It’s a beautiful day. It’s a gorgeous day simply to be alive. I relish this moment to be able to remind myself and to remind all of you, wherever you are, that this is a holy moment. This is a sacred moment if for no other reason than we are alive in this moment, we are breathing in this moment and there are people who are taking their very last breath in this moment. I can’t think of any more important reason to be grateful in this moment than the fact that we are here together. Whatever the good, the bad, the ugly is for each of us at any moment in time, there’s something to be grateful for and I’m grateful for all of you. I’m grateful for the friends and the gentlemen, the person I get to spend time with now in your presence. All of you collectively get to be the fly on the wall because I have a conversation with a buddy. I wouldn’t say an old buddy but certainly somebody that’s been a friend for a number of years. I really respect this guy.
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Employee Empowerment & Hiring for Intention with Aaron Young
The policy of this podcast is that I don’t introduce our guests and friends and folks that we want to connect with. I’d love it if you would share with everybody a little bit about yourself. Your name is Aaron Young and you are a friend and a colleague and somebody that I have great respect for in the way you conduct your business and how you transform people’s lives. We’re going to dig in to some really cool topics but why don’t we start with what’s important to you, Aaron, at this time in your life?
Thanks, Adam. First of all, my name is Aaron Young but there’s a whole bunch of Aaron Youngs out there, including some guys that were recently convicted of murder. I use my middle name now, Aaron Scott Young to differentiate myself from the crazy crowd. You asked me what’s important to me now which is different than saying, “I’m the CEO of this company or this is what I’ve done.” Earlier in 2017, my wife and I celebrated our 30th anniversary. It’s the typical rollercoaster life but from a happiness perspective, from a ‘glad to be together’ perspective. We are pretty blissfully, happily married. We have four great kids. The two oldest are married. Each one of them has a child so we are grandparents. We have a third grandchild on the way. That’s awesome. I get the chance to work with one of my sons. That’s a lot of fun. Those are all important to me. That’s my family. We live in Southwest Washington on a little 25-acre family farm. I go off into the world and give talks and do things with business but I get to come home to goats, chickens and my horses. It’s a very meditative way to live.
I’ve spent my life starting companies or buying companies. Among them is the company that people know about now, which is a company called Laughlin Associates, which I bought back in 2001, along with a business partner who I’ve been business partners with for twenty years. He’s a great guy, Lee Morgan. We help tens of thousands of business owners to build a fortress around their lives and around their businesses so that they can be safe and sustainable. The thing that also is super cool that I’m doing right now that is really fun for me. About a year and a half ago, I finally caved in and I put together what do I do if I’m going to buy a company or get a company ready for sale? I’ve never developed a course before, but I did about eighteen months ago. I call it The Unshackled Owner. It’s been great. We have a lot of people go through it. It’s a good program for people who have employees and who are growing a business to a bigger level. I knew the day that I found the URL, The Unshackled Owner, I knew that that was still playing too small for what I wanted to do. At the same time I grabbed that URL, I grabbed The Unshackled Life. My wife Michelle and I just started our first foray into The Unshackled Life. We’re doing a radio show together and we’re talking about business, your family, health and spirituality. We’re talking about our life and how to live a life that’s a big life. You understand that, Adam, because I know the things you’ve done. So many people are just stuck in being driven by the currents or blown by the wind and they look and say, “You are so lucky.” I do think that there are a lot of stuff that we’re grateful for, but I don’t think it’s luck. A life that brings you a lot of fulfillment and a lot of joy doesn’t happen by chance. It happens by intention and by working towards it constantly even through the ups and downs. The Unshackled Life is something that I didn’t realize how tickled I’d be to be doing it. It’s just a show. There’s nothing to buy. There’s no event. It’s just me and my best friend talking about things in a way that we’re already getting a lot of positive love back on that show.
I love the idea that you could spend some quality time with your best friend talking about things that are near and dear to your heart. I’m inspired to ask you, how do you define shackled?
It started as The Unshackled Owner. The Unshackled Owner is about how it doesn’t really matter how successful you’ve become in the business. If the business is still owning your time and your life, you’re shackled. If you’re worried about leaving for a month to go do something where maybe you didn’t have a cell phone or a computer and you couldn’t be in touch and you’re worried about the company struggling, you’re shackled. Whereas what I’ve learned how to do and I’ve done repeatedly over the decades now is build companies that I put a tremendous amount of time in at first, but then build systems so that we know what we’re doing, we know how we keep track and how we keep score. We have an empowered management team, we have empowered employees and a culture that wraps around the whole thing so that it can go whether the owner is there or not. That’s how you build a good business that you can sell. That was my original thought process when I started trying to build things that weren’t my forever job. It was build up, make something that somebody else would find value in.
