for their children;” to give them an opportunity to grow up in conditions as good, if not better, than what they grew up with.

Admirable, certainly; but at what cost?

The most expensive piece of this “promise” is education.  In DC, New York, San Fran – and other metropolitan areas where sending your kid to public school has become tantamount to neglect, private school has become the standard. Unfortunately, according to the Council for American Private Education, the average cost of tuition in a K-12 private school is $10, 045.  And that’s the average.  The most expensive?  Lawrence Academy in Groton, CT – $50,325/year. No shit.

So, conservatively, 13 years (K-12) of private education will cost the average family $140,000/child.  College? Another $160K on top of that. All in, over $300,000.  The question is: to what end?

The end, of course, is to “advantage” our children – to “give them every opportunity to succeed.”  But what makes me “Tabasco sauce ill,” is the idea that young men and women are postponing their pursuit of dreams – because they worry they won’t be able to afford their child’s college bill in 20 years…   Guess what?  You probably won’t; even if you do work like a dog for the next two decades.

And, even if you can afford it, what have you really given your children?  You’ve given your them your money, but given someone else your time.  Another losing life strategy.

Measure your success as a parent not by the size of your son or daughter’s debt, but by the size of their character instead.

3. Your life is not a series of boxes to be checked.  Measure success by a new standard: vitality.

See if this sounds familiar…

  • do well in school
  • be a good athlete
  • volunteer
  • get into the “right” college
  • find a good job (nice title and health insurance required)
  • go to a top law/biz/grad school
  • work for the “right” firm/company
  • marry  
  • breed beautiful children
  • make sure that your kids can repeat the cycle…

Do you recognize this person?  I bet you do.  Question – is the person you hope to be; or the person you used to be?  For me, it’s the latter.

This life described above is a story of maturation… The problem, however, with this roadmap is that it leaves little room for vitality – excitement, zest, adventure, curiosity – to exist. For my 20 and 30-something friends, this age is our first great battleground – a critical first test: can we grow older and wiser, without losing steam? Our decisions today – to choose maturity, vitality, or some mixture of both – will have great impact on the long-term trajectory of our lives.

One of my favorite modern day philosophers, John Gardner, uses a wonderful metaphor to brings this point to life: “The barnacle” Gardner writes “is confronted with an existential decision about where it’s going to live.  Once it decides…it spends the rest of its life with its head cemented to a rock. For a good many [young men and women], it comes to that.”

Needless to say, you are better than that; aren’t you?

Below, some additional insights on success – and how to measure it – from a few of my many smart, 30-something friends:

  1. When it comes to success, keep your perspective. One of the best decisions I made after college was to move abroad and learn the world from a different point of view.  Seeing the world through a different lens taught me a lot about myself –  and what really matters.  That perspective still keeps me grounded; and makes bad days more bearable and good days more sweet.
  2. Don’t focus too much on only what you can “measure” – grades, money, weight – for it’s the softer stuff that really counts.
  3. Know why you are working and what you are working for. For too long I followed someone else’s plan; enduring an uninspiring, albeit well-paid, job because others before me had done the same. Know why you are working; your job/career is a means to what end?  Is it to meet a financial goal, personal achievement, what?  Outside of vocations such as artists, doctors and priests, most of us pursue careers that only provide financial rewards.  To be truly great; you need to be driven by something other than money.
  4. Success takes time and is comprised of difficult experiences.  On the pendulum of life, you may spend more time grinding it out than reveling in your success.  Find your happiness in the good days and the bad. Though not always easily quantified, it’s the measure that counts most in the end.
  5. To quote the ever-wise Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could just miss it.”  Spend your time wisely.

Clinton. Branson. Bono. Jobs. What we can learn from extraordinary lives…

Holy smokes.

A new Associated Press study found that 1.5 million – give or take 53% — of all bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 were jobless or underemployed last year.

When I shared that statistic with some super-smart 2010 Georgetown graduates they didn’t blink: in fact, they had just learned that over 20% of their class – GEORGETOWN GRADS! – were out of work today.  Given an average Georgetown class size of roughly 1,800 – and an average price tag of $40,000/year –  $160,000 all-in – that’s over $57 million worth of talent (1800 x .2 x 160,000) currently on the sidelines – from Georgetown alone.

Holy smokes.

But forget the money.  Anyone who has been following my young blog will recognize the real cost here: 1.5 million young people lacking a constructive way to meet their fundamental needs: certainty, significance, love, growth…

Next week I will offer a step-by-step plan for finding, and securing, a “Dream” job. Before I get to that, though, first a roadmap to securing something far more important – and compelling – an extraordinary life.

4+ years in Aspen and Nantucket taught me this: extraordinary and successful are not the same thing.  Yes, 100% of extraordinary people are successful, but not all successful people are extraordinary.  The difference is the feeling that they create in those around them.

Take, for example, former President Bill Clinton – one of Georgetown’s most famous (and currently employed) graduates.  While tending bar at the Aspen’s St Regis Hotel, I had the unique opportunity to see and serve Clinton during his yearly pilgrimage to Aspen for the Fortune Magazine “Brainstorm” conference. Everyone, myself included, had the same reaction to their first meeting with the former president: that guy is charming.  But dig deeper however, and what we were really commenting on was not Clinton’s charm – but the way he made us feel.  Men and women, regardless of their politics, all leave their interactions with Clinton feeling amazing – not about the former President, but about themselves.

So, job seekers – and others who might be ready for a change – how do we recreate Clinton’s magic in our own lives? Is there a playbook for living an extraordinary life?  The short answer: yes.

The 4 Elements of Extraordinary

Clinton, Jobs, Branson, Bono, Gandhi, King, the Dali Lama…7 of the over 30 “extraordinary” men and women I’ve studied and subsequently tested this framework on.  While there are things that make each one of these individuals unique – they’ve all taken much the same path to getting there.  They have, what I call, the 4 Elements of Extraordinary:

  1. They have a clear and compelling purpose; a great reason for getting out of bed in the morning.
  2. That clear and compelling purpose gives them the motivation to work hard at and, ultimately, achieve excellence at creating value in the world.
  3. The value they create affords them comfort – the ability to inevitably meet their material needs
  4. With material needs met, they enjoy freedom – the ability to live every day according to their life’s purpose.

