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How A Highly Ambitious, Never Satisfied Navy SEAL Found Happiness

Combat, divorce and illness helped pave the path to contentment.
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As a former Navy SEAL I can assure you that the Navy tries very hard to provide a solid balance between work and personal life. But the simple fact is that in the SEAL teams, the training and deployment tempos are so rigorous that balance isn't a reality.

I experienced the same lack of balance in my early days as a budding entrepreneur. You tell yourself that once you get your business off the ground you will focus on your personal life. But the truly ambitious rarely stop setting new goals. Your business will never have grown enough. You will never have accomplished everything on your list because more opportunities will arise.

That is where we have to ask ourselves what success really means to us personally. What do we want to be remembered by? Did we make the world a better place than we found it? Did we prioritize the things that really matter? Having experienced the treachery of combat on the battlefield, starving children in Africa, the obstacles of growing a business, divorce, being a single father for years, and now growing a family, my perspective on success and happiness has changed.

I can honestly say that today, I am truly happy. Here's why.

I am inspired by my life partner.

I am happier than I have ever been due to one thing and one thing only. My wife. Sparing the details, in 2009 I was transformed into a single Dad literally overnight; my two-year-old son and I were left to figure things out for ourselves. I also had a brand-new business to run, team members to lead, and a business partner I had responsibilities to. Though I told myself that my SEAL training was all I needed to navigate this difficult time and that I would not allow this minor obstacle to affect my ability to be a good leader, I was wrong. I immersed myself in raising my son as best I could. It was the right choice, but I became mentally and physically absent at work. I let a lot of people down in the process.

Then I met my wife. She has given me a renewed strength, confidence and the ability to dive back into life headfirst without fear or anxiety. She somehow manages to be the CEO of our household, keep both her boys in check, and raise a newborn, all while starting her own new business. She is my inspiration and I attribute my current personal and professional success to her.

I prioritize family and children over work.

Our son is now eight years old and my wife and I have a three-month-old daughter. Fifteen weeks into the pregnancy, we found out that our daughter had a birth defect called gastroschisis. We were told that there could be varying degrees of additional complications and to plan for a long stay in the NICU after she was born. We were devastated. I am thrilled to say our daughter is doing wonderfully now. But it was a tough road. As you power through your journey, remember what, and who, is really important.

I exercise.

A healthy person is a happier, more productive person. When I used to hear people say "I just don't have the time to stay fit," I would roll my eyes. But I am starting to realize now, that with a wife, two children, and a much bigger company, that sometimes there really is no time. No time for early morning swims, hour-long runs and the gym every day. Some days now if I get 20 minutes in, it's a blessing. But we manage stress and anxiety better, are more productive at work, and have more energy at the end of the day if we're fit. Make time for wellness activities.

I pray.

Keep your faith, whatever form that faith might come in. Allowing life to distance you from your faith is a bad habit. As we say in the SEALs, "The only easy day was yesterday." My military career has taken me to some of the darkest places in the world. Yet what I found were people more grounded in their beliefs than anywhere else. My faith became strong during in combat. We take many things for granted in life, and it requires constant renewal of our faith in order to stay focused on what matters.

Balance is one of the core values at our company. It's part of our culture and something we try to live by daily. Get a strong partner, prioritize the things that matter, find time for fitness, and keep your faith. Do all of these things and hopefully you will find your own happiness.

IMAGE: REB Images/Flickr
Last updated: May 29, 2014

BRENT GLEESON | Columnist

Navy SEAL combat veteran Brent Gleeson is the co-founder and CMO at Internet Marketing Inc., a leading digital marketing agency and an Inc. 500|5000 company for the past three years in a row.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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