Last June, I said, "I'm done." On the morning of June 21, like so many other mornings, I got dressed in my suit, climbed into my car and headed toward the office. About a block from my home, I turned around. I parked the car in the driveway, went inside, stripped off the suit, pulled on my Levis, grabbed a bag, stuffed it with clothes and threw it into my trunk. I loaded my fly-fishing gear, a bottle of scotch, a box of cigars, several legal pads, some Biblical commentaries and my laptop. Then, in an almost rage-like fury, I headed up I-70 for Basalt, Colo. There, in a Best Western motel room adjacent to the Frying Pan River, I began the first serious examination of the angst, ennui and emptiness that engulfed me, at age 49, in the midst of a very successful 25-year career representing money management firms.
After 25 years, 2.5 million air miles (permanent executive-premier status with United Airlines), 2,500 nights in hotel rooms (countless times waking up not knowing where I was), 100,000 phone calls, 8,000 face-to-face meetings, 500 final presentations, 300 clients, $10 billion raised, and more than $60 million of fee revenue generated: I was done.
The money management industry has been very good to me financially. I introduced some very fine money management talent to many of the largest pension funds in America. The result of those introductions was most certainly greater investment returns and a more secure retirement pool for many working Americans. By secular, conventional standards, it was not an unimportant way to spend one's time.
The challenge of this common burnout problem was what to do about it. Over five days in that motel room, I decided to list what I knew I did not want to do anymore. What things made my stomach flip and turn into a knot when I thought about them? That was easy. All of the above flew onto the legal pad. Then, over the next few days, the positive process of mining the gold of what really "turned my crank" began in earnest.
Besides the obvious desire of being home more with my wife and daughters, things like teaching sales training, writing and spending time mentoring and assisting men who were in prison, or recently out, vaulted to the top of the list. This did not really surprise me. I had been doing a little of all of those things during my career. What did intrigue me was why these ideas endured, while the interest in adding another substantial sum to my bottom line withered?
Then, like a small epiphany, I remembered what my friend Dr. James Miller once told me: "Our culture lies to us." Drink this beer, get the girl; drive this car, feel successful; wear these clothes, become powerful. Woody Allen is said to have quipped, "Nothing is worse than climbing the ladder of success, only to find when you get to the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong building."
I thought about the truth of that statement. I thought about the legacy of Mother Teresa as compared to that of, say, Donald Trump or Hugh Hefner, both accomplished men in their fields but hardly candidates for sainthood. I asked myself how it was possible, as Bob Buford writes in his book "Second Half," to move from "success to significance." What is significance?
The answer, after much prayer, came to me while reading the very old writings of the late John Short, an English minister. Expounding on I Corinthians 13, the Biblical chapter on love, he stated, "The greatest souls our world has ever known, or ever can know, have always been those who lived for others." There it was: the answer. Just as I surely knew I was done, I knew with conviction that this was the reason the other activities felt significant and endured.
But, it was not that easy. Defining a problem and taking action are two distinctly different things. Twenty-five years is a long time to be in the harness. After that length of time, no matter how it makes you feel inside, that harness is still pretty comfortable and familiar outside. After all, we are defined by what we do. How is my wife of 27 years going to react and adjust to this radical departure? Do we have the money to do this? What am I going to do to occupy my time? Will I become one of those "retired guys," walking malls, playing golf? Maybe I should just buy a Harley or a Porsche like every other guy who approaches 50 and sees the end of his life.
My loving wife's support was great. She said, "What took you so long? You've been going through this for over two years." The money was OK, but I believe we would have done this even if we had to reduce our lifestyle. We decided that if I didn't like doing other stuff full time I could probably sell shoes at Nordstrom's or do something else. The unwavering decision was that I would never go back to the old stuff. Twenty-five years was enough. Besides, I'm 6 feet 8 inches tall and can't fit into a Porsche; and a Harley, well, that's just not me.
Today, three-quarters of a year after I entered that motel, I am busy doing what I consider significant.
I am writing a daily devotional for men in prison, addressing the challenges they face that are exclusive to them. That will take me two to three years to complete.
With Pusateri Consulting & Training, Buffalo, N.Y., and Anne Miller, president of Chiron Associates, New York, I began teaching what we call the Creative Communication & Sales Training Boot Camp. We started in January, seeking to pass along "the secrets of the tribe" -- what we know about money management marketing. (All net profits from the boot camp go to charity.)
Plus, I see a steady stream of inmates and ex-offenders, either in prison or in my office when they are released. I am very happy. I had forgotten how wonderful it feels to get up and really want to go to work in the morning. How I let that feeling die is a mystery to me. I am only thankful that God gifted it back.
I'm done, but not finished.
James C. Vogelzang is president of Vogelzang & Associates Inc., Denver, founded in 1985 as a third-party marketing firm. VAI discontinued actively representing money management firms this year and established non-profit sales training seminars for investment sales professionals.