The Twitter version: Purpose = Excellence = Comfort = Freedom.

So far, so good?  Then what, job seekers, does this mean for you?

What it means is that the job comes second, purpose comes first. Extraordinary lives begin and end with a clear and compelling purpose.  Extraordinary jobs begin and end in the same spot as well.

Pop-quiz:

How many of you reading this can’t articulate the purpose of your life?

Answer: most of you.

Now, how many of you are OK with that?

Answer: none of you.

Why not?

Answer: because to work as hard as you do without a clear idea of what you are working for, or towards, would be irrational…and ‘irrational’ that is the last adjective you would use to describe yourself, isn’t it?

Answer: yes.

Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christenson agrees, lamenting in a terrific Harvard Business Review article, how few of the 900 “best and brightest” that HBS attracts each year could articulate “the purpose their life.” Why would you spend both the time and money to attend HBS, if you don’t know exactly why you are there?

My advice to both job seekers, and job holders alike: take time today (right now!) to put down, on paper, the purpose of your life. Don’t worry if it stinks.  Just write it; I promise it will get better with age.

If you want a simple template, click here to use my Purpose Statement “Mad Lib.”

Go, now, and define the purpose of your extraordinary life. Don’t be afraid of it.  Don’t worry that you’ve already gone to law school – or dental school – or circus school – your path is not set in stone; your story is still being written.

I am serious about this.  If you are too, send your first draft purpose statement to me at: ben@regretfreelife.net. I promise to get back to you within 72 hours with some ideas on how to refine and strengthen it.

In exchange for showing me yours, I’ll conclude by showing you mine:

Ben Sands | Purpose Statement

I aspire to live an extraordinary life; using my strengths and gifts to make the world a better place. The purpose of my life is to educate and empower others; helping them to come to know their extraordinary potential and apply it to create a happier, healthier and more peaceful world.

I drank 16 ounces of Tabasco Sauce so you won’t have to…

Building self-awareness is rarely a pleasant experience.

For the lucky, the process is marked by some discomfort; for those less fortunate, it could be described as pure hell. I’d compare my experience to drinking 16 ounces of Tabasco sauce. I say this with confidence…because that’s exactly what I did.

I was 21 years old and traveling, with some college buddies, through Colorado on a winter ski trip.  Short of cash towards the end of the trip, I casually suggested to a friend over dinner that “some” amount of money might entice me to drink the large bottle of Tabasco sitting in the middle of our table.  To my surprise – and subsequent horror – my friend called my bluff. 

This ski trip was one we had been planning for a while: 7 guys, 7 days of skiing in Colorado.  In search of “free” beds, we’d spent the first few days in Vail at the home of one friend, then moved on to Aspen to crash at the home of another.  Despite the cheap lodging, the skiing (and the drinking that accompanied it) was expensive.  And by the last night, I was down to my final $100.  I had just enough for dinner that night and a lift ticket the next day, and a credit card to cover the final costs of getting home…not great planning.  So, needless to say, when the 20 dollar bills started flying in – from both my friends as well as from the small crowd that was gathered around the table – the reality quickly set in: I was going to do this. 

For some, chugging 16 ounces of Tabasco might not seem like a big deal.  I however, was being asked to stare down some serious demons that night…  When I was a precocious 10 year old, my mother had effectively used Tabasco to quickly break me of my appetite for certain “four-letter” words…just a drop on the tongue for each swear did the trick. Ever since, I could hardly stand the smell, not to mention the taste, of the stuff.

I know, I was asking the same question you are right now: Why the hell would I ever volunteer for something like this?  More on that in a moment. But first, back to the story…

Committed now – $170 on the table and an audience of 20 surrounding it – I took the bottle and popped off the small plastic safety top (in place, specifically to prevent over-consumption) and poured it slowly into an empty pint glass (provided by the bartender who, incidentally, had also tossed in $10).  I held the glass up – agonizing over what I was about to do – and somehow came to lock eyes with an old ski bum sitting at the bar.   With a big smile he suggested that it was “just a big glass of V-8…” Well, that seemed good enough for me and, before I knew it, I was bottoms up.

I had 2 minutes to finish the glass, but I knew that if it took me any longer than 5 seconds, I wouldn’t have a chance… As it turned out, it took me only 2.  And, for a moment, I thought I was going to be OK.  The bar did too. It erupted with delight…cheering, fist-pumping, back-slapping…and then, the party came to a screeching halt.  My body erupted in violent protest – every pore opening up to scream in unison.  My face, I was told, turned a deep burnt orange, my eyes streamed, my nose ran and the cheers of delight turned quickly to anxious words of encouragement… “Hang on, Ben!” “Hold it down!” and finally “Hold the door – he’s got to get out of here!”

So, back to the question: what the hell was I thinking? Why would an otherwise reasonable and rational twenty-something do something like this? Where do “bad” decisions like this even come from?

Everyone’s got a different definition of “bad” decision.  Mine: any decision that ends with you vomiting liquid fire on the snowy streets of downtown Aspen.  But what does this have to do with our search for self-awareness?

Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century intellectual, believed that human beings always acted in their own self-interest – we do things that maximize the value (or “utility”) we receive. Based upon my limited understanding of why people do what they do, I would agree.  Self-awareness, is different.  It comes before self-interest. It is our ability to know what we value, by how much, and why.

What I learned the night of the Tabasco Challenge is that I didn’t know myself as well as I thought I did.  To the independent observer, I either over-estimated the value of such a stunt (the money + the significance) or I under-estimated the cost (the physical pain).  My take: I did both.  I clearly didn’t know myself as well as I thought I did.

While this is an extreme example, everyone has swallowed their own metaphorical Tabasco… We’ve spent good years in jobs that never catalyzed our career as we hoped they would.  We’ve gone to (and paid for) graduate degrees that we never really used. We’ve moved across the country to invest in a relationship that never panned out.  And the list goes on… Fortunately, assuming we live through them (which I did; barely) we grow through these experiences.  We make decisions – some good, some bad – and do our best to learn from each. We integrate this data into our understanding of who we are and what we want, and drive our self-awareness in the process.

