Take a break from your device — We are addicted to our phones and devices. While they can be great in terms of productivity, they can be equally as potent in keeping us from living in the present. One of the habits I have adopted is to spend the first hour of my day without my phone. I leave it plugged in where it is from the night before. It allows me to take inventory of my thoughts, enjoy the morning, savor the conversation with my wife and be void of noise. We are all wired for deep, meaningful, human connection and we will not find that on our phones.
As a part of my series about the strategies that extremely busy and successful leaders use to juggle, balance and integrate their personal lives and business lives, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carlos Hidalgo, a 25-year business veteran. Over the span of the last two-plus decades, Hidalgo has held corporate roles, started his own entrepreneurial ventures and served in non-profits.
After leading his first agency to three consecutive Inc 5000 awards, Hidalgo made the decision to leave that agency and pursue various entrepreneurial pursuits which include being a co-founder in two companies, consulting B2B organizations, executive coaching and the writing of his latest book The UnAmerican Dream.
In addition to his various roles and business pursuits, Hidalgo and his wife Susanne work with professionals and their partners to design their lives so they can live their best lives possible.
Carlos and his wife Susanne have four grown children and have lived in Colorado Springs, CO since 2010.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share with us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career?
Certainly. What brought me here was my own life. For years I pursued professional success at the cost of everything else, including my own holistic health and relationships. In 2005, I co-founded an agency that quickly grew and much like I did in my days working for software companies, I plunged myself into an unhinged pursuit of success. However, the reality is, that what I was working for was not aligned with my identity and purpose — in essence, I had lost myself. In 2015, the years of neglect to my family and my own self caught up with me and I hit rock bottom. I had made some extremely poor personal decisions and had hit a point of burnout. My wife and I were on the doorstep of a divorce, I was a shell of my true self and knew I had to get back to who I was created to be. Since that time and through a lot of hard work my wife and I have established an approach to life design to help those who want more from life achieve it!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started? What lessons or takeaways did you take out of that story?
One of the most interesting things I can recall was sitting with a client who had not seen me in a number of years. Over the course of our dinner conversation, he asked if he could share an observation with me. He told me that he could sense something was different with me. He was quick to say not in a bad way, but there was just a calm that he noticed that was different than in the years past when we worked together. It was a reminder to me that when we allow the truest parts of ourselves to be seen and experienced, we can have an impact.
What does leadership mean to you? As a leader, how do you best inspire others?
Leadership is a big word and I would define it simply by saying helping others get the best from themselves. I hope that as I seek to get that from my own life and encourage others to do the same, they are inspired that we can all live the best forms of ourselves and be who were created to be.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
No doubt my wife Susanne. She is truly the most amazing and inspiring woman I have ever met. Her support. Her support, forgiveness, vulnerability and belief in me have been immeasurable in value. We are truly partners in life and in business and I would not be where I am today without her.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main core of our discussion. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your life into your business and career? Can you articulate what the struggle was?
For the majority of my career, it certainly was and that was due to me choosing to find my identity in my professional success and having a skewed understanding of what success was for me. If I had to identify the one thing that I struggled with in this regard I would have to say my ego. A small word that has big consequences. This ego drive really took shape when I had my own business and it became how I identified and where I tried to find my purpose. Since my rock bottom at the end of 2015, I have found it less of a struggle as my business and how we operate our business is all part of our life design.
In order to give greater context to this discussion, can you share with our readers what your daily schedule looks like?
Sure! The big thing I want people to understand is that I live my life based on a set of boundaries I have established that help me get the most from my workday. I typically begin my workday at 8:00 am and construct my day around my ultradian rhythms — something we all have. I work in 90–120 minute sprints and then take a 15–20 minute break. This ensures that I am getting the most out of myself mentally and working smarter with better quality. I do not have a set blocked schedule where I do email at a certain time or client work at another. I do however schedule times for writing, for creativity, for physical health and work my calls and meetings around those. I find that if I am to rigid in my schedule that it stifles my creativity and thinking so I had to find a routine that worked for me and how I am wired.
I do also schedule my weeks. Ideally, I keep Monday’s clear of calls and meetings so I can write, think and create. Friday afternoons are the same. At times I have to give a bit on those, but by and large, it is how I try and manage my days and weeks.
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life? Can you explain?
Again, for a long part of my career, yes, but that was only because I allowed that to happen and chose the pursuit of growth over all else. I would say over the last five years it has not been that big of a struggle because I took the time to define what success meant to me and it is not monetary gain. Because I define success on a set of attributes I want from my life, I am able to design my work and my business to ensure that I achieve that success. It is a continual process, but it allows me and Susanne to determine where we will take the business. It guides us on what we will say yes to and conversely what we will say no to.
