Most classic success stories go something like this: “I had nothing, then discovered a new way of thinking, turned my life around and got everything I ever wanted…” I could tell you one such story. I really did go from debt and depression to everything I’d ever wanted—in the space of just two years. I started my own company, rose to the top of my profession and increased my income many times over from what I had been making. I got the money, the house, the car: the life of my dreams. But that’s not really what this is about.
I started working in the financial field in 1990. I knew that I wanted to help people, and I also wanted to make money. That year, I made about $22,000. Ten years later I had clawed and climbed my way up to about $26,000, while also trying to support a wife and two kids, falling months behind with the mortgage payments, scared and unsure of my future. I had credit card debt, mortgage debt, and I would hide my car every day because the finance company told me they were coming to repossess it. Things looked pretty bleak.
One day, I was getting out of my car and about to walk into a prospect’s house to try and sell a term life policy. I was way behind on my bills, and my mind was going on and on about how much I needed the sale. Desperation poured out of me as I caught my reflection in the car window. I stopped, looked hard at that reflection and said to myself, “Who would want to buy anything from you? Look at how desperate you look!”
And then I figured something out. I had an epiphany—or an enlightened moment, whatever you want to call it, where I realized I was going about things completely the wrong way. I realized that I was focused on what I wanted, but not on what I was willing to give in order to get what I wanted, and as long as I approached my business in this way, I would never succeed.
I thought of the successful people in my office and realized that to some extent, they all had a confidence about themselves that I sorely lacked. And so I decided in that moment that I needed to drop my desperate, needy attitude and walk into this prospect’s house with the confidence of someone who didn’t want anything. I took one last look at my reflection and saw that I had taken on an air of serenity, and that’s when I began to realize that I really didn’t need anything, that deep down there was nothing for me to get. I dropped my need to make a sale. I became still and quiet.
I soon began to approach more of my clients this way, putting all my attention on them, without any desire or expectation for myself personally. And to my amazement, my meetings really started to transform and my success as a financial advisor grew exponentially.
From my observations and experience as a financial advisor, it seems that many people getting out of college are in the same rut that I was in. They know what they want to get, but no one along the way ever told them that they’d have to be willing to give something first. Many, if not most of us have been taught to focus on getting the big dollars and the big job, whatever it is, but we rarely come to understand that what we get really has nothing to do with what we want to get.
If you’re solely focused on what you want to get, chances are you’ll get nothing. But when you figure out what you want to give and what you want to be—you can then have whatever you want. It’s a weird paradox, but the truth is that when you let go of wanting anything, you can have everything.
Although it sounds like a bit of a cliché, I was able to see firsthand as I was going through my own crisis around wealth and success that the more I gave to others; the more I received in return. I quickly began accomplishing more in the world and my income grew substantially. In addition to starting my own financial firm, I also became the chairman of the advisory board to The Autism Center of New Jersey Medical School, and started a fund- raiser that we now hold every year, which to date has raised over a million dollars for autism research.
From these experiences, I discovered at a deep level that the more I gave to others, the more complete and happy I felt. I literally started to go to client meetings with absolutely no regard for needing to make money or anything else. I would simply walk in, shut out the outside world for the hour or two that I was there and put 100 percent of my attention on my clients.
Unfortunately, too many of us spend our whole lives waiting to get something from the world so that we can show up as the person we always knew we could be. Deep in our hearts we think there’s something missing. But when we flip that mindset, we can discover that by becoming a giver rather than a taker, we can become agents for change in the world. In the end, it was only through giving to others that I was able to find the kind of happiness that I was really looking for. This is one of the main things I learned when I began to look for what might lie “beyond success.”
Adapted from Beyond Success: Redefining the Meaning of Prosperity – © 2009 Jeffrey L. Gitterman – All rights reserved – Published by AMACOM Books – A Division of the American Management Association – www.amacombooks.org.
Jeff Gitterman is an award winning financial advisor and the CEO of Gitterman & Associates Wealth Management, LLC. www.gawmllc.com. In 2004, he was honored by Fortune Small Business Magazine as “One of Our Nation’s Best Bosses,” and his first book, Beyond Success; Redefining the Meaning of Prosperity, was recently published by the American Management Association (AMACOM) www.BeyondSuccessConsulting.com .
Over the past several years, Jeff has been featured in Money Magazine, CNN, Financial Advisor, London Glossy, Affluent Magazine, and New Jersey Business Journal, among others. He also serves as chairman of the advisory board to the Autism Center of New Jersey Medical School, an organization that to date has raised over a million dollars for autism research and support services.