So, what’s the lesson here?  The lesson, is that this process is taking us too long. The sooner we elevate the level of self-awareness in our lives, the less likely we are to willingly drink fire from a bottle.

Of course, it’s not surprising that it takes so long. Like my experience, self-awareness can be painful; and therefore not something that many 20 and 30-somethings run to.  For many, it is far easier to simply “go with the flow;” carried along by the external forces in our lives and never really asking ourselves: Is this really who I am?  Is this really what I want? We engage in optimistic denial – believing that we will, eventually, “figure it all out” for the best.

But be warned: as any mid-life crisis will illustrate, this kind of naïvete comes at a price. It is far easier to this hard work today, rather than put it off for the moment in the future when you will have more time, more money and more space to do the thinking required.

Not sure where to start?  Here’s a few ideas to get your going…

Regret Free Life Strategy | Building Self-Awareness

1. Put yourself in a position for good things to happen.  What do you love?  What do you do best?  What kinds of environments do you thrive in?  What kinds of environments have led to the greatest joys in your life?  Ask yourself these questions and try to recreate these experiences. Learn from your success in the past and put yourself in a position to experience that feeling again.  For example, absent a clear calling to a particular job or industry, pick you city first instead; a place where the culture most accurately reflects the person you want to be and the life you want to live.

2. Meet your “best self.”  When faced with decisions large and small, a close friend always asks himself: “what would my ‘best self’ do in this situation?”  What does your ‘best’ self look like?  How do they handle conflict, difficulties, stress, victory…  If you’re having trouble envisioning this best self, think about your favorite movie or literary characters; how would they react in this situation? Personally, I’ve always admired the Dalai Lama…and, when I get frustrated or angry, I remember his focus on treating everyone with tolerance and compassion. It helps. [Full disclosure: I also find myself channeling my inner James Bond, Indiana Jones and Rocky Balboa when I need to].

3. Ask for help.  True self-awareness and understanding is nearly impossible to achieve by oneself; especially if we are aspiring to expedite the process. Employ friends, bosses, mentors and coaches to help you better understand what you do and why.  Why does Tiger Woods, for example, the best golfer in the world, have a swing coach?  Because he can’t see his own swing…  The same applies for your life.  Funny, smart young men and women often tell me that they had to overcome a deep insecurity to come and work with me…as if they were too “weak” to do it on their own.  Bullshit.  It shows strength, clarity of purpose and conviction to know what you want and reach out to people who can help you get there.

Commercial plug: This is exactly what I do.  If you want some help getting started, send me a note and we’ll do a free “life strategy” review and kick start this self-awareness process.  This stuff is tough; but it gets easier when you have the benefit of seeing, hearing and understanding how other people – just like you – got through it.

As always, below, a few more great words of wisdom from some other smart 30-somethings…

  1. Know who you want to be, and who you want others to see you being. Being grounded in that will allow you to hear the opportunities that come at you every day. You may think that you need to keep full focus on the goal you have of getting a certain job or making a certain amount of money. What helps you get there is: knowing your values, empathy for others, saying yes to opportunities that will help you grow personally and professionally.
  2. We all have different destinations and therefore different ways of getting from “here” to “there.”  Don’t be bullied into thinking that your destination or journey is the same as others. 
  3. Remember that everyone is human – complete with strengths and weaknesses.  No matter how successful, experienced, rich, good-looking someone may be, we are all subject to insecurities and frailties.
  4. Run to feedback; in both your personal and professional lives
  5. Know yourself well—be aware of what is important to you as person, and as a member of society. If you follow your dreams and remain true to yourself—you will be a better citizen and you will be capable of giving back to others at a higher level.
  6. When surrounded by the 99.9th percentile don’t lose perspective of how blessed you are and let that make you feel insignificant or insecure.
  7. Trust your instincts.  Emotions will steer you wrong, but your instincts rarely do.  Most people ignore their instincts and follow the status quo.
  8. Your 20s are for figuring things out. Try things out, and don’t make the mistake of thinking that whatever choice you make sets you on a path that stretches out in front of you in some unalterable way. If you’ve got a good education and you are genuine about the search, it’s easy enough to start out doing one thing, find it doesn’t suit you, and switch to something else.
  9. Follow your heart—it is a cliché but there are not words to replace the saying. We spend enough time dealing with the daily grind—if you play at work, you will love more days.
  10. At the end of every day ask yourself: ‘what did I do well today?’ This simple practice keeps you focused on growth, as well as how to enjoy both what you have, and where you are in your life, today.
  11. Stay true to yourself, but push the boundaries.  You spend the early part of your life following certain unwritten rules and patterns set by your family and friends.  It a great time to try things, succeed, fail, and develop your own set of beliefs. To borrow a NASCAR phrase, you’ve got to “rub up against the wall.”
  12. Build good habits when you’re young, because they’re harder to change when you’re old.  Spend time in your early professional career making time for workouts and a healthy lifestyle.  That only becomes more challenging as life gets more demanding.

What did we miss?  Share your stories – or lesson learned – about building self-awareness below.

About Regret Free Life | We educate and empower smart 20 and 30-somethings to live the life they imagined.  We offer coaching, workshops and seminars for individuals and organizations – all in an effort to help them align who they are and what they want with what they do. Click here for more information.

Beauty, The Bachelorette…and other challenges to finding your next great love

At 25, I knew far less than I thought I did about dating and relationships. This news will not come as a surprise to many of the young women I dated in my 20s.

Neither will it be a surprise that in the context of a discussion of a “regret free” life, the subject of bad dates/relationships inevitably bubbles up.

“I stayed in that relationship too long…”  “I wish I had the nerve to ask her out…”  “And that was the last time I drank tequila after midnight…”

Despite the risk of regret, we press on in pursuit of that next great love.  The reason being: great romantic relationships are the foundation of an extraordinary life.  They are one dimension of our life through which we have the ability to meet all of our basic human needs – Certainty, Excitement, Significance, Connection, Growth and Contribution – at a very high, sustained, level.

Reality TV: A modern day, bastardized Grant Study. One way to find love in your 20s…I just wouldn’t recommend it.

