What I’ve learned about freedom and prosperity has taken 40 years.
Updated: Nov 30, 2019
This summer of 2016 marks the 40th year of my professional career. After four decades of busting ass in the pursuit of more freedom and prosperity in life, I finally realized it’s a state of mind not a place in time.
For me, freedom to spend my precious time engaged in the activities that deeply matter to me, coupled with the prosperity to sustain that freedom has been an aspiration central to my entire life journey. It’s been my dominant desire over four decades of professional life.
I grew up without much freedom or prosperity. My parents struggled in their own business to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. Every day in my family was a struggle. Being the oldest of seven siblings, there was no freedom in my early life to learn, explore, imagine, experiment, create, dabble, and daydream. We were living at the lowest rung of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs– basic survival.
Consequently, I inherited the number one fear of my parents– “there won’t be enough to meet our needs”–as the bedrock truth of my life. I learned very early “you must work hard to simply survive”. Yet, intuitively, I knew I wanted more for my life. I wanted to thrive! I wanted to achieve more for myself than what was present in my upbringing. I had a burning desire to be successful and was highly motivated by my poverty to make it happen; and I wasn’t afraid to work hard for what I wanted.
Like most young people after college (which my parents never attended) my ambition was in a rage. I wasted no time beginning my career journey. But more than finding a job, I wanted to be my own boss, the master of my destiny! With no professional experience or portfolio, at 23 years of age, with $250 (all the money I had to my name) I started my own graphic design and communications agency. From the start, I had lofty ideals about being free to do the work I wanted to do and only work with the very best clients!
In truth, I wasn’t so high-minded in my choice to start a business. I needed to make money to support my young family and no other advertising agencies had openings for young art directors like me. Starting my own business was about basic survival (my familiar truth) rather than lofty notions of personal freedom and prosperity.
Over the years that followed, by business grew into a successful enterprise far exceeding anything my parents had experienced in their business. My firm was financially successful, our work was top notch and respected by our peers, we enjoyed an enviable reputation working with the very best clients. I was making an excellent living, financially providing for my family at a level I never imagined possible for me as a kid. By all accounts, from the outside looking in, it would be fair to say, by my mid-40s, my business was generously providing for my freedom and prosperity.
But it never felt that way to me.
Through every business success I had experienced, I continued to hold tight to my core belief “there will not be enough to meet my needs”. And as my “needs” significantly increased maintaining the outward appearance of a prosperous life, my fear there would never be enough to sustain it increased in equal measure.
The constant stress of thinking there would never be enough kept me working harder, pushing myself more and more each year to be more successful. Hoping the day would arrive when finally there would be enough money to buy my freedom from my greatest fear of never having enough.
That day never arrived.
By then, I was completely burned out. Despite years of outward success, I felt no fulfillment or satisfaction in any accomplishment. I was a dead man walking.
But one day, at the height of my despair, I had an epiphany–my burning bush moment of truth. On that day, I made a decision to stop believing there wouldn’t be enough. Like quitting any other destructive addiction–it was cold turkey! At the time, it was a bold move for me–especially in light of losing nearly all of my wealth in the financial crisis of 2008.
In starting over, I replaced the old truth for a new truth in my life–freedom and prosperity are nothing more than a dominant frame of mind, not a place of arrival at some future time.
That shift in thinking has made all the difference. I’ve dedicated the rest of my life to the mastery of this level of creative thinking. It’s taken me nearly 40 years to learn I can choose to experience a state of freedom and prosperity at any time.
Of course, we live in a real world and there will always be challenges that test the quality of our thinking and our decisions that result. This is especially true in our networked age where disruption is normal and expected. I’ve had several false starts. As self help strategies, I developed a list of "first principles" that would support me to break free of the mental chains I can easily bound myself in. The ability to maintain an open, creative frame of mind consumed with generosity and gratitude is Jedi Master level stuff.
I developed my manifesto to guide and discipline my own thinking. Over the past few years, I've been sharing these strategies with my clients as a part of my business transformation workshops with great success. Other business owners began to adopt these strategies in their own thinking and applying them in their actions. It’s gratifying beyond words to know these ideas have real relevance and power to help people.
This summer, as a 40th anniversary challenge to myself, I’ve committed to sharing these principles to guide even more entrepreneurs on their journey. Right now, it’s first form will be a book!
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