Let’s face it. If you can be successful in your field before turning 40, you have a lot of runway left to become even more successful later in life.
It’s always interesting and exciting for me to learn who makes the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 list each year. That said, just because you are at the top of your game before 40 doesn’t mean you haven’t made mistakes that will affect the next 40 years of your life. I’m a good case in point.
I was, by most any standard, a “success” by the time I was 40. My business — the one today known as Zweig Group — had already made the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing privately-held companies twice, in 1995 and 1996, and I was widely known throughout the U.S. as the leading expert in my field. I had a collection of about 20 vintage and restored or new motorcycles. My company car was a new 7-series BMW. We lived in a 5,200-square-foot house on 6 acres abutting the Charles River in Dover, Mass.
We had a 60,000-gallon heated swimming pool, house cleaners, pool maintenance, yard people, snow plowers, a nanny for our two daughters, and even a full-time house painter working for us, along with two or three horses boarded for $1,000 a month each. My then-wife had a successful reading clinic using a method she developed for teaching reading. My future was assured — it would be hard to screw that up (I thought).
But the problem was this. I spent the first part of my life entirely devoted to business and material success. However, I seriously neglected my relationships. The result of my constant travel nearly every week was that I pretty much abdicated all of my responsibilities for child rearing and household maintenance and dumped all of that on my wife. She was sorely unequipped to deal with it all.
She had, by that time, developed a serious drinking and prescription drug addiction — one I had been ignoring/enabling as I saw it growing — culminating in a complete and total breakdown.
My oldest daughter, then about 11 years old, called me one day when I was out of town on a business trip to tell me Mom made them all go to her office with the family dogs to hide under desks because “they were coming to get her.”
That’s when I realized everything was out of control. My then-wife was in and out of jail, psych wards, and treatment programs. I could not work like I did and had to turn the reins of the business over to my junior partners. After a nearly three-year process that included many therapy sessions and Al-Anon Family Group meetings, we got divorced. I had sole custody of my two oldest daughters, and we eventually sold the business, allowing me to remarry, relocate to beautiful Northwest Arkansas, become a college professor, and start our design/build/development company.
My point of this story is that pursuing the highest level of career success at any age can be energizing and addicting. But it also has a price. My advice to all younger people is to not neglect your health. Don’t neglect your relationships. Don’t neglect your family — including your parents, children, brothers and sisters.
You can do it — most of it — if you consciously try to balance all of these things intelligently. While I was lucky in many ways and a high achiever, I missed out on a lot that, if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have.
Mark Zweig is the founder of two Fayetteville-based Inc. 500/5000 companies. He is also entrepreneur-in-residence teaching entrepreneurship in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, and group chair for the Northwest Arkansas chapter of Vistage International. The opinions expressed are those of the author.