An unshackled life is getting to do things that you love to do when you want to do them. That doesn’t mean constantly being entertained, but it does mean being able to make the choices to do what you want to do. It’s great if you have financial wherewithal to do that because you have an unshackled business and you make the money to go do things, but you don’t have to be wealthy to live an unshackled life. You just have to get clear about what turns you on or why you’re working. Even if you’re working a job that you don’t love, why are you doing it and how is that a means to an end that gives you the life that you want? People always think they have to have every element of their life be so pristine and fun, and that’s not real. What you need to do is know why you’re doing the stuff you’re doing and that you’re doing it for reasons that matter enough to you that you are pleased at your outcomes.
You’re describing the pivot process in many ways. Just the idea that you reinvent because things are not the way that you think they would serve you best in this moment. Sometimes we’re pivoting out of reaction to the loss of a loved one or a job or a relationship or our health or something. In other times, we’re pivoting out of some other motivation which is usually pain. It doesn’t have to be. I know in my case pivoting out of the pain of mediocrity, the pain of just doing work that was uninspiring and being in a job that I didn’t love and doing it just for the money and just for the security. It’s just really based out of fear, not out of love, not out of joy.
Not everybody is an Adam Markel or I’ll say an Aaron Young, where it’s super easy to say, “I’m going to scrap my law degree,” in your case, and “I’m going to go chase this other personal development, training, teaching, inspiring others.” Not everybody is going to get that big opportunity but everybody has something that’s inside of them, their music that they want to get out of them. Sometimes, you might have to work eight hours a day at a job that you don’t necessarily love because you can earn three or four weeks of vacation. You can be putting money into retirement so that you can go out and volunteer at teaching people to read or serving in your church or coaching Little League or something like that. Coaching Little League might be tough for a lot of entrepreneurs because they’re not available at 5:00 in the afternoon. The idea of unshackled for me is if you know what you want out of your life and if you put the pieces in place so that you can do the things that you really love. This is what I tell people in the program actually. I say, “Remember, you have all these employees. These employees are working for you to fund the rest of their life.” It’s not because they’re necessarily so madly in love with your business. If you can provide a good, safe place for them to be and to work and to spend those eight hours a day so that they can take the money and go do whatever they love, because they’re not all going to be entrepreneurs. They need to go out and they get to go dive the reefs around the world because they love diving. They work eight hours a day, 49 weeks a year and then get three weeks of vacation so they can go dive, maybe that is what they want. Maybe that is the life they want, whatever it is.
The thing that’s coming up for me is that there are statistics. Recent Harris Poll statistics about quality of life when people uphold in what they say about their job for example, that 80% plus are in the job that’s not their dream job, which makes sense. I think that aligns well with what you just said. 53% of those folks are actively looking for a new job. That number is a little disturbing. It’s something that’s important that we cannot ignore.
It’s illuminating as to what? That’s what’s coming up for me when I hear you say about that. There are people who are willing to trade their hours for dollars. That was made into a bad thing when Kiyosaki’s book got really popular, trading hours for dollars. I know I felt that way at the time when I read it.
How many people are going to read Kiyosaki’s book? There’s a difference between an entrepreneurial mindset and somebody who doesn’t. Like my dad. He’s so smart, he’s so well-spoken, he’s such a fine man, and yet the things that I do in my life terrify him. He worked his whole career at a job he hated because it provided money, health benefits, a company car. They could go out and entertain guests. He and mom got to go on really nice dates but with customers. He never loved it but he loved it way more than the fear of trying to go do something on his own. The vast majority of the people in the world will never listen to this podcast, will never read Kiyosaki’s book, will never even think other than just a casual armchair conversation of starting their own deal because the risk is greater than their confidence. They’re going to stay shackled. Things that you and I do are designed to help those people who have gotten to a point where they innately had something in them that said, “I’m sure there is more that I could do if only I could find that doorway onto the path.” They’re searching and they’re reading books and they’re listening to podcasts and they’re going to events because they want more out of their world. They know it’s there but they don’t know where to find it.
I can’t try to have a completely all-encompassing solution for people. For those people who have gone far enough up on Maslow’s hierarchy to where they’re not thinking about survival anymore, they’re not thinking about eating or housing themselves or clothing themselves or even basic fundamental relationships, they’re thinking, “What else can I be? What am I meant to do?” Those are the people that will find their way to mentors like yourself or me or others that we know and say, “Somebody give me some hints.” All we can do is try to add some fuel to that little spark that’s inside of them and maybe give them some ideas. I do a podcast. I recorded a visit with a woman who went through a variety of jobs, was well-trained on things but she missed the farm that she grew up on as a little girl. Even though she tried for 27 years to do it the traditional way, like so many people do. She finally just gave up on it and she decided that she could clear blackberries and other brush using her goats. She had set up temporary fence and bringing in the goats. She just travels around with 120 goats and they’re clearing hillsides. Now she’s been on Nightline. She’s been on The Colbert Report. She’s been written up in The Wall Street Journal. She’s loving her life. She’s never made so much money. She’s never had so much fun but she said, “I wasted years because I knew there was more I could do but I had no idea where to look. It was only through a lot of blood, sweat and tears that I finally thought, ‘Maybe these goats could do something. Maybe these goats could make a business for me.’” The goats are the hook but the woman is so cool.
