Health, Success, Or Family?

 

Scott Miller ‏@sbmiller5: if you have a startup can you succeed if you place personal health and family above business?

Answer:

I was talking to a fund of funds manager. He was overweight and had a nervous tic. His CFO once called me and said, “James, I don’t know if this is right or not but he’s buying obscure illiquid options so he can mark his fund’s value higher at the end of each month to get a positive return. Without that he’d be negative each month. Is this legal?”

I said, “I have no idea. But you better quit anyway.” So my friend quit and became CFO at a billion dollar fund. He’s doing very well.

A month later the fund of funds manager decided to close down his fund. He was about 100 lbs overweight and had a nervous tic so it was hard for him to speak. I asked him what he was going to do next. His face was red and he was sweating. “I don’t know,” he said, “I’ve got to spend some time getting my health back.”

So he did. I ran into him about four years later. He got his health back. I couldn’t believe how beautiful his new wife was (his prior indulgence was all hookers in his office). He was running a business advising huge family offices how to allocate their money and he would take a fee for that. This avoided all the administrative overhead (nightmare) of running a fund. My guess is he was making several million a year. He seemed really happy. At one point during the dinner he even enjoyed a good laugh when someone made a joke at my expense.

In other words, health always comes first. And not just physical health. Clearly my friend (actually, he hated me and once threw a chair at me in rage, but that’s another story) was lacking in physical health. When you don’t have physical health you don’t have energy, you get sick, you get lazy, you lose momentum, your mind gets sluggish, and all sorts of things that prevent you from being good at your business.

Your competitors are not your friends. They don’t call a timeout and wait for you to get better. They slit your throat while you are already lying black and blue in a dark alley and then they take your wallet and rape your kids. That sounds pretty dramatic. But it’s what happens.

But you also have to have good emotional health. My friend (who hated me) surrounded himself with a lot of bad guys who would take advantage of him (or procure prostitutes for him). He didn’t seem to have any real friendships. Mentally, he was so obsessed with being up every month that he almost slipped into a Madoff. Thank god he stopped his fund when he did or he would’ve spiraled into a scam. He could no longer focus on what good strategies he should invest in. I have no way to judge his spiritual health. I hope he was working on it. But who knows?

This doesn’t mean you have to be as ripped as Mr. Clean or a spiritual Buddha to run a business. But when you run a business your most important themes are to help the following people and make their lives better:

– your customers

– your investors

– your employees

– your partners

– your vendors

Family is part of this also. But you have to decide where your family lies in terms of your emotional and spiritual health.

For each of these groups, they need to feel good just by being around you. If you are coughing on them (physically or metaphorically) they will feel worse. And so will your business.

CAREER CHOICE

Bernard King ‏@BernardKingIII: I’ve got two kids, 3 & 5, and a good job. How important is their happiness to my decision to make a risky career choice?

Answer:

After 9/11 the stock market was closed for a week. I was terrified. On the morning of 9/11 I was walking from the World Trade Center (where I had breakfast) to my house on Duane Street (a few blocks away). A plane was coming in. Dan, my business partner, turned to me and said, “is the President coming to New York today?” A guy was crossing the street videotaping his little daughter. And then, for some biological reason, everybody on the street ducked even though the plane was about 600 feet directly above us going at 500 miles per hour. And then the screams started.

I went back to my house. I wanted everyone to know I was ok. But my mind was crazy. For one thing, Dan and I took the elevator. How stupid was that? Then, once I got back in the office, I tried to sell all the stocks I owned. People around the world didn’t know what had happened. In fact, the pre-market futures were going up after a quick dip because the rumor was that it was a helicopter but I knew different. But my hand was shaking too much to make a trade. So we called the broker and started yelling.

“Wait. Wait. What!?” the guy on the line said. And I tried to slow down and explain. “Gotta go!” he said and he hung up the phone. They were based in the Empire State Building and they did the only smart thing, which was to run out of the building.

A lot of other things happened that day but that’s not why I mention this. A week later the markets re-opened. I bought stocks on every dip. And by Friday I was almost totally broke. I kissed my daughter for good luck in the morning. She was two years old and was sucking on her bottle. She swatted my head away because I was getting in the way of her favorite show, “Blue’s Clues”. By 10:30am I was totally broke and was forced to sell out of everything. Probably a million dollar loss that week. But it was over. After a year of non-stop loss it was now all gone. I was gone. And by 10:31 the market started to rise for three straight months. I had to sell my house, move 70 miles away, I got depressed, suicidal, everything. One time the red cross came over to talk to me. Another time the police department had to come over. My kid watched everything.

Then I had another kid. Now two mouths to feed.

And I was completely unemployable. In fact, I got fired from the one board seat I was on, from a company I had started, in October, 2011. A few years later CALPERs called me because they were going to invest potentially hundreds of millions in the fund of the guy who had fired me from that board. They wanted to know what I thought of him. I gave a very good recommendation. He was completely correct in firing me.

After that I started business after business. Fund after fund. Idea after idea. Deal after deal. Bit by bit I got off the floor by focusing on building up my idea muscle, being ONLY around positive people, staying physically healthy, and focusing more on my spiritual life. I started to make money again. I started risky businesses. Most of them failed. Some of them worked. I started investing. Much failure, some success. Bit by bit.

My kids didn’t care how much money I made. My kids had no idea I was broke or we had moved from a huge penthouse to a tiny house 70 miles away. When I see pictures of my kids I see them laughing because I know I’m behind the photographer making goofy faces and making them laugh. Did my kids ever go broke or have to live in a homeless shelter or a foster home? No. In most cases, people survive no matter what happens to their business. Practice resilience and health and you can handle every risk.

One time my kids bought me a scooter for father’s day. It was an adult-sized version of the little scooters they had. I got on it and started going down the block at full speed. It felt exhilarating. Then I hit a hole in the road and the scooter completely flipped forward. I probably flew about ten feet and then bounced a couple of times on the road. My face and arms and legs were bleeding and I was lying there.

“DADDY!!!” My two kids screamed and ran to where I was. “DADDY! Are you OK?”

I got up and dusted off my ripped pants. “Well, thanks for the gift,” I told them.

And they were relieved and happy. I was okay.

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