I find that the struggle most have is they define professional success without taking into account personal success i.e. relationships, family, health, etc. As human beings who are one person, we cannot separate our professional and personal life and if we only pursue life in one of those arenas, we are only tackling half of the equation and failure will find us sooner or later.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal/family life.
As I mentioned above the tipping point for me was my crash and burn professionally and personally. It was not like on day 1 I decided to move in a different direction, it took time for me to get to a place to let certain things go, identify in healthy ways and align to my purpose. Like most things in life it is a continual process. However, when you are at a crossroads in life, you do have choices you need to make and I knew that I wanted a life that was lived to its fullest. For me I was chasing a success that was not aligned to my true self, so I sought out therapy, I began to shed my false self and began to define the things in life that meant the most to be and define a plan on how to get there. One of the outcomes of that are my defined work-life boundaries that allow me to live fully and bring the best of myself to my work and personal life.
Ok, so here is the main question of our interview. Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal/family life? Please share a story or example for each.
Here they are — they will not all be easy but I highly recommend them, have done them and continue to engage in this way.
- Ask those closest to you — your wife/husband, your kids, your closest friends for their perspective on if you’re living a balanced life? 2016 was the first time I did not take my laptop on a vacation — quite embarrassing. About three days into the trip my then 16-year-old daughter thanked me for leaving the computer at home. I was appreciative of that but assured her that I always worked before she and her brother woke up. She replied by saying, “I know, but then you would spend the rest of the day thinking about the things you worked on”. It was a hard lesson but a good one and reminded me that I am not always the best source of calibration on life balance.
- Open Yourself Up to Community — changing habits can be hard and if you love what you do it is easy to let the work invade and take time away when it should be spent elsewhere. When I established my boundaries I invited Susanne in to help me live within them. As you saw from the story earlier about my daughter, I am not always the best at keeping myself in check. Not too long ago while with my wife during the evening I grabbed my phone and began scrolling through emails. She gently, but firmly asked me what was going on and if I realized I had jumped over my boundary? Having loved ones who can help us stay true to our commitments is needed as we were not meant to live life in isolation.
- Take a break from your device — We are addicted to our phones and devices. While they can be great in terms of productivity, they can be equally as potent in keeping us from living in the present. One of the habits I have adopted is to spend the first hour of my day without my phone. I leave it plugged in where it is from the night before. It allows me to take inventory of my thoughts, enjoy the morning, savor the conversation with my wife and be void of noise. We are all wired for deep, meaningful, human connection and we will not find that on our phones.
- Take the time to define what success means for you — I know as business owners the prevailing thought is that you will be successful when you have a growing business and wealthy from it. That may be true for some, but the more I engage with business owners and entrepreneurs, they want much more than that. I wasted a lot of years striving for things that did not matter to me at my core, being able to redefine success and know that my success is found in a life that is fulfilling makes me better at my job and my relationships.
- Recognize the fear and do it anyway — Anytime we seek to make a change there will be times of fear and of doubt. True change and leadership is not moving forward with no fear. It is recognizing the fear and moving forward in the face of it. When I made the decision to leave my first agency that I co-founded, I had no back-up plan and no big life savings. I was scared about what the future would hold, but I also knew I had to leave that part of my life behind. Rather than waiting for the fear to pass, I went ahead and did it anyway and recognized the feelings of fear. I spoke about my uncertainty and began the path forward. Leadership will always have moments of fear, it cannot stop us but can help propel us.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My newest favorite is one from Walt Whitman who said “Be curious not judgmental”. This is relevant for me as I want to be continuously curious about life, what it has to offer, how I can fulfill my purpose, how I can be a better husband, dad, friend, coach, and business owner. If I am able to stay in a place of curiosity and learning, I believe I will have the biggest impact and be best aligned to my core identity and purpose.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I believe great influence can be felt even if we only reach one person and I certainly hope that when it is all said and done I have been able to do that. As for a movement, I hope my focus on Life Design and helping people rediscover their core identity, understand their purpose and then align those with their gifts and talents to unlock opportunities will do the most amount of good. I believe it is one of the reasons I was put here on earth and it brings meaning from the experiences I have had.
What is the best way for people to follow you online?
You can find me on Twitter @cahidalgo, on our website www.carlosandsusanne.com, on LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/carlos-hidalgo-4a805a1/ or on Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/carlos.susanne/
Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!