She wasn’t settling. I guess we’re getting into a personal conversation here about your dad. My father-in-law was similar. He worked a practical job that he didn’t necessarily love, although I don’t want to speak to that degree because I think he did enjoy aspects of his job, but he was primarily focused on taking care of his family. In Maslow’s pyramid, taking care of his family was at the top of the pyramid. Self-actualization was not what he was focused on. Your dad is similar, I guess.
My dad was involved with the Mouseketeers back in the 1950s. He was in a movie with Frankie Avalon. He did a few other TV appearances. He was cast an extra but at Paramount. He still is a great singer, a great performer. He writes songs, he writes poetry, super creative. He met this really cute little blonde and they got married a few months later. I came along a year and a half later and then my sister another eighteen months later and pretty soon there were five kids. My dad, during that early time, he bought all the insides of an ice cream parlor and he wanted to set up an ice cream parlor and do that. He leased this popcorn truck that was like an old wooden trolley. He was out there all dressed up with a little garter around his arm and his striped shirt and selling popcorn down in Southern California in the 60s. He tried to borrow money from my grandfather who just said, “No, I’m not going to loan you money to buy that truck.” When he was young, he tried to chase it a little bit but then the weight of money and family and obligations and all that just took it down, so he worked. He was a sales guy and he was very good and he was well-respected. He didn’t love his job but people loved having him there. He was highly regarded in his field. He was promoted multiple times only to request to be put back down in sales because he just didn’t want to hire and fire. He didn’t want to do that. That was not his personality.
What he did do was he wasn’t going to let that happen for me. Even though we didn’t have a lot of money, he always pointed me at odd things that turned out to be giant blessings in my life. There was one high school in Portland, Oregon that was not a neighborhood high school. You had to be accepted into his public school, but you had to be accepted at Benson High School. It was all boys. I had zero interest in going to a boy’s school. I wanted to go with all my friends to the neighborhood high school and chase girls and have fun and do all that. Dad said, “Just apply and just see if you can get in.” I got in. I said, “I’m accepted but I don’t want to go. I’m going to go to my high school.” He said, “Go for one semester and if you hate it, you can leave.” I get over there and he said, “They have a radio station.” The oldest radio station in Portland, the public radio station is at that high school, KBPS, Benson Polytechnic School. He said, “Why don’t you just go up there and check it out and see what they do?” I wandered up there as a freshman, fourteen years old. They said, “Do you want to do a voice audition?” I’m like, “I don’t know what that is but sure.” They gave me some stuff to read, put me in front of a great big microphone hanging on a big boom and I did it. The next thing I know, I’m accepted in their program. Before you know it, in my junior and senior year, I’m chief of staff for the radio station.
I got a national award from NPR for this magazine program, Portland High Life that I was the host of. I did all of this because my dad just kept nudging me. When I was between eight and ninth grade, my dad came home from work one day and said, “I heard this super cool thing on the radio. The Boy Scouts of America are going to do this horseback ride. It’s 180 miles. It takes a week to go over the mountains and I signed you up for it.” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” I’m a kid living on Southeast 29th Street in Portland right in town. I don’t know about horses. He always loved cowboys and he grew up in the 50s, watching John Wayne and he never had that so he’s going to get his son on a horse. I did that and who would have known that not only did I enjoy it all through my teenage years and helped revitalize it in my early twenties when I was newly married, but three of my four kids have gone through that horse program and the Boy Scouts of America just hired me to help them save the Horse Program. It’s the second largest horse program in the United States that’s of this ilk. It’s underfunded and they needed some stuff, so they hired me. At this age, I’m doing that, all because dad, who didn’t get to live out his dreams but he understood the importance of dreams, just kept pushing his oldest child out to do stuff. Did my dad live the life he wanted? I don’t think so. Did my dad do right by me and all the people that I’ve been able to employ and affect in some way, shape or form, thousands and thousands of people? He was a blessing for all of them.
It’s a wonderful ripple effect of his life. What’s coming up for you?
I have a great life. I said, “Did he live his dreams?” “No.” Did he make it right for me and for all these people that now I get to touch? Yes. Was he successful? Yes. It’s a tender thing.
It’s a wonderful life. This is the ripple effect we don’t always see. I think the part that troubles me in those statistics and where I agree with you is that we’re not speaking to everybody. In fact, the people listening to this are clearly not in the majority. The fabnormal, as somebody once said in an event I was at, “The fabulously abnormal,” in other words. That to live a life that is in service creates fulfillment. If it’s in service to your family, as was the case for your father and my father-in-law as well, not that I think that my father-in-law didn’t have pleasure and joy. He had great pleasure and joy but much of that pleasure and joy actually came out of being there to see the joys and the pleasures of his kids and his grandkids.
