Insights with Ben Chodor: Featuring Jeff Gitterman

How do you measure success? The easy answer to this question (money) is one that has been proven time and time again to be false. How can we, as individuals and as companies, measure our success in non-material ways?

Ben Chodor

September 02, 2020

How do you measure success?

The easy answer to this question (money) is one that has been proven time and time again to be false. How can we, as individuals and as companies, measure our success in non-material ways?

On this episode of Insights, I’m excited to be talking to Jeff Gitterman, author of “Beyond Success.”

Jeff is a 25-year veteran in financial services, and his book is all about ways we can redefine what success means to us (hint: it’s about the journey, not the destination).

In this interview, Jeff and I discuss motivation, meditation and the importance of listening to our intuitions.

You can watch the full episode below on YouTube:


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Video Transcript:

Ben Chodor: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening wherever you are! Welcome to our show. I’m really excited about this, but there’s a couple things going on. This is my first time I’ve ever interviewed someone not from the studio, not with any production, from my home in SoHo, New York. So, bear with me. This is kind of weird for me to be sitting in a chair in my house doing a broadcast, interviewing someone I’ve known for a really long time but whose book, “Beyond Success” is a must-read for everyone.

I can’t wait to pass this out to our thousands of employees globally. It’s just a really great read.  And like I said, none of the authors I’m bringing on are talking about sales motivation. It’s more about life and their experiences and how to manage in this crazy world.

So, without that, I’m gonna bring Jeff on. Jeff, thank you so much for being on this broadcast. I am so excited to have you on. How are you today?

Jeff Gitterman: I’m good, I’m good in this groundhog day world that we’re living in these days. I don’t know what day it is, what month.

Ben: I was just telling someone some of the good parts and the bad parts of what’s going on is you get to spend more time with your family, but the weird part is that, working from home, which is something I’ve never really done, there’s no beginning or middle or end of the day. And like you said, I have no idea if today is Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, and it’s just bizarre.

Jeff: Yeah, the days are just running into each other with no breaks it seems. A little crazy.

Ben: Alright, so let me ask you a question, and in full disclosure to the entire audience watching, I met Jeff about 25 years ago. He was in an office with me, he was a friend of a friend, and then, starting out in the wealth management business, working nights, talking to people about how to invest. He said “I have this passion of mentoring and speaking, and I’m gonna make it happen, and I’m gonna do it.”

And speaking to him, I could see it happening, but as a twenty-something-year-old guy, do you really think that twenty-some odd years later, he’s gonna build an incredible company and make it  happen? It’s an incredible success story.

Did you really think, when you sat with me as a twenty-something-year-old, saying that everything that you told me when we sat down has basically come true - did you really know that it was gonna happen?

Jeff: You know, what I did know was that if I didn’t have a plan that I tried to adhere to that I wouldn’t go anywhere. I think that was my guiding principle back then. I just truly believed that I had to set the course, otherwise, just gonna meander around. There was no such thing as GPS back then, but I have to say, it kind of reminds me that if you jump in your car and you don’t put in an address, then your GPS isn’t gonna take you anywhere. It’s great technology, but you’ve gotta set the destination.

Ben: Did you get there faster, longer? There’s no road that’s gonna be straight anyways, it’s like a wave - you don’t know where it’s gonna come to shore, but did it kind of go the way that you expected it to go?

Jeff: No, definitely not. It was a meandering roller coaster versus a straight line. But that’s life, you know. I think what gets you through the meandering roller coaster is if you have a course and you’ve set a course. You know, otherwise, we always have these choices that we have to make, or at least it always seems like we have these choices that we have to make. And if you don’t have some north star that you’re following, those choices are extremely difficult at times. They’re never black and white - choices in life are always incredibly gray. Without any hindsight, every choice is gray.

Ben: I love the north star comment, Jeff. Because my Head of Strategy, Sylvie Harton, has said from day one when we started this organization - north star, every employee needs a north star, we need a north star, you need a north star.

