On January 15, 2010, I lost $3 million. At the time, it was the worst day of my life. Now, its become one of the best days of my life--a transformation I wouldn't trade for anything.
Don't get me wrong: It was so awful that I called it my "2x4 day," because it felt like I'd been hit by a 2x4. I'd started my sports tour business in 2001, selling tickets and sports packages to corporate clients for big sports events. The first year, we drove $1 million in revenue.
The business evolved to a strong brand in the market. 2008 was our most lucrative year: Ticket sales for the Beijing Olympics alone netted us $1 million in profits. I did what any smart businessperson would do: I set my sights on the next big goal, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
I contracted for more than 17,000 Olympic tickets for $3 million. My previous success had made such a deal possible. But the tickets I'd paid for never showed up. Prepayment from 10,000 people, along with legal issues surrounding a breach of contract, loomed over my head--and when the Olympics began on January 15, 2010, I knew I wasn't going to recoup my losses.
The devastating event, however, had a silver lining.
What does success look like?
Most leaders believe money is the biggest indicator of success. Others say freedom--from a boss, or to choose how to spend their time--is success. Still others say being seen as an industry heavyweight is most important.
This comes in spite of research that's proven that money and happiness aren't necessarily correlated. Money does bring us happiness to a certain point, but once we can provide food, clothing, and shelter--or hit $75,000 in annual income, whichever comes first--our happiness plateaus.
Before my 2x4 Day, I'd found that money and free time didn't give me a sense of fulfillment. I wanted to disrupt an industry and make people rethink how they viewed the world and their choices. I couldn't stop thinking about it. It got to the point where my wife asked, "When are you going to do something about it?"
But I didn't do anything about it, not really. I was financially wealthy, I had freedom, and I was professionally comfortable, using my expertise every day. My entire existence carried all the hallmarks of success, and I wasn't ready to leave it.
Isn't it ironic? Hanging onto this "success" resulted in losing it all, anyway.
I'd wanted so badly to pursue something that would give me fulfillment, move an industry forward, and help people. And now I had my opportunity, but it wasn't of my own design. And there's the rub: I'd boxed myself right into a corner by seeking what society and the business world told me I should want.
Other business owners were salivating at the chance to make millions of dollars, and I'd already done that. Why was I so ungrateful for my success?
I wasn't. I'd discovered that others' definition of success doesn't necessarily match my own.
What won't I forget?
I still wanted to change industries and help people. What guided my thinking was a quote from Maya Angelou: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
I remembered a business coach who'd helped me strategize the building of that "successful" company. Working with her had made me not only grateful, but also knowledgeable.
She regularly got to see the people she worked with succeed and was able to celebrate in their success without feeling tied to it herself. That was a feeling I related to as I shifted away from an aggressive business mindset toward a supportive mentor perspective.
I enrolled in coaching training to begin a journey to serve other business owners. After a few years, I established a podcast to share stories of leadership. My work centered on coaching business leaders to meaningful success.
Between the coaching and the speaking opportunities I had, I realized that success for me could be defined as significance. Your impact is as important as--if not more than--the results you drive. Success is a byproduct of significance.
Any business leader who's doggedly pursuing success--in other words, all of them--shouldn't let the pursuit of success distract them from defining it. Truly successful people live their lives according to their own definition of success, not someone else's.
I had to literally lose it all to finally come to this realization. But I'm forever grateful for my 2x4 day and the crushing debt that woke me up to my own success.
I had to learn this lesson to create a life of more meaning and purpose. I had to let go of the old to find the new.