Let me go back to your statistics. The Unshackled Owner class, one of the things that we talk about is one of these studies that I think you’re citing. They interviewed over 200,000 employees and 80% of them didn’t know the mission of the company, didn’t know where they fit into the company, didn’t know really what they were being measured on. Consequently, they didn’t feel a connection to the business because they were just stuck in their little cubicle churning away their work without understanding what difference it made in the big picture. When I bought Laughlin Associates back in 2001, our turnover rate amongst the 80 employees was 300%. That’s a culture that sucks. That is a bad culture. We took the same things that I’d done over and over again before. It took a couple of years to get the trust of the people but now, you can’t hardly drag somebody out of that company. Our average tenure now is thirteen years. I’ve owned the company for sixteen years. Once we got rid of the bad apples, we brought in people with a different context, a different culture, with an understanding of what we’re here to do, not just we sell corporations or we do corporate compliance, we build fortresses around people’s personal and business assets. That’s what we do. We’re fortress builders.
When you get on the phone with somebody, you’re helping protect them and their family. That’s what you’re doing. You hire for intentions. You don’t hire to fill a spot. You say, “I’m hiring you because this needs to be done. Is this something you can do? We’re going to figure out three or four things that we’re going to measure to make sure that we’re making that progress, so every single day, we both know how you’re doing.” When you do that, it changes the deal. When you say, “You don’t have to go up through layers of management to get permission on something. Your job is to solve the problem for the customer right now.” You’re empowered to do that. If we don’t like what you did, that will be a training moment. That will be a way to teach, “There’s a reason we don’t do it that way, but you’re not in trouble for taking care of a problem.” I love the expression I heard from Keith Cunningham one time. He said, “You can’t provide exceptional service without making exceptions.” I thought that was brilliant. If you empower your people to do it, they will take ownership of that job. They’ll understand why they’re there. They’ll understand what they’re working towards and then they feel great. That’s why they don’t leave the job. People that are looking for other jobs, they’re unfulfilled because nobody is leading them. Nobody is giving them a flag to salute. Nobody is saying, “Here’s the difference we’re making in the world. Here’s how we’re helping people.”
Tie back to the 53% of people that are actively looking for a job. Because part of what I’m hearing you say is that the reason potentially that they’re looking for another job is that they don’t feel part of that company. They don’t feel either engaged or respected or part of the bigger picture. They don’t understand where they fit in that big picture, what’s the purpose of their work, all that kind of thing that would lead to some form of happiness or contentment within the space of their workplace.
There are at least two things. One is if somebody says, “I like working in an office, I like working in a team, I like understanding what we’re doing,” they like to work and they’re looking for a job, it’s bad management. 100%, it’s bad management. The other, at least, part of that group is people who started to do something because they believed it was a good idea. They went and got a degree in something because they thought they would like it. All they knew growing up was fireman, policeman, astronaut, lawyer, doctor, so they pursued it. Then they got there and they said, “This isn’t for me.” Those people that might be looking for a job are the ones there’s maybe no fault amongst anybody. They haven’t figured out how to identify their own super power, what their natural gifts are that you could deploy those natural gifts in almost any setting and be successful and happy. If you don’t know what they are, you’re doing somebody else’s errand all the time instead of saying, “This is what I’m great at. I can do this in the military, I can do this in the private sector, I can do this in charities, I can do this in our entrepreneurial setting because this is what I’m good at.”
That’s the area that I’m the most curious about because that’s the people that we speak to. The ones that are ready to look at the ways that you shift out of that. How do you stop the cycle of doing something that doesn’t feel the way you want it to feel? Whether it’s to not have the fulfillment and feel like you’re not actually sharing whatever your true interest are or you’re living for the weekend, you’re living for the vacations, you’re living for somebody else’s expectations, or you’re living out of obligation, so driven by responsibility. Driven by fear really because the fear is that if you stopped doing that, somehow, you wouldn’t be able to take care of yourself. You wouldn’t be able to take care of your family.
We’re talking about the fabnormal, right?
No. This is why I’m getting at this with you because the Harris Poll was 53% and it wasn’t 53% of the fabnormal. It wasn’t 53% of a segment. That might be the segment you identified earlier which are the people who might naturally be gravitating toward you, myself or other people in the business development or personal development space. Let’s say people who are wanting a higher level of consciousness and education. We’re talking about 53% of the general workforce. What I’m curious about is what’s the percentage of that 53% that are in a culture that’s not engaging them at the level where they want to stay? Motivating and inspiring them to be there and want to commit their time to that company ongoingly, versus the percentage of those folks that just realize they took a job, the way we all probably at the beginning took a job, which was without great rhyme or reason or because we thought it was a good idea. In fact, I don’t typically quote Keith Cunningham but there is something I want to credit him with that made a difference when I heard it. He said something like, “Everything that’s ever gone wrong in his life started out as a great idea.” I thought that there’s something really sage about that. To me, any error in my life wasn’t because I started out to create an error or make a mistake. It started out as a good idea. To go into a job or seek a profession or whatever that you do, you go in with the best intent. You’re not going in because you’re saying, “I would love to work this job for the next ten years,” then at the end of ten years, “I want to wake up in the morning and have this realization that I’ve wasted ten years of my life. Climbing up the ladder on someone else’s wall, building someone else’s building or dream or something and now I feel lost and have to pivot, have to change direction.” Nobody starts out that way.
