AE interviewed by Ramon Ray - Smart Hustle Mag

At my office at Black Enterprise being interviewed by Ramon Ray for Smart Hustle Magazine.

I’m blessed to be in my 30th year as a business and financial journalist, editor and media executive, experienced in print, TV, radio, online and social media content platforms. I also have more than 20 years experience as a business plan and elevator pitch competition judge, and an advisor/mentor to entrepreneurs and new start-ups. And over the past 10 years, I’ve been an entrepreneur in my own right, marketing my skills and personal brand as a public speaker and live-event moderator, creating a signature bow tie line, and developing the Grown Zone with my wife and business partner Zara D. Green. And since last year, I’ve been busy promoting my first book, coauthored with my wife, Loving In The Grown Zone: A No-Nonsense Guide to Making Healthy Relationship Decisions in the Quest for Loving, Romantic Relationships of Honor, Estéem and Respect.

I know what you’re thinking: What? Relationships? Nearly three decades as an award-winning business journalist and entrepreneurship expert, and your first book is about love and relationships?

The truth is, until recently, I’d been asking myself the same thing. (It’s probably less of a mystery to my dear sister-friend and AARP Life Reimagined well-being champion Dr. Janet Taylor.) But that changed when that very question was posed to me by “Small Business Evangelist” Ramon Ray, when he interviewed me about Loving In The Grown Zone for Smart Hustle Magazine earlier this year. (You can view the interview on YouTube.)

What I told him is what I’ve learned through both observation and often hard-earned experience (including two ill-conceived marriages): The single biggest determinant of long-term business, career and financial success is your commitment to continuous personal growth and the quality of the decisions you make in your relationships, including—maybe especially—romantic relationships. Conversely, neglecting personal growth and making poor relationship decisions is the single biggest threat to that success.

I’ve spent the majority of my career focused on teaching external achievement and professional development, including career, financial and entrepreneurial success strategies. (In fact, I continue to be passionate about entrepreneurship and financial education, with my work for Black Enterprise as well as platforms such as my Money Matters radio feature for American Urban Radio Networks.) But what few people tell you is that unless you focus on internal development and personal growth—understanding and mastering your beliefs, emotions and choices—any career, business and financial gains you aspire to will be unachievable, unsustainable, in constant peril and/or unfulfilling. For the most part, we in media don’t address this critical aspect of business and financial success until after the fact, when we cover (sometimes gleefully and nearly always judgmentally) the damage that results when outwardly successful people are found to have serious personal growth deficiencies (such as compulsive marital infidelity), with devastating consequences to their families, businesses, finances, careers, and sometimes entire industries.

To paraphrase my wife Zara: Gaining lasting and meaningful wealth, happiness and success is an inside job.

Zara and I launched our Grown Zone campaign to make the case that there is a difference between being merely adult and being Grown. All it takes to become an adult is to survive past puberty. Adulthood just happens. However, it takes intention to be Grown; it must be chosen to be learned, practiced, achieved and mastered. (In the context of business, that means not every business owner is a boss, or qualified to be, because to be a boss requires you to be the boss of yourself.) To be Grown is to be expert in, responsible for and in control of the patterns of your own thoughts and behaviors, both of which are the fruit of your emotions, which in turn are rooted in your beliefs.

People get in trouble when they surrender personal responsibility for themselves and their decisions. When they do, it is nearly always due to deficits and neglect of personal growth and/or the unhealthy beliefs and emotions that lead to self-destructive patterns of decision-making. Some real life examples (I’ve omitted names and changed some details to protect the privacy of people I respect and care about):

The woman with an Ivy League MBA, a great business mind, a promising company with excellent staff—who approaches her business life as a thinly-veiled, desperate gambit to land a rich, powerful husband, not new business for her firm. She wonders why she’s not taken seriously as a business woman, showing up at business conferences and industry events with a different “fiancé” every couple of years or so. The truth is, no B-school teaches you how to deal with daddy and abandonment issues, or the unhealthy belief that a woman, no matter her accomplishments, is worth less as a single person than she is as a wife (or at least a girlfriend).

Another example: You know that line in Kanye West’s song “GoldDigger” about the football star winning the Super Bowl and driving off in a Hyundai? I know of at least two smart and successful business owners whose personal and business assets are being drained because they thought their CEO title gave them 007 status—a license to kill (with the ladies). Between child support, spousal support and (in at least one case), a sexual harassment suit settlement, their businesses have been hampered by both drained resources and owners distracted by stress and drama instead of being focused on growing their companies.

Okay, how about one real-life example with a real name attached to it: Check the story, shared with Oprah Winfrey on OWN Network’s Super Soul Sunday, of best-selling author of Simple Abundance Sarah Ban Breathnach, who lost a multimillion-dollar fortune due at least in part to her choosing to marry a man she says preyed on her lack of self-esteem.

It is commonly accepted wisdom that a stable, healthy marriage has a strong correlation with business success. But the operative term (and I’m speaking from personal experience here) is not “marriage”, but “stable and healthy.” Recognize the connection between the choices we make with our personal lives, family and other relationships, and our ability to finance, grow and lead our businesses, regardless of our relationship status.

Watch business reality and docu-series such as American Greed and The Profit, and notice how often the problem is not lack of education, business experience or professional skills, but personal growth deficits, unhealthy beliefs, lack of character, unresolved personal issues and poor relationship choices both past and present, including with family, friends and romantic interests.

The single common thread of most successful business leaders is their understanding of the direct correlation between stable personal lives and healthy relationship choices, and their ability to build and run great companies, create wealth, bring value to others and otherwise excel as entrepreneurs and professionals. This skill set, more than degrees, industry experience, connections, great product ideas, and even capital, is the single most critical qualification you must have to be your own boss, not just in business, but in life. This realization is also why I’ve reimagined my life, and refocused my purpose, on helping people to recognize and, if necessary, challenge and change the beliefs, emotions, choices and relationships that can only either serve or sabotage their success.