To this point, one of my favorite pieces of research is the “Grant Study” – a longitudinal study following the lives of 268 Harvard undergrads from the early 1940s.  These kids were the “best of the best” – considered superlative in every way.  [Though most participants remained anonymous, it was revealed, following his death, that John F. Kennedy was a “Grant man.”] For 70 years, researchers tracked every aspect of these lives – physical, emotional, spiritual – through regular surveys and interviews. Finally, in 2008, the lead researcher declared that the only difference between the lives of the very sad and the very successful, was the quality of their relationships with other people.

The opposite of a quality relationship is a tactical relationship – e.g. when a relationship (or the avoidance of relationship) is used tactically, to fill a gap/plug a hole in your life.  Regret is inevitable in this situation – you end up getting hurt, or hurting someone else.   Three common examples of this phenomenon that I hear from my coaching clients:

  1. One Night Stands: Quick shot of Significance (I got picked up at a bar!), Excitement (I didn’t even know his name!) and Connection (physical, nothing more).  But what do you feel the next morning? Anger (I can’t believe I just did that…), Indecision (is he going to call?), Embarrassment (I am better than that) and, paradoxically, a heightened sense of Loneliness.
  2. I Only Date “Beautiful” People: If you can find one who will have you, Significance (Yup, she’s with me!), Certainty (my work may be unfulfilling, but I’m still dating the prettiest girl in the bar…) and Connection (text message from your friend: we’ve got to hang out! I want to hear stories!) may follow.  But what happens a few weeks later, following your 5th or 6th uninspired dinner conversation? Boredom, Embarrassment and, as above, the heightened sense of Loneliness you feel just before you break things off.
  3. No Dating:  To some, nothing brings a greater sense of Certainty than staying in on a Friday night without a date. Significance is easy to find too – you’ve got too much work to have a relationship, right?  “No time for love right now.”  (My Capitol Hill friends have seen this a time or two).  And, paradoxically, this self-imposed celibacy can be a great source of Connection, as well.  How?  When you go to bed at night thinking about how badly you would like to have someone in your life, you are connecting with yourself at a frighteningly deep level.  The alternative? A relationship that blows your hair back…waking up every day with next to a person you can’t imagine life without: Certainty, Connection, Significance at levels you’ve never experienced before…

A great relationship can – and will – blow your hair back; psychologically speaking: it can and will meet all of your needs at a high level. The key to finding one is to attract a variety of people to you, and then choose a romantic partner who aligns – at the intellectual, spiritual, emotional and physical levels – with who you are and what you want (Note: This is another manifestation of Regret Free Life decision-making; success presupposes that you know who you are and what you want).

Below, a couple of practical, Regret Free ideas on how to apply this in practice.

  1. Have a good bar pitch. Nobody meets in a bar, right?  No – that’s what guys and girls who are too afraid to approach members of the opposite sex tell themselves after coming home empty handed 5 hours, $50 bucks and 10 Miller Lites/ 5 RBVs later. That said, the initial “Hey, my name’s…” can take a little courage so when you finally get her attention, you’ve got to make it count.  The key is a good “bar pitch.” The bar pitch is your story, your vision, of the world you want to live in.  It’s an introduction to you and an invitation to join you – on the extraordinary life you aspire to lead. It has to be a clear, sincere, and compelling reflection of who you are and what you want.  It won’t appeal to every guy or girl you meet – if it does it’s not unique enough – but the more people you meet, the more likely you will be to find someone who shares, and complements, that vision.
  2. Have a great first date.  You need a “go-to” first date.  A great time that reinforces your bar pitch; giving your date further visibility into the kind of person you are, and the kind of life you want to lead.  Forget dinner and a movie.  All that tells her is that you lack the creativity and energy to 1) come up with an original/authentic first date and 2) maintain an engaging discussion for the balance of the date.  You need a first date that highlights who you are and the things you most like to do – and do well.  It’s not about showing off; it’s about letting them see your “best self.”  Again, if this image is clear and compelling, you will find someone who shares and complements it.  Note: this advice is as much for gals as for guys.
  3. Have a “first love.”  In my 20s I used to tell friends that I fully expected “lightning to strike” – in other words, the woman of my dreams would enter my life like a lightning bolt; I would know immediately that she was “the one.”  And, as it turned out, that’s exactly what happened – but it was for me, not for her.  My future wife wouldn’t give me the time of day for 3 months!  When we did finally start dating I realized why – she had a million other things going on in her life: other passions, hobbies and interests that she prioritized at the same level as her romantic relationships.  I was hooked from the start. As a general rule, if you want to find a lasting and rewarding romantic love, you have to love something else first. It doesn’t matter what it is – running, reading, painting, stamp collecting, whatever.  The benchmark: something that you would do whether you have a boyfriend/girlfriend or not; something that you do enough to do well.  If you are reading this right now and saying to yourself: “I don’t really have a ‘first love’…” then consider this a warning.  Find one.  And then allow yourself enough time to pursue, and get good at, it.

The presence of this “first love” creates a foundation for two critical components of any long and happy relationships:

  • Shared activity. Any relationship that is going to meet your needs over time requires it (meeting needs of Excitement, Growth and Connection, among others).  A good example: One of my favorite things is whitewater kayaking – a popular sport here in DC.  My wife (girlfriend at the time) saw my enthusiasm for it and decided to give it a try.  She took a lesson, and when I came back a couple hours later I found her soaking wet…but smiling ear-to-ear. I loved her that little bit more that day.
  • A precedent for adventure. The shared activity you ultimately settle on needn’t be your “first love” or hers.  Most important is that you establish, as a foundation of the relationship, that you will have the kind of adventure / excitement in your life as a couple, as you did as single people. Sarah and I finished our SCUBA certification recently and are making plans for a kite-surfing camp this summer. These are two passions that we didn’t have before we met, but are pursuing together.  The relationship gets stronger with each new adventure.