The whole concept of pivot and the whole idea of your book and of this podcast is that there are people who have been really happy in their life up to this point and then something dramatic happened. They got divorced or somebody died or they got cancer or they got fired. Maybe it was okay and then they turned 50 and they said, “I think I could play a bigger game” or, “What if I never even try?” Maybe it’s not even about “I want to build a big business,” maybe it’s, “I want to travel the world.”
What if my dad didn’t give me these options and suggest that I go to a certain high school and suggest that I check out that radio show? They didn’t have somebody who was actually helping them pivot into a bigger space because they could see that they had more potential than they could see. Maybe they’ve actually had people who did the opposite in their lives where they constantly naysayed them and told them, “That’s not a good idea. Get a safe job,” or “Don’t try that,” or whatever it is.
That’s most people. They’re in a job they don’t like out of you said obligation, I said, “Out of their trying to live up to somebody else’s expectations.” Billy Joel has a great song called James. It’s one of his early albums. It’s all about his friend. “James, do you like your life?” He talks about, “Are you still in school living up to expectations?” He talks about all the ways this friend, this kid that he grew up with, was not having his dreams lived out because he was so busy trying to live everybody else’s dreams out. To close the loop on this thing about the 53%, I’m sure you can’t break it into two categories but I think if I was going to simplify it into two, it would be those two I mentioned. One is they have bad management. They might have liked the idea of that industry but they have bad management and so they don’t feel fulfilled in that position or they’re in a job that was really wrong for them in the first place. A lot of people jump from job to job, looking for that mother ship where they feel comfortable again or where they feel at home. I’ve got friends who just are professionals and they are CEO or CFO or chief operating officer. They go for a two-year contract and just get more money everywhere they move. That’s a rare exception, but those people are there, too. They’re changing jobs because they’re going to get another $500,000 when they move. They already got all the stock options that they’re going to get from this company, so now they’re going to go to another one. There are a lot of stuff out there that’s not the solo entrepreneur. There’s a lot going on.
James, we were always friends,
From our childhood days
And we made our plans,
And we had to go our separate ways.
I went on the road
You pursued an education.
James, do you like your life,
Can you find release,
And will you ever change
Will you ever write your masterpiece.
Are you still in school
Living up to expectations, James.
Everybody should go download Turnstiles or at least get James and then play it. When you start feeling that and go, “I’ve got my own life to live. I’m not just here to do what everybody else wants me to do.”
Everybody else is satisfied. Think about it. How would you like to get through your life and get to the end and the thing you know for sure is that everybody else is satisfied?
You never got to pursue your dreams and it’s scary. It’s challenging. You have to make a decision to do it. Anybody that says it’s not scary, I think is fooling themselves because you have to be willing to give up something. Change is almost always difficult and quite often it’s painful. When you can get through it to the other side, there’s a world available to you that you just didn’t even know existed. Other than watching little flickers of people that seem to have a nice motor home or travel to Europe first class. You had this little idea but you didn’t understand the freedom that comes from being in a position to do the things you want to do. When you get to go help other people at the same time and you see the difference that this idea that you had makes for somebody else, it just changes your world.
I know I’m not putting you on the spot when I ask you to talk about this. I think the people listening might think to themselves, “Good guy. I really want to know more about him and all that. He seems like he had a good father, his father took good care of him.” You had a good realization moment, vulnerable, really authentic moment in this podcast where I think you were feeling great gratitude for your dad, just recognizing how behind the conductor’s wand, he’s been in your life, which is beautiful. There are people listening to this saying, “What does he know about adversity?” I’ve experienced adversity. People know my story. I’ve pivoted out of practicing law because I had a near-death moment where I really thought, “This is the way it’s going to end, me being a sell-out.”. Then shifting and pivoting and eight years later end up pivoting again through not seeing eye-to-eye with my own partners in a business that I put a lot of my life and energy into. That didn’t work out, and now recreating a business from scratch. All the challenge of that, the fear of it, all of the stuff that’s in pivot had to then be applied for us to move forward ourselves. People probably would love to know where it is that you’ve experienced adversity and how you came out the other end of it.
Adam, I’ve been married for all these years and blissfully, happily married to this great girl and all these great kids and great business, I can tell you lots of great stuff. The stories that people don’t know about me very much, they don’t know that I was super sick as a teenager and a young adult with ulcerative colitis. I would be on the toilet 25 times a day with blood coming out. I had to have my large intestine removed at 21. They don’t know that story. They don’t know about my second business, which was a great success until it wasn’t. I hung on to it too long and we ended up in bankruptcy court back in 1992 with my nine-month pregnant wife with our second child. We had to give our cars back to the bank .For about nine months, we had this car that we couldn’t fix the starter on, so my wife with two car seats on the back, two little children, had to park on a hill so she could roll start the car. People don’t see that when they come up and they see the things that we do now. They don’t know that stuff.