But I want to jump right into your book. I loved reading it, because I loved your journey. But here’s a question I’ve got. Were you kicked out of the wealth management fraternity? Because, you made a statement in the beginning of your book that money won’t buy you happiness, alright? So, where did that come from, and how true has that been?

Jeff: You know what, I definitely made more money earlier on than I thought I would. I didn’t grow up with much money at all. I think the most money my dad ever made was probably $38,000 a year. And I remember hitting a point where I think I made that in a month. And I just realized that I had this concept in my head that when I had X, I would feel Y, and when I got X and I didn’t feel Y, I started questioning the whole dynamic of our society’s belief system that in order to be happy you have to get this or that. And I just realized that it wasn’t true, because I got X and I really wasn’t any happier. Yeah.

Ben: So let me ask you a question, because this makes me think of my own life in a way. My dad never made a lot of money, my dad never was an overachiever, and it was the biggest motivator for me. So, your dad, was he one of your biggest motivators? Not because of his success, but because NOT because of his success? Because that’s how it was for me.

Jeff: Yeah, so my dad worked retail in the 70s. And you can recall what retail in the 70s was like - we were going through a deep recession. I didn’t really know much of this until later, because I was the younger sibling, but my older sister did tell me later on that there were weeks that they didn’t really know if they were going to be able to put food on the table. And I just saw his lack of control and I realized that money, his job choices, were a great contributor to his lack of control. He also had a horrible attitude, but anyway. I didn’t want to have a lack of control when I grew up.

Ben: That’s a whole other conversation and a whole other show, because I think that what motivates different successful individuals, and their family and what they came from - I find it really fascinating.

Real quick, before we go on - what was the first job you ever had?

Jeff: Well I had a paper route when I was around 10, but I worked at the English Town Flea Market selling childrens’ clothing. That was the first steady job that I had, I would say. But my first job out of college was at Merrill Lynch. I mean, I started at Merrill Lynch in 1986, can’t believe I’m saying that. Wow, it was a long time ago.

Ben: It’s a long time ago. I used to deliver the Pennysaver door to door. That was my Sunday first job.

You talked about the new currency being attention. Where attention goes, energy flows. I kind of dig that, but why is attention our most valuable currency?

Jeff: It’s interesting, when we wrote the book, I really started writing it back in like 2006 or 2007, when I started thinking about writing it. And the internet was really, you know, becoming a primary force in our personal lives and our working lives. There were books that were starting to be written or articles or whitepapers calling it the attention economy. I realized how much companies were willing to spend just to garner someone’s attention, because they realized that if they can get your attention, then can ultimately drive what you spend your money on. And then, when I started delving deeper into the roots of our monetary system and our economic system, you know, it really is about convincing a lot of people that they need a lot more than they really need in order to keep the momentum going. It really dawned on me, the connection between that and my own lack of fulfilment and happiness when I started making the money that I thought I would. It was really where we were putting our attention that was the most critical piece.

Ben: You know, let me ask you a question, because I was literally just thinking about it, and it happens to be the theme of my video this week to my employees. I’ve learned via COVID, we’re finding out during lockdown that we really need a lot less than we think we need, and really the most valuable commodity is interpersonal connection. Do you think that when we come out of this that the attitude is gonna be a little bit different?

Jeff: I hope, I mean, I definitely have a lot of hope for that. Certainly after World War II, the Spanish Flu, if you look back in history, we did come out of those major events, even 9/11, a little kinder and gentler for a bit. Then we seem to lose it, unfortunately. I think if you don’t get to the root of how our economic system works and what we value then you can’t get a long course correction. And I think that’s critically important. You know the work that I do around investing in climate change - it’s really a drive to change what we think about use of capital for.

Ben: I agree. You’re extremely passionate, and we’re gonna get to that in a little bit. One of the key parts that I love about the book is, what is the investment plan for attention? You break it into four pillars - can you share a little with the audience, not enough that they don’t have to read the book, but enough that they understand where you’re going with it?