As always, here’s a few perspectives from some smart 30-somethings on dating /relationships in your 20s…

  1. “Playing the game” is bullshit.  Approaching situations honestly and transparently is [almost always] the best option. In business and love – make known what you are trying to achieve. The opposition knows anyway.  [Note: my wife disagrees with this advice!]
  2. Find a partner that is more than just “fun.”  We all want somebody who is going to be there when we lose a job, when our parents die, when life throws us curve balls.  If the person you are dating isn’t capable of being there for you in those times, cut them loose.
  3. Don’t get married or have children till your later twenties at the earliest.
  4. Unless you’re going to get married, don’t get involved in personal relationships at the office
  5. Do not invest in relationships that have no future.  For most people, your dating life is about finding a mate.  We all know when the person we’re dating is not “the one.” Stay friends and move on.
  6. An old rancher once told me, “Never tighten a wire gate so tight that your wife can’t open it.”
Commercial plug: If you read this and are now thinking, “easier said than done” – send me a note and we can set up a free “Life Strategy Review.”  This stuff isn’t hard, but it’s not always intuitive. I do get paid for this, but the first session is always free. I look forward to hearing from you.

$2 PBR & Free Hotdogs…the secret to making and keeping money in your 20s

Here’s the deal: Money can’t buy you happiness, but being “broke” is tough.  At least it was for me. At 23, living in New York, my after-tax pay was $1600/month.  My rent at the time was $1300/month…so that left $300 for everything else. $300. In New York City. Are you kidding me? My monthly allocation for food, booze, clothes, subway fare and everything else was the amount of money that others would drop on a bar tab on a big Saturday night.  Mine was the kind of discretionary cash position that forced one to find the bars that served free hotdogs along with $2 PBRs… (Note: if anyone reading this is similarly cash-strapped today, our old “go-to” is still there: Rudy’s at 44th & 9th Avenue in NYC.  The hotdogs are still free and I hear they upgraded to Hebrew Nationals.)

When I felt particularly down, I remember wanting to “buckle down,”  and “crush it at work.” For me, that desire to work hard came from a belief that hard work = money = higher quality of life. (Note: in psychology, they call this the “Crazy 8’s” – when you swing from sad/sorry-for-yourself to angry/motivated, and back again.)

It wasn’t until my older brother sent me a short, simple book on personal finance that I learned the difference between making money and keeping money; between buying liabilities that depreciate in value and assets that appreciate; between working for your money and having your money work for you. It was a life-changing read and helped me to realize how important it would be to close the gap between what I knew about money – and what I needed to know.

Here’s a few of the most important lessons that I learned:

REGRET FREE ADVICE | MONEY IN YOUR 20s

1.    Give the study of money the same respect you do your profession. Invest time in becoming financially “literate.”  Do not abdicate responsibility for your finances to “experts” – NO ONE will care for, or care about, your money as much as you do.

Too many people get simply overwhelmed by all of the investment options out there so they stick their money in a mutual fund and their head in the sand. You are SMART.  You CAN know enough about money to manage your finances effectively in your 20s – and when you make so much money that you need to hire a professional, you’ll be educated enough to be able to ask the right questions and manage them with confidence.

One practical idea for getting started: Read the Wall Street Journal everyday.  Get to the point where you can read and understand every section in the paper.

2.     Figure out how much you really need. One of my favorite books is Daniel Gilbert’s “Stumbling on Happiness.”  Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist, talks about how ineffective we (humans) are at predicting how happy we will be when we achieve certain goals.

Many of my clients come to me exhausted and disenchanted – after working 70-90 hours/per week to achieve a lofty financial goal, they find something is missing once they get there. According to Gilbert, this is common: most people find that they are far less satisfied when they reach a financial milestone, than they expected to be when they set out.  In fact, according to a 2006 study by Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman entitled “Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer?” most people report virtually no increase in “life satisfaction” once your income exceeds $90,000.

The truth is, there is no “easy” way to make $90,000 in your 20s. Banking, sales, consulting, law…all can get you there, but you will work your tail off to do so.  And even if you do make it, you may still feel PBR/free hot dog poor – especially if you’re living in New York, San Fran or London.  The key to a “6-figure” quality of life is the ability to live, work and spend according to your personal needs – not your capricious wants.

3.     Start giving.  In a previous post I mentioned my reading of Titan, a biography on John D. Rockefeller.  One of my most important takeaways from that book was Rockefeller’s habit of giving 10% of his annual income away every year – a practice he began well before he ever made serious money, but which he continued (and exceeded) as he became one of history’s wealthiest men. He believed strongly that if you were in need of something (money, love, forgiveness, etc), you should first look to give it.

John Wooden, the famous UCLA men’s basketball coach put it a different way: “It’s only what you give that you get to keep.”  Start getting into the habit of working to give and create wealth for others…and you’ll find that your own wealth (and happiness) grows in the process.

Below, a few additional pieces of advice from other, smart 30-somethings who were just as broke (and driven) as I was; and learned these lessons the hard way so that you don’t.

1.     Understand what it is to live within your means.  Live life more with less… If you need to pay for something via credit card (non emergency) then that means you cannot afford it. Reset your spending expectations.

2.     If you want the nice things your parents had, you’ll need to make sacrifices today to get there. Doctors, lawyers, investment bankers, etc … all are generally wealthy professions that required significant up front sacrifice and a ton of hard work. Know what you are getting into, and why you are doing it.

3.     You don’t need that much money to live as a single person. Moreover, one can live richly and luxuriously in an environment with a low-cost of living. In Buenos Aires, I indulged on steak and wine for two on a nightly basis at an average cost of $25. Que rica es la vida!

4.     You shouldn’t feel ambivalent about making money,but think twice about doing things that don’t matter to you.

5.     The yellow brick road is not always the best road.  In your 20s you have the ability to take risk that might not be afforded to you as you get older and build a family.  Given that, find an activity/job that truly fascinates you; as opposed to the one that pays the best. This will lead to far more fulfillment in the long run.

6.     Working to travel is a legitimate life choice. When I backpacked around the world, I met many habitual and lifelong travelers. People in their 30’s, 40’s, 60’s – almost all from outside the US. Some of them had jobs that allowed them to check out for long periods of time. Some of them had jobs they didn’t much care for, saved money, then spent a month each year in some far-flung part of the world, living a different life. At times, they shared with me, balancing the desire to travel with the need to work, was a struggle. But at least they had that struggle.