The story that you’re referring to is being on top of the world, being way up in my tower office in downtown Portland, 26th floor of the bank tower down there. You get a visit from the IRS and the FBI and they were seeking information from us about a guy that we had stopped a couple of years before doing business with. A nice guy but a guy that I thought was a hot potato and was doing some things that I just didn’t want to be around. When they asked me, “Can you answer a few questions for us?” They assured me I was not part of the investigation. I said, “Sure,” and I answered their questions. Four months later, I get indicted on conspiracy charges and they said that, “You either knew or you should have known what we think this guy was up to.” Nothing to do with me, nothing to do with my company, nothing to do with my taxes, nothing to do with our family. They never took one shred of evidence out of any of the companies like Laughlin. They never took one piece of paper. We thought, “How can you be in trouble for something you should have known about? How can you be criminally indicted?” We fought and fought, spent about $2 million fighting in legal fees and finally just had to give up and made a plea bargain. My wife was there, she said, “I always thought up until that moment, that maybe you’d been gullible, maybe you’d been innocent in your intentions but you had been on the edges of something that was wrong.” She said, when we sat in that meeting, it made her want to fight more when he said, “I don’t care what you plead guilty to. It could be anything as long as it is a 36-month charge. I don’t care what it is. In other words, it doesn’t have to be anything we found. You just need to tell us something that you’re guilty of.” Can you imagine that?
When you’ve never had issue with the law and you always thought the government was supposed to be the good guys, then here’s this guy representing the United States of America and saying, “I don’t care what you plead guilty to.” The judge was a black man with gray hair. He was the chief justice of our Federal Court here in Portland and on the Ninth Circuit appellate court. The arguments with Trump over immigration and all that sort of thing, he was part of that group making the decisions for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, Ancer Haggerty. He was sitting up on the bench. I was standing down there in my little blue business suit and all these other guys in orange jumpsuits had been going by in shackles. I changed my plea. Adam, I kid you not and you’re a lawyer, he had been looking down reading this thing, “You know you’re giving up these rights. You understand it all,” he was reading a script. I said what I plead guilty to. He sat up in his chair and he took off his glasses and he said, “Let me repeat this back to you. You’re saying that you met a guy one time at a lunch with the other defendant. You gave this individual a phone number and then two years later, that person bought an insurance policy that’s completely legal to buy and then later, he deducted inappropriately the premium on that insurance policy. You didn’t do his taxes. You got nothing to do with his deduction. You didn’t get paid a commission or anything. You’re saying you aided and assisted in the filing of false corporate tax return by doing that?” I said, “Yes.” He goes, “All right.” My lawyers didn’t even think that the prosecution would accept it. That’s the only thing I could figure out that I could plead guilty to is I did give a guy a number and I had found out 400 boxes of discovery. A whole giant room full of these boxes, that this guy who I met once, who I did give a phone number to, did buy an insurance policy and did deduct it inappropriately and I said, “I aided and assisted him by giving him the phone number.”
Off I went to Federal Prison for a year and a half. There’s a tremendous number of stories in there but the main thing is a guy who grew up super strait-laced. I grew up in the Mormon Church. I was a Mormon Missionary. I was an Eagle Scout. I only ever had sex with my wife. I never drank, I never smoked. I was just this straight, lily-white guy who had never had trouble with the law. Then I thought I’d separated from the guy that I thought was a problem. When those who came to investigate him, which made sense to me, asked me questions, I thought I did the right thing by answering their questions and now here I am in Federal Prison. When you lay out your vision, when you write out your, “Here’s where I’m going to go” or you want to make a mind to move or your dream board, prison was never on the dream board. It was nowhere in the path I saw for my life at all. I couldn’t fathom that I would ever go to prison. There are all kinds of tear-jerker stories I could tell about it. It was a hard time. Going up to it was very difficult, very terrifying. Going through it was dehumanizing and long. I was sentenced eighteen months but you spend fourteen months and a week actually in the facility. You go to halfway house, then you have time off for good behavior, about 10% for good behavior. Fourteen months in my normal life goes by very quickly. Fourteen months and a week in there, it felt like I had always been there and I would always be there. You’re so cut off from the world.
If anybody is going through this whether it’s a legal battle, a marriage battle, a health battle, a loneliness, a sadness, whatever it is that’s your thing, I remember a day where we hired this attorney from Canada to do research. We didn’t want anybody that was part of the US system. We hired this attorney and he was down for one of his regular every couple of months’ meetings with us. He came into the room, this offsite location that we were doing this conversation and having this meeting. He saw me and he said, “Aaron, you don’t look good. Are you okay?” I said, “I’m not okay. I’m horrible. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I’m freaking out. We’re spending money like water, just water pouring through our hands. I’m worried about the business. I’m worried about my family. I’m freaked out about how this is going to affect my wife and kids. I’m absolutely terrified that I might go to prison and what that might mean to me,” because I’m thinking raped and beaten. I’m thinking every story I’d ever heard in my life. I said, “I’m not okay at all.”
