Jim started out living the American story. He grew up in a middle-class home in the suburbs, married his high-school sweetheart, went to business school, and got a job in corporate America.
When he started having children, four before he was 34, finances were tight. He was driving a used Dodge Omni, 30 miles each way to work. On the way home on Friday night, if it was a good week, he bought a six-pack of Heineken, and at the end of the bad weeks, he bought a six-pack of Old Style.
Something had to give.
Jim was making less than he needed to support his family and certainly less than his business school friends. The cataclysmic event was when he asked his boss for a raise and learned he was at the top of his pay scale.
This conversation spurred him to look for a new job. At 29, he became the seventeenth employee and one of seven founding partners of a startup management consulting firm with a niche in a recently deregulated industry. Jim knew this industry from his previous dead-end job and was a perfect fit.
Jim loved his new boss and his new company and couldn’t have been happier with his career. While he was making a bit more money, finances were still challenging. Jim remembers the day he was driving his new boss in his rusted out Omni, in 90 degrees with no A/C, and his boss turned to him and said, “You’d look great in a Mercedes.” Indeed, at the time, this seemed a most unlikely prospect.
Yet, a mere eight years later, he was driving a new BMW. The company had grown, gone public, and the seven founding partners, including Jim, would never have to work again.
During those eight years, he traveled three days a week and saw his family very little. So little, in fact, that one night while he was waiting for a taxi to the airport, his youngest asked him, “Daddy are you going home now?”
Jim is the first to say he was lucky. Lucky to have landed in an industry that deregulated, lucky to have met and gone to work for the founder of the new firm, and lucky the sacrifices he had to make were over in a relatively short time.
Yet, the transition from pinching pennies to no financial worries presented its own set of challenges. The biggest challenge was he lost his sense of purpose. He went from his children asking if he even lived there to them asking, “why are you home, daddy?”
It took Jim ten years to rediscover that sense of purpose. He pushed himself into many things, from running an NFP, becoming an investor and unpaid COO for a startup, to a series of partnerships with friends.
One of his favorite stories is a partnership where they were flipping foreclosed homes. When all was said and done, he and his partners made $1.37 each.
Undaunted, after having too much to drink one day, he and some of his partners bought a parcel of land in the Dominican Republic. The plan was to develop the property, and instead, they spent years tied up in legal challenges with various previously unknown entities who held claim to the land.
The truth was the “too much to drink” had itself become a pastime, and Jim realized, much as had realized back when he learned he was at the top of his pay scale, that it was time for a pivot.
During his discovery years, two of Jim’s activities were coaching (baseball and hockey) and serving as a company board member. So when he learned about SCORE and started volunteering there, he realized he could apply all of his experience in a meaningful way to benefit others. Today, in addition to volunteering at SCORE, where he enjoys working with immigrants from all over the world, he is an executive coach working with founders, owners, and CEOs.
Advice for Others
It’s not about money: Initially, I wore my income on my sleeve; I didn’t know any better. I learned that staying genuine, true to myself, and accessing my core humanity is all that matters.
Our life stories are parables: I’ve learned a lot about what not to do. I share my story here in this blog and with my clients, hoping that others can take something from them. Every day is learning, even the bad days. For me, it’s about learning and self-correcting.
How you treat others matters: Not everyone thinks the same, acts the same and is motivated by the same things you are. Today I am incredulous about some of what I have said in the past and work hard today to self-manage.
Communication Matters: I’ve learned that if you want people to join you on a journey, you must share your vision and keep them informed.
Good fences make good neighbors: I’ve learned to set boundaries. I’ve learned without a value exchange, others will not take you seriously. I’ve learned first to think about what I am interested in and good at before saying yes to an opportunity.
Finally, I’ve learned that life is all about being a worthy human being.