7.     Build good habits when you’re young, because they’re harder to change when you’re old.  Spend time in your early professional career making time for working out, learning about money and leading a healthy lifestyle.  That only becomes more challenging as life gets more demanding.

8.     Don’t focus too much on only what you can “measure” (e.g., grades, money, weight); it’s the softer stuff that really counts.

9.     Keep balance in your life. Leisure (hobbies, spiritual), Health (exercise, eating habits), Business (work), Finances (money mgmt), Family, Friends and Personal (your internal voice). Don’t neglect any of these areas.

10.    Don’t get lulled into thinking that because your friends can afford expensive dinners, trips and bar tabs, you can too.  You most likely can’t.  Keep it up and you will find yourself back to living with your parents sooner or later.

Commercial plug: If you “get” it, but are simply not sure where to start send me a note and we can set up a free Life Strategy Review.  This stuff isn’t complicated, but it’s not easy – and, to be fair to our parents, money management and planning has changed dramatically since they were our age.  In addition, another great source of advice is the website: YoBucko.com.  The founder, Eric Bell, writes thoughtfully on how 20-somethings can set themselves up for long-term financial stability and success.

To Tell a Good Story to a Pretty Girl in a Bar…and other reasons to do what you love

“To tell a good story, to a pretty girl, in a bar…” At 22, that summed up the purpose of my life.

So, I was able to recognize my first “career crisis” in a very tangible way: I came home one night and told a friend, “I’ve got to get a new job; my stories stink…”

As any psychologist will tell you, this was classic needs-based decision-making.  To quickly summarize: Needs-based Decision-Making implies that everything we do, every decision we make, is designed to meet one or more of 6 basic human needs:

  1. Certainty | security, safety, the ability to avoid pain 
  2. Uncertainty | change, variety, excitement
  3. Significance | to matter, be important, be unique
  4. Community/Love | relationships; with yourself and others
  5. Growth | to learn, evolve
  6. Contribution | to give back; give of yourself

While everyone must meet at least the first four needs (Certainty, Uncertainty, Significance, Love – the “Fundamental Needs” as they are referred) most people will prioritize two at various stages in their life.  Looking back on my 20s, my priorities were clearly Significance and Certainty (needs, incidentally, that many other “high-potential” 20-somethings tend to prioritize during this period as well.)

Starting my career in New York City only exacerbated this…in a “City” full of extraordinary people, I found my niche – my confidence, my sense of uniqueness – in telling stories.  And, well, when the pretty girl liked the story…the sense of love/connection that would follow only served to reinforce my belief that “good stories = happy life.”

Today, I prioritize my needs differently. Case in point, in starting Regret Free Life I am placing my need for Contribution, Love and Significance ahead of my need for Certainty. The career change gives me the opportunity to help and connect with others, while simultaneously affording me the time I want to spend with my new wife Sarah and our future family.

How about you? What are you prioritizing today? Reflecting on your career choices, what needs were you/are you meeting?
As you reflect on this – and think about what’s next for you/your career – here are my three-cents.  If you read on, below another 10 pieces of advice/insight from some other smart 30-somethings who have just (barely) lived through it…
REGRET FREE ADVICE | WORKING IN YOUR 20s
  1. Tell a great story.  Thought I’d abandoned that?  Hell no!  Great careers always map back to a great story – a clear and compelling vision of who you are and what you want.  Want to ace a job interview?  Tell them how this opportunity is more than just a job to you; it’s a vocation – something you are called to do.  Then tell them why.  You WILL get the job.
  2. Hire great bosses.  I don’t care what company, what industry, what role you have to work in…you will find no greater catalyst than a manager who moves/inspires/engages you; a manager who, in his/her every action models “extraordinary” and gives you a target to aspire to.  I will write later on how you go about hiring a great boss…what to look for, what to ask, etc.
  3. Be wary of Certainty.  Everyone needs it, the question is: how much do you think you’ve got to have?  One of my favorite quotes on the subject is from Tony Robbins: He writes “The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of un-certaintyyou can comfortably live with…”  Recognize that, as a smart 20-something, you were born with an inherent guarantee of Certainty – your natural aptitudes and gifts that will always be there to support you.  Be wary, because Certainty can become Boredom before you know it…and the crises, mid-life or otherwise, are sure to follow.

If you haven’t had enough, here’s another 10 diverse ideas, insights and anecdotes related to managing your career from some super-smart 30-somethings that have successfully managed theirs.

1.       Start something you really believe in . . . but don’t start something new unless no one else is doing it well. I have seen in the non-profit sector a mass proliferation of new organizations and groups that often do what other organizations and groups do.  And it is a tremendous waste of time and resources.  And, frankly, a lot of it is driven by ego and pettiness.  I think the old adage – “let’s do something rather than be something” – rings true on that front.

2.       In picking a job, three steps: 1) prioritize your family as need-be 2) pick a city you love or have always wanted to live it 3) pick a company full of talented people in that city.Get into a diaspora of smart people and keep choosing your future bosses.

3.       In the workplace, be professional first and then friends over time. It’s nearly impossible to do the reverse.

4.       Find the intersection between your interests, your skills and the market.  Passions are necessary, but not sufficient.  For years I beat myself up for not understanding what my passions were enough to follow them. The challenge of your 20s is that you don’t necessarily know your “passion” or what you love, and that’s ok.  You don’t need to know your life’s calling as soon as you get out of school.  Your 20s is simply about discovering what you like and dislike.

5.       Get operating experience. You can always go into investing if you know how the business works.

6.      Find a skill set that you want to develop and focus on it…don’t be as concerned about the industry/sector up front.  Rather, think of a first job as learning a craft, much like a blacksmith, shoemaker, etc.  Whether marketing, PR, finance, etc… put yourself in a job/position that allows you to hone a skill set – then do it in a sector you are passionate about. When you can combine the two, most of the time it doesn’t feel like you are going to “work” every day.

7.       If you feel you need to be lawyer / doctor / consultant / banker, to make good money, you’re wrong.

8.       LEARN in your 20’s and EARN in your 30’s. Put yourself in an environment where you are LEARNING….once you stop learning or growing in a job, have the courage to pick up and find something new to do.