You’ll understand this Adam because I’d never really done this. I do it a lot now but in those days, I didn’t. He said, “Let’s take three deep breaths together, in through your nose, out through your mouth.” That was not a practice I had at that time. When he said, “Take a deep breath in,” I realized that I couldn’t even open up my diaphragm and take a deep breath. It was really hard for me even to breathe in all the way. He said, “I’ve seen this before, Aaron. You can’t breathe.” I said, “No, I can’t.” He said, “It’s like you’re being crushed.” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “It’s like there’s this iceberg on your chest and it’s crushing you to death.” I said, “That’s exactly how it feels.” This was super important. This was a cool moment in this whole mess that I was going through. He said, “Aaron, the iceberg is real.” He didn’t say, “Cheer up. It’s going to be okay.” He said, “The iceberg is real. It’s really crushing you and you feel like you’re going to die.” He said, “Every day, that sun comes up in the morning and the iceberg melts a little bit and eventually it will melt away and it will be gone.” It was incredibly important for me to hear that at that time. That it’s real but it will go away eventually. Then I didn’t feel like I was crazy, like I was somehow deficient in being a good dad or husband or boss or whatever, like there was something wrong with me that I was so debilitated, but I was. When he said, “It’s real but it will go away,” it was a huge relief. Even though I didn’t fully understand, at least I could logically grasp onto that and it helped me going through it.
I came out of prison and I thought, “Who’s going to want me to lead the company? Who’s going to want to do business with me?” I used to give speeches all over the world. “Who’s going to want me to give a talk when there’s this little asterisk next to my name that says felon?” We don’t want to take business advice from a felon. To his credit, the first person that invited me to speak was Brian Tracy. He let me know that lots of people have had trouble, different than mine but had their own trouble. If we were aware of all the blemishes in other people’s lives, he said, “Don’t worry about it.” I went for a number of years and I came back the next day and was back working, but I didn’t come out into public. I wanted to tell the story because I felt like I was lying to people if I didn’t tell them the story. All of my people were like, “Don’t tell the story. Just stick back to business. People don’t know.” It was on the Wall Street Journal, it was on CNN. There are lots of evidence of this out there if you want to look me up. I wanted to do it and I expressed that to you. You were the one that finally gave me my coming out party, in front of a very nice, very warm group of people in Palm Springs. I’ll never forget being up on that stage. I don’t know if you remember, there were props on the stage like a mailbox and some other stuff. I was supposed to come out and do a little thing that was a continuity exercise on the stage. I don’t remember what it was now but it was fun. I came out trying to be funny and stuff and then I turned right from this pleasant glib fun thing on the stage to telling the story.
I remember the people applauding at the end of the talk. You were backstage with me. I don’t know if you remember this because you’ve been backstage with a lot of people. We were behind the curtain and you were trying to almost walk me through a little meditation and a little visioning thing. I was pretty sure the end of my public speaking career was about to happen and maybe the end of my business career. Everybody has warned me against it. If I do it, it’s going to be a mess. I went out there and I did it. I told the straight story for the very first time on your stage. At the end of the talk, standing ovation, people went nuts. I tried to get off the stage into the back of the room, as is appropriate to do, and all these people crowded around me. Not ten people or twenty people but 100 people and very politely would come up to me and take me by the hand, shake my hand and pull me in close for a hug and whisper in my ear something. Some people just said, “Thank you.” Some people said, “I did eight years myself. My daughter is in prison right now. I have cancer,” or something. Every single time I’ve told that from the stage in whatever it’s been now, three years or something, the exact same thing happens every single time. People come up to me and say, “Thank you for talking about this. Thanks for being vulnerable. Thanks for doing it because it gives me a chance to not feel like I’m alone in this room.” Who would have known that the worst experience of my life, the one that seemed most out of context with who I thought I was would be the thing that was the greatest salve, the greatest relief to the people that I get to talk to? The one story that made them feel, “I’m okay,” or it’s this leveler, “I’m not just a shiny guy up on the stage. We’re just people. We’re all going through our stuff. Maybe if he survived it, I can too.” I didn’t tell much of a pivot story, but I told you an emotional story.
I wouldn’t frame what you said as a non-pivot story. I think it’s the quintessential pivot story. You took a great adversity in your life and one that could have crushed you under the weight of that iceberg, you could have died, not physically died, but emotionally.
There were times I thought it would be so much easier if I just drove my car off the road.
Thank you for saying that because there’s probably not one of us that hasn’t had a moment where we didn’t consider that at some point for some reason. To know that it happens and that the weight of it is real in the moment. It’s not fake, it’s not imagined, for somebody to be seen in that moment, even if it’s just to see yourself and to know that, “You’re not alone. You’re not unique, unusual, different than a lot of other people.” Then there’s that lawyer which is remarkable to hear the counsel of a good attorney from Canada to tell you to breathe and to remind you that it’s real and it will dissipate. It’s more than just a platitude, “This too shall pass.” It’s the fact that it does pass. There are a lot of people that wherever they are in their lives at the moment, wherever you and I are even in this moment where we’ve got pressure and things that might feel like a weight, maybe it’s not an iceberg weight or maybe it is, that whatever length of time it is, but even a year from now, more likely than not, you’ll look back on this moment and realize that all is well.
