The Thrive Questionnaire//

How to Fail With Grace, According to a Top Business Executive

Peter Thompson shares his thoughtful advice for how to live a life that you’re proud of.


Thrive Global: What's the first thing you do when you get out of bed?

Peter Thompson: I go and work out at 4:45 a.m.  I don’t love working out, but love how I feel afterward—and the health benefits are obvious.  If I get myself to the nearby gym via something akin to sleepwalking, my brain/ego isn’t warmed up enough to start talking me out of it.  Author/Podcast Host Jocko Willink talks a lot about this on his podcast.

TG: What gives you energy?

PT:Conversation with people, either new or old friends, that results in personal connection—gives me bounce-around-the-room energy. I like real conversation and fill up with energy when engaged in meaty dialogue as opposed to small talk.  My wife says I act like our three-year-old Golden Retriever in these situations.

TG: What's your secret life hack?

PT: Not sure if it is a hack, but I have pretty good discipline around calling, emailing or texting someone as soon as I have the idea to do so—that second—even when it’s just a random drop in.  I’ve found that waiting—even a little bit—results in missed opportunity and oftentimes the timing is perfect.  When the thought comes to mind, I believe that the universe is cueing me in some way to connect.  I learned from being a too small, too slow, basketball player that good things can come from simply hanging around the hoop.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.

PT: 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership is the best business/life book I’ve ever read—by far.  But Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End is a book that profoundly changed the way I look at life.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?

PT:We are in an open marriage.  Sometimes we sleep together and other times I sleep with my iPad.  But they are synchronized and function amicably, so it works well for all of us.

TG: How do you deal with email?

PT: Not well.  I generally have a sprint and recover approach to work, which doesn’t always work well with email—and they can pile up.  I do make efficient use of taxicab, and airport transit times to focus on cleaning up personal email and I love airplanes' internet service for quiet time to manage my inbox.  I find myself much sharper and attentive when I know I have an empty inbox and minimal unfinished business.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?

PT:If I find 15 minutes, I prefer to sit alone, doors and windows closed and undistracted.  I often listen to apps with brainwave technology and some type of mantra in the background.  My favorites are Catholic Gregorian Chants.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?

PT: Not that long ago—a few weeks.  I let myself get too busy on all fronts—work, civic engagement, politics and my first priorities… my wife and 5 children.  I was in a state of overwhelm of which I’ve become pretty good at noticing/detecting after many years of practice. I realized that not only was I physically pushing limits, but I often don’t turn my brain off and continue to tell myself stories I believe to be true (for no good reason) and they sort of recycle themselves over and over.  The thing about burnout for me is that I don’t crash—rather the opposite.  I have a hard time sleeping and things sort of compound.  For me, it takes two nights away, and I did just that.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?

PT: I failed miserably in business in 2007-2008.  I bought a business that was struggling and thought I could return it to its former glory.  I couldn’t!  The market plus many mistakes put me in the position to decide to close the doors.  The lesson was age-old—be upfront and do the right thing.  We returned our investors’ money, paid our bills and anyone we owed—including the group from whom we bought the business.  I gave our employees paid severance despite us going out of business.  I was incredibly sad and incredibly proud all at the same time.  One of the great by-products of handling things in such a way was that it led me to Bob and Tom Perkins, who chose me to become CEO of their firm a short time later.

TG:Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.

PT: “Live a Life You are Proud Of” is a pretty straightforward guide.  And St. Ignatius of Loyola’s “Laugh and Grow Strong” quote stays with me as I try very hard to not take things too seriously.

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