9.       I would have benefited from successfully completing a 2-year analyst program at a bank or consulting firm. I thought that becoming an analyst in finance would have pigeon-holed me, when in fact, it would have provided a platform for slightly more productive adventures.

10.    I’m happiest when there is no work-life divide I don’t mean working all the time; I mean doing something as a job that you enjoy doing anyway.  For me, working in politics didn’t seem like work because that is what I read about, thought about, and talked about regardless of what I did during the day.  That seamlessness has proved to be something that is important to me.

Commercial plug: Do you know what you love yet?  Have you crafted that compelling bar pitch?  If not, get some help.  It’s not hard, but it’s not always intuitive.  Email me and we’ll set up a free Life Strategy Review; we’ll figure out how to get you from here to happiness, faster.  

Quit Accenture, Move to Nantucket…and other decisions you won’t regret when you’re 40

No decision is truly risky if it aligns with who you are and what you want.

I was 23 years old when I first heard these words from my former mentor: Aspen Skiing Company CEO, Pat O’Donnell.  In the late 1980s, Pat went from being President of the National Wildlife Defense Fund, a large US non-profit, to become CEO of Patagonia, a large, for-profit, outdoor sportswear company.  Discussing the experience with me, he spoke candidly that the decision to make the move was “terrifying.”  “But,” he said, “no decision is truly risky if it aligns with who you are and what you want… the only safety net you have is your values.”

As I watch some of our most revered institutions – our banks, our retailers, our technology companies – flail or flounder today, the advice seems more prescient then ever. A company can’t give you the certainty or peace of mind it once might have; today your security has to come from within.

Below, I’ve captured 20 thoughtful ideas and advice on decision-making in your 20s; sent to me by over 40 thoughtful, high-potential 30-somethings; people who have made their decisions and lived to tell about them.

Before I share those perspectives, though – let me first offer my two-cents:

1. If you don’t know what you want, you’ll never get there.  I had a friend in college – a star on the woman’s soccer team – who started getting up everyday at 6am to train (not unusual today, but a time that few college students knew existed!). Why?  She was preparing – training her body, mentally and physically – for a big game she was to play in London the following week.  The start time? 11am Greenwich Mean Time (London) – the equivalent of 6am Eastern Standard Time.  Impressed?  So was I…  I use this story as a example of how the best align what they want – in her case, to perform at her highest level despite the logistical challenges – and what they do.

Too few smart 20-somethings really know what they want.  They know what they should want…a good job, health insurance, a girlfriend, fiancé, small apartment, baby… But very few know what they would want – if they allowed themselves to want anything in the world, sans restriction.  How do you get what you want if you don’t know what that is?  Now is the time to figure this out – while you don’t have a wife, husband, baby or graduate school debt.  The longer you wait the more difficult that conversation becomes.

2. Create space for your decision-making.  There is no “space” (e.g. unscheduled time for reflection) in the life of today’s 20-something graduate of elite education.  You received your offer from PIMCO or PWC or P&G before you even graduated from college.  After a summer orientation, workload began to build and the time in the office grew.  Despite promotion after promotion, life didn’t slow down – in fact, for most, it sped up.  Finally, you start applying to graduate schools.  Not because you are convinced that Tuck or Wharton or Ross will get you a step closer to your life dream, but simply because you need a break from the corporate grind.

The CEO of a large international aerospace company recently shared with me that it wasn’t until he was 38, at the London School of Economics, that he ever had a chance to stop and ponder why he had made the decisions he had.  That’s not OK.  Newton’s law of inertia: what is set in motion tends to stay in motion. Once you get too far down the “traditional” path, it will be hard to pivot.  Not impossible, but much harder than it is at 25.

Create space for yourself.  Carve time out of your schedule everyday to reflect on who you are, what you are learning and how it all maps back to the greater purpose of your life.  The more clarity you have around who you are and what you want, the easier your decision-making will be.

Advice from Smart 30-Somethings | On Decision-Making in Your 20s…

1.         Take your chances now; risks become much harder to take later on in life. Quitting a consulting gig with Accenture when I was 30 years old and going to Nantucket was difficult, but worth it. In your 20’s you can and should take risks

2.         When you find yourself in a hole (e.g. career, relationship, where you live, whatever), stop digging.  Looking back you realize how short, and valuable that time is during your 20’s and if you “waste” it you can put yourself at a big disadvantage.

3.         Entrepreneurial “failure” isn’t perceived as such by many business professionals. A “failed” endeavor led me to Buenos Aires, Argentina; following my passion for Argentine culture.  There I got my “ya yas” out, and eventually arrived professionally. I now work with Latin America on a daily basis.

4.         Life is about tradeoffs. Trade wisely; search for win-win outcomes.

5.         I was laid off from a Financial Services job when I was 24… I worried about being laid off for a year and when it happened, I thought my world had ended… It turned out to be the absolute best thing that happened to me in my 20s.  It set me free from a life that I hated; a life that I had chosen for the wrong reasons. Everything worked out.  Opportunity and growth comes from overcoming hardship, not worrying about it.

6.         We are lucky in this country to have a flexible social class structure and well-developed respect for individuality such that each of us can try our hand at something “unconventional,” and not risk some kind of permanent dislocation from the order of things. We can still end up successful, with a spouse, a family and a well-integrated life (if that’s what we want).

7.         While there is a point where changing career paths is challenging – that point is not 22, or 25, or even 28. Keeping this in mind will free at least some people to try things and go places that they otherwise would avoid as too “risky” or as having “no future.”

8.         I wish I had gone somewhere great for a year after college (mountains, beach, international).  Now, with perspective, I can see that experience, and the personality it helps to develop, is so important. There are so many paths in life and the most interesting ones seem to reward those who are really brave and operate off the beaten path.

9.         It is old advice, but you never regret trying something and failing, you only regret what you didn’t do.

10.      No mistake I’ve ever made has been the end of the world, nor did any mistake ever really deserve the amount of worry and stress that went into making the decision or change in the first place!  I’d have been better off just choosing a path and going, as opposed to deliberating about stuff much at all.  I’d have had way fewer ulcers in life

11.      Expect the unexpected.  Don’t rule yourself out of something because you think you know the outcomeNothing is ever assured.  Statistics are statistics for a reason, there is ALWAYS some chance for a different outcome.  Both personally and professionally! I learned this the good way…an open mind resulted in an incredible marriage and a second baby on the way

12.      Tough decisions take courage; find it.  Decision-making can be daunting at times; but focus on doing what is right for the situation at hand—then learning from your decisions.