Jeff: Yeah sure. I love acronyms to an annoying point, so I named our principles CORE, because when I wrote the book, the hot thing in gym workouts at the time, which was really new, was working your core for working out. It really, to me, was a good metaphor for how we can work on our minds as well. So, I named it CORE, and it’s “Connecting to Source,” “Owning Your Unique Expression,” “Redirecting Your Attention into the Future,” and “Expanding Your Awareness to Include Others.” And very simply, I realized that if we didn’t go back to the root of where our attention was wandering from and try to start at that point, that we were never going to gain control over our attention.

So, whether it was meditation or walking or physical activity - running - whatever we could do to try to still our wandering mind is critical to our ability to function well. We go into that, obviously, in a lot of detail in the book. I’ve been an avid meditator since I was 13 years old.

But then, the second part of it is that we don’t own our unique expression. We define in the book that you need creative expression in service to the world, that’s when you’re truly successful. And while we’re all quite similar, we’re all the same species, we basically, I think, come here with a unique gift that we can contribute to the world. And I think that everyone has that. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t find it, or it isn’t nurtured in a lot of people. But I think if we work to really find what our passion is, that usually, within our passion we can find our purpose. That’s really critical, because, if it’s not the destination, you know, if getting the million dollars or the billion or the hundred thousand - if that doesn't cure or satisfy or fulfill, then it’s the journey that does. I mean, it’s quite simple, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

Ben: I’m all about the journey. In fact, I end a lot of my broadcasts with my team with the fact that I’m excited that I get to go on this journey with my team. That to me is one of the best parts of this. It’s not where it ends up. I think that in every facet of my career, the journey has been the best part of it. It’s not the end, it’s how we get there.

In pillar one, you quote that you mention is really eye opening to me. “The mind is a terrible master but a wonderful servant.”

How do we reclaim our mind, or how do we reclaim power over our mind.

Jeff: You know, basically, we have random thoughts running through our head all day long. And the nature of the mind is to wander our attention across those random thoughts. I always start, in my classes, when I”ve taught meditation in the past, you know, most people think they are their mind. They think the relationship between the conversation they’re having in their head is really the essence of who they are. And I alway ask people, then just for one minute, in the beginning of class, I don’t want you to think anything, not one thought. And it’s odd, because I’ve been doing this a long time, but for most people, the fact that they can’t do that - and really no one can do that - if you take the next step from that, if you can control those random thoughts, then why are you giving so much attention to them? And then, when you start to study that in meditation, you realize that your emotional state is constantly being battered around by whatever thoughts you happen to pay the most attention to. And the only thing I’ve found that stills that or regains control of that is meditation. Meditation is the perfect metaphor for the journey not the destination, because you don’t meditate to get anywhere. You meditate to make the journey more enjoyable and to have more stability, emotional stability especially,throughout the journey.

Ben: So, how many days of meditation have you missed?

Jeff: I have four kids, and for a long time, from thirteen on, I meditated all the time. Some days I was meditating for hours and hours. Now, I do an annual silent retreat for five days. But, my mind for the most part, and this is a guilty admittance, but for the most part, I don’t meditate as much as I used to. But I did for years and years and years meditate all the time. So, I still try to find my moments, and I try to go to activities, whether it’s working out, but I can practice meditation these days without sitting on the cushion. You know? So, it’s kind of like going to the gym, it depends on what you’re doing the rest of the day. You can exercise all day, you can take the stairs rather than the elevator, you can park as far as you want in the parking lot and walk to the entrance of the store. So I try to practice meditation really most of my day.

Ben: I love that. Alright - I gotta digress for one second though. You do a five day silent retreat? You spend five days once a year theoretically, you don’t talk to anyone like a monk. Do you do that in private, or do you do that around your family?

Jeff: I actually do it at a silent retreat. Last year I actually hosted the five day silent retreat. It’s about thirty people at a place called Peace Village in Haines Falls, New York, this 300 acre beautiful retreat. It’s run by a spiritual organization called the Brahma Kumari, which I’m not part of, so this is not a pitch. It’s a beautiful spiritual organization run by a 103-year-old woman.

