“Cut through the noise”, with Stephen Greco and Dr. Ely Weinschneider

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated” — Confucius. Most of us have a lot that is thrown at us every day. The people who are able to cut through the noise and focus on what is truly important tend to be the happiest. Rather than dwelling on what is wrong or how […]

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“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated” — Confucius. Most of us have a lot that is thrown at us every day. The people who are able to cut through the noise and focus on what is truly important tend to be the happiest. Rather than dwelling on what is wrong or how difficult things are, I try to focus on how to simplify things and make them easier. If you focus on the few things in life that are most important, and being a great parent is at the top of the list, it tends to make the truly complicated a lot simpler.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Stephen Greco, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Spotlight Asset Group. Spotlight Asset Group is a Registered Investment Advisor based out of Oak Brook, IL that currently has 5 offices and almost $250M in assets under management from clients across the country.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”? I grew up in a middle-class family in Upstate New York. My father was in politics and my mother worked for the Justice Department. My dad was great with people, but not so good with money. If you could think of a way to sell it, my father could convince himself of a way to buy it. I still remember boxes of empty inventories in our basement. Whether it was fire extinguishers, a vodka brand, or even leather coats, my dad was suckered into investing in it. I saw firsthand how poor money management can affect a person and even their family. That experience is the root of my desire to educate people about investing and wealth management.

Can you share your story about what brought you to this specific point in your career? While I started out working with clients directly, I spent a large portion of my career as a branch manager for a discount brokerage firm. As a branch manager, I enjoyed coaching others on how to work with their own clients. However, I missed working directly with clients, educating them about investing, and helping them with their financial plans. I left the brokerage space to work for a regional registered investment adviser (RIA) located in the Midwest and then moved up to a large, nationwide RIA. I always wanted to have my own company that I could build according to my vision. After several years of working for others, I decided it was time to go off on my own. I started Spotlight Asset Group two years ago and it has been the most fulfilling part of my career by far.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like? I usually wake up before the rest of the family and try to squeeze in an hour or two of work. Once my son is up, my wife and I like to focus our time on him until he goes to school. After my son gets on the bus, I head to the office and begin working there around 9:00 a.m. When possible, I try to leave the office around 3:30 p.m. so that I can get home in time for my son’s various after-school activities. Once my son goes to sleep, around 7:30 p.m., I usually log in for a couple hours to do some more work before I go to bed. At our company, we leverage technology to allow for flexible work schedules that might not be the typical “9 to 5” that most people are used to. Even though it isn’t the “norm” for the industry, we feel it can make our team members even more efficient and productive.

Let’s jump into the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development? This is purely anecdotal and based on my personal experience, but before I started my own company I used to travel a lot. I was on the road about 100 days a year and, because of that, I wasn’t around for a lot of my son’s early years. I noticed that my son and I didn’t have the same bond that he had with his mother. Those are years I have lost and will never get back, so I have really focused on leading a different lifestyle since I started my own company.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children? If you have a child, you know there is nothing like the look in their eye when you do something that makes them happy. Whether they are a toddler or school-aged, boy or a girl, when you see that smile it is one of the best feelings you can have as a parent. I don’t think anyone would argue with the concept that the more love and happiness you can bring to your child’s life, the happier and more well-adjusted they will be. The less time you spend with them, the harder it is to bring joy to their life.

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend time with your children?

  1. Since technology permeates so much of people’s daily lives, we like to carve out some “screen-free” time by making sure that there are no devices allowed at the table during dinner. The television is turned off and we spend about 30 to 45 minutes talking about our days and what made us happy. It is pretty amazing what you can learn about your children when you actually dedicate regular time to speaking with them.
  2. Since I did miss so many activities when I was traveling often, I make sure I take my son to at least two after-school activities a week. He is currently interested in golf, skiing, soccer, chess, and karate so he usually has at least three activities going on during any given season. It is important that I get to at least two of those activities each week so I can be a bigger part of his life. It is important not only from a time perspective, but also to be able to help and educate him with whatever he is interested in.
  3. We also have “boys’ day” at least twice a month, a time when he and I can just spend the day together doing things that he is really interested in, rather than what I want him to focus on. During those days I try to expose him to different things that he hasn’t seen before. For example, we just went to our first Chicago Blackhawks game last weekend, which he loved!