13.      An Osama bin Laden-type a*shole can take your life at any given point. You might as well live happily.

14.      Opportunity can sometimes knock softly.  Be listening for it. Saying “yes” to both big and small opportunities will help you to develop a better sense of who you are and what you really want.  It will also lead to the great life/career opportunities. An example, when volunteering out of college, a co-volunteer was talking about a project they needed help with at the company he works for. I volunteered to help, which lead to helping with other projects at the company, which lead to part-time work, which lead to full-time work, which lead to a 10-year career and a consulting business in the industry.

15.      Don’t just follow the money. In your 20s you have the ability to take risk that might not be afforded to you as you get older and build a family.  As a result, you should try to find an activity/job that truly fascinates you; this will lead to more fulfillment in the long run

16.      Sometimes, you just need to get off the beaten path for a year or two.  Do it. You’ll never get your 20’s back.

17.      If you work hard, you will be afforded many incredible opportunities; saying no to one isn’t the end of the world.  Be brave enough to say no to the ones that are not truly aligned with what you want to do.  

18.      Set a life vision, then prepare to be lucky. The joy of each day should be the struggle…if you love what you’re doing, the challenges will be fun to tackle. You’ll look at problems with relish.

19.      There is a saying in basketball that is very much tongue-in-cheek but nevertheless viewed as containing a kernel of truth: I never made a shot I didn’t take. Interestingly, somebody took a look at both scenarios: what happened to FG% as a function of consecutive shots made (or missed). The finding was maybe not surprisingly: statistically speaking, the best time for you to shoot is when you’ve missed your last few. The worst time for you to shoot is when you’ve made your last few. This is a bit different than the old truism “things are never as bad (or good) as they seem”. The way I’d say it: Things may indeed really be that bad (or that good), but that doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way – in fact it’s practically guaranteed they won’t. Besides being cheering in hard times and humbling in good ones, it may focus the mind on the most important question: what do I do NOW?

20.      To quote Joseph Campbell, the best way to save the world is to be alive within yourself.

Commercial plug: Most people need a thought partner on this stuff. At the very least, someone to double-check their calculus.  It’s not hard, but it’s not intuitive.  Email me and we’ll set up a free Life Strategy Reviewwe’ll figure out how to get you from here to happiness, faster.  

The day I started living Regret Free

Regret Free Life was “born” on September 11, 2001.  At the time, I was a 23 year-old “striver;” the term I use to describe the college educated men and women in their early 20s who embrace a ‘success-at-all-costs’ approach to life.

I had been a “striver” all my life.  In high school, I did everything; joined every group, played every sport, and read every book that I could. I worked tirelessly, imagining the day when I would proudly display the sticker of some old, regal university across the back window of my old 1985 Buick Skyhawk; giving her, and me, the sense of accomplishment, significance, we longed for.

In college (Duke, as it turned out), surrounded by other strivers, my sense of significance came from being able to work hard and party harder.  I spent long hours in the library by day, and even longer hours in the fraternity house at night; trying to make every moment on among those ivory-covered buildings, count.

After college, my first stop was Manhattan.  I found The City to be fast-paced and electric.  Opportunity rich in every way. It was rich rich, too.  And while I was not rich, I certainly intended to be…and soon. As my thinking went at the time, I would make a pile of money, receive the “stamp” of approval from family and friends, then go do all the things that I really wanted to do…

I had been living in New York for about a year when American Airlines Flight 11 flew right over my head as I walked to work down Fifth Avenue on the morning of Sept 11.  Despite the extraordinary sight of a large commercial jet buzzing the Big Apple, I watched it for only a few seconds – quickly turning my attention back to the “striver” book I was listening to: TITAN, a biography of John D. Rockefeller. Incidentally, had I followed the flight path for another 20 seconds, I would have witnessed the impact as it happened.

25 minutes later, when the reality of the situation was fully understood, I raced from my office on Madison Ave, back to Fifth. Along with 100 or so others, I stood in the middle of the street watching as the smoke billowed from the upper reaches of the towers.  Soon, to our collective amazement, the first building began to tremble.  Then, to our collective horror, the first building collapsed; disappearing amidst a volcano-like explosion of dust and ash.  The terror of that moment was heart-stopping; to recall it, even today, gives me chills.  But within that cacophony of sound and emotion, there was clarity: EVERYTHING WAS DIFFERENT NOW.

Oddly, once the initial fear abated, I felt a wave of…of…relief…wash over me.  I know, relief is an unexpected, even callous, sensation for such a moment, but that’s what it was. More accurately, what I was feeling was a sense of liberation…a freedom from the expectations I had been working, all my life, to exceed.  Now that everything was different, I could be different too.  If everything had changed, then I could simply be myself.  My inner voice was quiet, but clear: Life is short, Ben; time to start living.

From that moment on, I decided to focus less on what Ishould do – and more on what I wanted to do; what I was called to do. From that moment on, I took ownership for my life; no longer content to simply float downstream with everyone else. As The Towers came crashing down on 9/11, so too did the walls of an invisible prison I had built for myself.

Ultimately, I realized that despite all of my hard work and careful planning, I would never be able to create a risk-free life…there was no such thing. There was, however, a way to create a regret free life…and from that moment on I was committed to doing so.

So, what is a regret free life?  Simply put, it’s a life in which the choices you make clearly align with who you are (your values & beliefs; not other people’s) and what you want (your dreams & desires).

Today, Regret Free Life looks to help “strivers” better align their values and desires with their work and life. For some that requires first breaking out of that invisible prison as I had to do.  For others, outside the prison but not sure where to run, it means developing a plan, a strategy, to help them get to where they want to go, faster.

Either way it means more people living the lives they imagined they’d be living – and a better world as a result.

Like the sound of this?  Email me and we’ll set up a free “Life Strategy Review” – a fast and effective way to test how aligned you are today and we’ll figure out a way to get you from here to happiness faster.