Ben: Jeff, does it get easier day 3 and 4, or by day 4, going into five, are you like “I can’t wait to start talking again?” How does it move?

Jeff: Most people, I’d say 80-90% of the group, doesn’t want to start talking again after the five days. About 5% have some kind of crisis - they tell you that you need to have a deep meditation practice or spiritual practice before you go, and some people don’t, and they wind up having a difficult time. But 90% of the people, and last year, nobody had a difficult time. Some people came out of the gate wanting to talk incessantly, but the majority of people, including myself, really don’t want to start talking.

I’ll tell you the most wonderful thing about a silent retreat beyond meditation. It’s that, when you’re around a lot of people that you don’t know, so most of the people are strangers, and you can’t talk to them, all the labels of having you define yourself drop away, because the only connection you can have is through your eyes. So, you actually leave with deeper connections and friendships than you typically make in the world of talking.

Ben: Offline I want to talk to you about this a little bit, but I want to get back into other things. I think I played my whole career on my intuition or my gut, right? And the times that I haven’t listened to my intuition have been the biggest mistakes in my entire career. So, you talk about intuition playing a big role in our creative expression. How can all of us better access our intuition? Or is it actually listen to our intuition?

Jeff: You know, it’s an interesting thing. We mostly listen outward, so we’re listening either to our own conversation dialogue in our head. And that dialogue is not the deepest aspect of ourselves. It’s actually in meditation where it’s easier to start by listening to outside sounds, nature birds, or anything to try to get the focus off of the stream of attention. And then, once you do, you try to move to listening to the body, and the body really is where intuition comes from. It’s typically from the gut. And if you pay attention to the signals your body is sending, the majority of time your body is telling you when something isn’t right. There’s an interesting thing that, I mean I hate to pick a dark subject, but I was watching Girl with a Dragon Tattoo this morning, but there’s a line in the movie where the killer says to Daniel Craig that it’s unbelievable that being discourteous is a bigger fear than actual death. That people so don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings that they actually, when their intuition is screaming at them to run. If someone just invites them in politely, they’ll fight their complete intuition. I use that because it’s a great example, because your body knows. Your body is screaming at you to go the other way. And your mind says that the formalities of life call on you to accept the invitation to tea with the psychopath.

Ben: One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made is when I didn’t listen to my intuition, and I think I was 40 before I really believed in radical candor, about really telling someone about my intuition and what I’m feeling and being able to confront it. When I read that in the book, it just so hit home.

And one other pillar really killed me, in a good way. I considered - I didn’t actually do this - but I think I invented the word positivity. I am all about positivity - the glass is always half full, tomorrow’s always going to be better, and I think maybe it’s part of my upbringing, but in general, I truly believe that, and I want to pass that on.

Your third pillar is about how the more we use positivity in the present, the more we change the future. It really resonated with me. What is the best way to put this pillar to practice? How would you advise someone who’s not Mr. Positivity or who believes in it like I do, who came to you and doesn’t feel that way, how can they use that in their daily life?

Jeff: So, it’s interesting, in the book we say that you should actually start with strangers, because there are currents of dramas that you run with the people that are closest to you, and changing your behavior with the people around you is usually met with resistance and not acceptance. So, we tell people in the book to start with the person at the supermarket. I mean, now’s a perfect time, you know, you’re dealing with people that are working in the supermarket under incredible stress right now so that we can continue to eat. Having kind words for people during the day, reaching out with a smile and thanking somebody regularly, I mean, most of these people get treated all day like second-class citizens by people that don’t have to work those kinds of jobs. And so I try to go out of my way regularly to thank people that are serving me in that way, because I am grateful for it. Then it changes them, and then it’s like a ripple in a pond, I mean, one little change of attitude that you trigger in someone else, then they treat the next person online a little bit better, who maybe goes home and treats their kid a little bit better. You don’t know where it ends, really.