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitability makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

  1. Time management is key. You need to be able to structure your day in such a fashion that, when you are home, you are actually “present.” Breaking up my day into four parts really helps. Two parts are fully dedicated to work and the other two are fully dedicated to family, so when I am home I can be an active participant in whatever we have going on.
  2. Parenting involves compromise. Rather than dictating everything to your children, I think it is important to take their thoughts and feelings into account. For example, if my son wants to finish something and it is going to take two minutes to do it, I would rather give him the freedom to exercise some control over his life, instead of having them follow instructions like a robot.
  3. Take time for yourself. Being a good parent isn’t spending every second with your child. If you have things you enjoy doing for yourself, make that a part of your routine and make sure you are fulfilling your own wants and needs. If you don’t, how can you be in a good place to be a good parent?
  4. Understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses. My son is extremely slow in everything he does. Whether it is eating, getting ready in the morning, or going to bed at night, it all takes an extraordinary amount of time compared to what I would like to see. It used to frustrate me and everything was a rush to get done. Until, one day, I finally realized that if it takes him that long, I could keep fighting it or learn to structure our days in a fashion where we take that into account. For example, if we are going to soccer then I can’t expect to leave five minutes before we need to be on our way. If I need to give it 15 minutes so there is less frustration involved for everyone, that is probably the better option.
  5. It will never be perfect. If you can’t be around for everything or something doesn’t go as planned, learn to roll with the punches and make the most out of the times you can be there. I used to beat myself up a lot for not being around, instead of focusing on enjoying the time I was there. Not every parent at every time can have total control over their own schedule. If you miss something, don’t dwell on it. Focus on the times when you can be there and make sure you are spending that time bringing joy to your children’s lives.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or a story? When I first started in the business, I had a high-net-worth client named Frank who took me under his wing and taught me a lot. One of the things Frank shared with me early on was that experiences were more powerful than things. Every year he would take his children to a new place for vacation. When he started out, he would take his children to a new city in the US. As he got more successful, they started traveling internationally. As his family grew he continued the tradition with all of his children and grandchildren. Hearing how happy he was to be able to show his children and grandchildren the world, rather than just give them “stuff” or having them live in a bubble, really inspired me. We have started that tradition with our son and will continue to do it for as long as we are able. I think being able to show our children the world and expose them to new experiences is an important part of being a good parent.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or a story? When you are a business owner you have a unique opportunity to share your successes and failures with your children. I love when I am able to bring my son to work and show him a success we have had to inspire him. In fact, just today we expanded into a new office because we outgrew our current space and it was great to bring him to see the new office. His first comment to me was “Dad, this is pretty cool. You have a lot of people here now.” If you can show them that you are having success, rather than simply telling them, I think it is much more impactful.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”? Success to me is being able to positively affect as many people’s lives as possible. That includes family, friends, co-workers, and clients. The more people I can have a positive impact on, the more successful I view myself.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them? The best resource I have that inspires me to be a better parent is other people and their stories. Like I said — whether it is co-workers, clients, or friends — we all talk about our children and share stories. If you actually take the time to listen to others about what they do in their own lives, you can learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t.

Can you give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant in your life? “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated” — Confucius. Most of us have a lot that is thrown at us every day. The people who are able to cut through the noise and focus on what is truly important tend to be the happiest. Rather than dwelling on what is wrong or how difficult things are, I try to focus on how to simplify things and make them easier. If you focus on the few things in life that are most important, and being a great parent is at the top of the list, it tends to make the truly complicated a lot simpler.

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. ☺ The thing I am most proud of in starting a company is that we are extremely focused on work/life balance. We try to give our employees the freedom they need to spend time with their families, including the ability to work from home when they need to and generous paid time off and maternity/paternity policies. Most importantly, we try to make sure our employees don’t feel compelled to plug into work after hours, on weekends, or during vacations when they should be spending time with their families.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

About the Author:

Dr. Ely Weinschneider is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist based in New Jersey. Dr. Ely specializes in adolescent and adult psychotherapy, parenting, couples therapy, geriatric therapy, and mood and anxiety disorders. He also has a strong clinical interest in Positive Psychology and Personal Growth and Achievement, and often makes that an integral focus of treatment.

An authority on how to have successful relationships, Dr. Ely has written, lectured and presented nationally to audiences of parents, couples, educators, mental health professionals, clergy, businesses, physicians and healthcare policymakers on subjects such as: effective parenting, raising emotionally intelligent children, motivation, bullying prevention and education, managing loss and grief, spirituality, relationship building, stress management, and developing healthy living habits.

Dr. Ely also writes a regular, nationally syndicated column about the importance of “being present with your children”.

When not busy with all of the above, Dr. Ely works hard at practicing what he preaches, raising his adorable brood (which includes a set of twins and a set of triplets!) together with his wife in Toms River, New Jersey.

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