My wife is a really gifted life coach and I hear her say often, “This is how it looks on the way to it all working out.” This is just part of your path. It’s not the end. It’s not damnation. You’re not here forever. This is just part of the path. If we choose to take it this way, these experiences give us wisdom and insight to help other people and to help us get more easily over the next hurdle. If we don’t ever have to struggle a little bit, we don’t learn very much.
The comeback is what is great in sports and it’s great in life. Being resilient is part of the process that we love to share, the pivot process which resilience is so important. There are three pieces to that little recipe and one is that you frame the situation you’re in, in a particular way. When you frame it in a way that leads you to intuitively know that things will get better, they may get worse but they will be better at some point, it will all make sense at some point. It will all be a part of an unfolding path of growth in your life wherever you are now. Secondly, there’s wisdom to be mined. There are nuggets to be gained from the hardest of experiences and from all others. You’ve got to take care of yourself as well. Those are the three pieces of the resilience pie so that we can bounce back, so that we can take a setback and utilize it. It’s the alchemy of turning the lead of a situation into something golden. I don’t know that it was the catalytic moment, but it sounds like what you said was it was the catalyst to get on that stage with just the permission. I gave you permission to get up there and have that moment where you could be real. You could be “vulnerable.” That vulnerability turned into a great strength. If there’s any pivot that I can see that would be really important for other people to take away from what you just shared, it’s that maintaining the façade is not the answer.
The story that’s hardest for you to tell is the one that will help the most other people. Trying to pretend that your life is this perfect image is not going to help. The pivot, based on that story, is that at that moment, it gave me a vision of a higher level of engagement and service that I could give that wasn’t so transactional. It wasn’t just doing business and doing good business. It was, “There are stuff here that can help other people not only get through challenges but also play a bigger game by understanding that this isn’t the end and that you’re not finished because of your worst circumstance.” It was a great thing.
First of all, I want to thank you for being on the podcast, for having a really beautiful unfolding conversation.
It’s a pleasure to be with you and your listeners.
If you haven’t yet subscribed to The Conscious PIVOT podcast, go ahead and subscribe. You can get all the episodes. Secondly, the community that we are all gathering in, it’s just so impeccable, so beautiful, authentic and vulnerable in a really empowering way. It’s the Start my PIVOT Community on Facebook. You can check us out there and be part of this conversation in a deep, deep way regarding business or health or personal matters. To bookend the beginning and the end of this discussion with a reminder about ourselves, I take out my magic wand and I wave it and my wish for everybody is that you wake up tomorrow morning. That you wake up a little bit more than you are awake today, both figuratively and literally. That you regain and gain greater consciousness. In that moment that you are taking your first waking breath and having your first waking thoughts, that you will realize how blessed you are to be alive, that there are people who are not waking up and not taking that first breath of the morning. It is something to be grateful for.
If you are inclined to do so starting tomorrow morning and for each morning thereafter for 21 days to begin with, to create this new habit or some master habits that get created over 60 to 70 days and then beyond that, wake up, feel blessed, feel grateful and then stand up and declare these words, “I love my life. I love my life. I love my life.” I really respect the time and the energy and everything that everybody puts into being a part of this. We couldn’t do it without all of you. It’s a collaborative effort. If Aaron and I are just having a conversation and nobody is on the other end listening to it, it doesn’t have any impact. It has impact for us, for our friendship and for the way we support each other, but we obviously have the goal in mind that it has an impact in all of your lives. I thank you for your time, your energy and your commitment to your own growth. Aaron, I want to give you the last word. What would you like to say?
Sometimes the dreams that you have for yourself seem elusive and you think, “Who am I to pursue such a thing or how would I do it or I don’t know anybody or I don’t have the money.” I’m just going to tell you that Adam Markel and I and tons of people that I meet all the time, if you can’t believe in yourself, believe in our belief for you, that if you just take little baby steps every day towards your goals, towards your dreams, you’ll be surprised by taking that intentional forward-moving action. Even if you don’t see what the big difference is, if you just keep making little steps every day, you’ll be surprised how quickly the path will open up for you to start accomplishing things you never thought you could do. Pivoting is only spinning if you don’t move. You’re just spinning around. To go from, “Here I am but now I’m going to get on a different path,” it takes taking the first step and the second step. You don’t have to know the path. All you have to do is take the first step out into the dark. It’s just amazing how the path becomes illuminated before you when you show God or the universe or maybe just yourself that you are on a path and you’re not going to stand still or do what you don’t love anymore. Thanks for having me here.
With that, we’ll say ciao for now.
- Aaron Young
- Laughlin Associates
- The Unshackled Owner
- Kiyosaki’s book
- Aaron Young’s podcast
- Keith Cunningham
- Adam Markel’s book
- Brian Tracy
- Start my PIVOT Community
- recorded a visit with a woman
As always, enjoy more Conscious PIVOT podcasts at AdamMarkel.com or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play. Join our incredible PIVOT community at www.pivotFB.com and go to www.StartMyPIVOT.com where you can download your free Kickstart Guide to pivoting into a business and life you LOVE.