Ben: You know, I totally agree. There was a saying, and I’m gonna totally mess this up, it’s that everyone dies twice in their life. They die the first time when they die and they die the second time when people stop talking about them or remembering them or doing something that they do. I try, I hope that the people I work with, or clients that I work with, that one day down the road somewhere, something that I did, you know, they remember. Something that I taught my kids, they find themselves doing again when they have kids. It is, I think, the way you put it is so spot on, and it’s why everyone - you’ve gotta read the book for a couple reasons. One, it’s actually a great book. But two, you’re gonna learn, how Jeff tells the story is really incredible.

So, I have two final questions for you, and then I’m gonna let you go back to your family.

If I interview you again in ten years, hopefully we’ll see each other over the next ten years, but if I interview you again in ten years, where do you think you’re gonna be in your life?

Jeff: You know, I’d like to be, I already am working a lot with the UN, but I’d like to be a lot more active on climate initiatives. I do as much as I can now, but I’d like to be involved at the biggest level possible, in trying to influence how we use capital to stop the terrible damage we’re doing to our planet. Not many people will know this, but we are recording this on Earth Day, which I find quite beautiful. Today is Earth Day. We had a whitepaper in Forbes this afternoon on how to influence climate through your portfolios. I hope to be ultimately known for that.

Ben: I gotta tell you something, Jeff, already I think you’re known for ESG, just from what I’ve seen socially on what you’re doing. You should check out, not only the book, but what Jeff’s doing. Listen, at Notified, we are, as an organization, really into ESG. We’ve added the carbon calculator - every product that I sort of run - PR distribution, webhosting, streaming, virtual events - I mean, everything is very carbon neutral. And we are such big believers that, we’re seeing, because we work with so many IR organizations, that ESG is such a hot topic for them, and no one has figured it out. What you’re doing with your TV stuff you’re doing and what you’re doing at the UN, I think it is so needed right now.

When did you wake up? How did you even get involved with the UN? Then we’ll wrap this up. If you had to give someone advice, what should they think about if they believe in this, what should they do, how do they get the first step forward in it?

Jeff: Two big questions, I’ll try to answer quickly. I got involved with the UN initially because I worked on a film called Planetary - it’s a great film if the audience wants to check it out. There’s two films, Overview Effect and Planetary. But Planetary was with Bill McKibben and Paul Hawken and Ron Garan the astronaut. They really opened my eyes up in 2014 to the issues around climate and that it affected all of us and the planet. I do believe that the pandemic that we’re dealing with right now is an early warning system for climate change, because it’s the first thing we’re dealing with that affects the entire globe. Without singling out anyone, it’s the borderless crisis, and so is climate change. It just opened my eyes up, and I realized that if we don’t start moving capital markets to address the problems, the governments and NGOs alone would never be able to solve it without the money and the capital markets. So, that drove me, and that’s been driving me.

And then, if people want to get started on it, you know, thankfully today, Paul Hawken’s book Drawdown is probably the best starter on what you can do around sustainability and climate change. There’s a good book by Bill McKibben called Cradle to Grave about how to create products that actually don’t add to the trash and the recycling problems that we’re having today in the world.

Ben: So, here’s the last question for you Jeff. So, here’s my final question. Can you make a promise to me that we don’t go 20 years without talking again?

Jeff: Absolutely I promise.

Ben: Alright, I promise too. You look amazing. Hopefully Jeff and I will get haircuts soon, we were talking about that before we went on. And Jeff, enjoy the family, stay safe, thank you so much, and just to remind everyone, it is an incredible, incredible book. I’m just flattered and honored, and I like to be able to say I knew you when, man. That makes me feel really good.

Jeff: I will say, the new edition of the book has rocks on it, so if people see a white cover with rocks, it’s the same book.

Ben: We’ll make sure we post that in. Thank you so much Jeff! Have a great day, and I really appreciate it. And from me and everyone in the organization, have a great day everyone.

Author Name
Ben Chodor