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What Is Your Personal Integrity Challenge

In the summer of 2014, I had an early mid-life crisis. I was turning 40 in September and was feeling unfulfilled and wanted to run my own business.

Between writing the chapter on integrity for my forthcoming book and Sam Harris’s book, Lying, I have been inspired to share a little secret. This little secret has been festering for almost three years with each year building on the next. In the book, Lying Sam discusses integrity and describes it as the avoidance of behaviors that cause shame and remorse. He goes on to state that it is much more than honesty and requires a person to feel as if they need not lie about their personal life.

This blog is an attempt to fulfill that by sharing several white lies that led to a bigger lie. This is a true story and an example of what I achieved or didn’t with a website, some blog posts, a podcast, and statements of gleeful accomplishments. I hope in writing this, some of you may respect my honesty, while I recognize some may just call me a fraud, and yet others will say, “I told you so.” Regardless, I will take this failure on the chin with the same perspective I have taken with other failures: Getting knocked down is the easy part, but staying down is what I find difficult.

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WHEN IT ALL BEGAN:

In the summer of 2014, I had an early mid-life crisis. I was turning 40 in September and was feeling unfulfilled and wanted to run my own business. At the time I was working at Saint Joseph’s University. A great place full of great people, but I had an internal fire driving me to do something different, to be an entrepreneur.

So, I began completing a business plan for a multisport retail store that combined the retail with a cash-based physical therapy, along with spinning, running analysis, swimming analysis, corporate wellness and the lot. To Mary’s (wife) dislike, I spent a significant amount of time creating the most beautiful spreadsheet ever. A change in numbers in tab 1 changed the projections in tab 2 and the break-even point in tab 3. It still gets me warm and fuzzy inside. I created pitch deck, met with a commercial real estate broker, retail designers and even pitched the idea to several potential angel investors.

After getting, “I would not touch retail with a 10-foot pole” response from potential investors, I decided to try to self-fund the endeavor. I found a company that allowed me to pull out my 401K (limited tax implications) and finance the whole thing myself. I was estimating that to get the final product where I wanted it, I would need about 500K, and so if I could get 1/2 the capital myself, the bank would give me the other 1/2. So, in the fall of 2014, Mary and I were having a “heated” debate about the possibility of liquidating our 401K. What I mean by heated was Mary was on the couch crying, and I was sulking because she said no.

So, being somewhat resourceful, and resolute on starting a business, I looked at the proposed business plan to determine if there was something that I could do that was lower risk. The one vertical in the business plan which jumped out at me that didn’t require physical capital and only mental capital was corporate wellness. One problem, I did not know a damn thing about it. That did not stop me from creating Brave Endurance Corporate Wellness. Like many businesses, it started off as one thing but evolved into a corporate wellness consultancy.

So, I launched the website and created the podcast, Brave Endurance Wellness Podcast. My thought was since I do not know anything about the industry, I should talk to those that do. I also realized that if you give individuals an opportunity to talk, and ask insightful questions they will. The podcast, by all accounts, was successful. I spoke to all the major wellness consultants, book authors, CEOs and more. It was great! In fact, many of those interviews are in my forthcoming book. I was achieving the intended goal of the podcast: building my network, getting some doors to open and letting the business roll in.

However, the only thing that rolled in was tumbleweeds. However, this did not stop me from talking, acting, and writing like I had a thriving consultancy. I was using the philosophy “fake it until you make it.” I expected 2015 to be slow, but in my head, in 2016, the business was going to take off. People were starting to know me and would love to have an individual with a Ph.D., and a new perspective on corporate wellness to come in and partner with their organizations to help move the needle.

As 2016 came to a close, I had one client. They need me to make sense of some data they collected. A perk of getting a Ph.D. was learning to use quantitative analysis. The data was a mess, but I thought hey, if I can make a cake out this mud, then I am off and running. I also thought this was my golden chalice and something that differentiates me from another consultant.

However, in the summer of 2016, a major life event occurred, and my family and I moved the United Arab Emirates for a new teaching position (I needed to pay the bills). So, at this point in nearly two years, I had one paying client…one. Talk about a kick in the pants. However, being slightly optimistic, I was excited about the move to the U.A.E. because the government had recently started the Happiness Ministry (it works to create a healthy and happy population) and as I saw it, the country’s corporate wellness industry is behind the U.S. by about 5 to 7 years.

So, here we are today. I am at a coffee shop on vacation in Peniche, Portugal writing my forthcoming book called, “90 Executives on Authentic Leadership.” I am currently writing the chapter on integrity, and it got me thinking ‘am I acting with integrity?’ When my answer was no, I wanted to come clean.

So, what came of the ‘fake it until you make it’ theory? Over the last three years, I felt like a fraud. I attended conferences and alluded to clients that I have and problems I was solving. I would write blog posts that made sweeping generalizations about who I am as a wellness consultant and the industry as a whole. I had a podcast where I overtly and intentionally sent the message that I was consulting with various clients. All lies and all in an attempt to get business. In my head at each stage, they were little white lies. No one was hurt, but as the shame and guilt built, my passion began to wane for this space. As my son would say, “dad, it was an epic fail.”

I can come up with several reasons why it failed, lack of focus, lack of cold-calls, limited face time with prospects, etc. I can also give you a host of reasons that may justify the failure, like I had my fourth kid (4 children under 9), had a full-time job working at a university, and I was still producing the podcast. Moreover, with only so much time in the day, something had to give. These life events do not make the charade of success ok. There are many great individuals I have met while pursuing corporate wellness and have always felt sorry for the white lies I told. I hope they can forgive me, but only time will tell.

So, at this point, Brave Endurance as a wellness consultancy is dead. Writing the upcoming book has been much fun, and allowed me to continue to grow and learn more about my skills and what I am passionate about. Where the book will take me is anyone’s guess, but all that matters to me moving forward is living an authentic life, and a part of that is being honest and transparent and not engaging in behaviors that create shame or remorse. I can now take this one off that list.

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Epilogue: Upon wife’s request.

Mary asked me to leave you all with some nuggets of where I am going now and in the future.

The podcast is still going, but now under the name Executives After Hours (part of the C-Suite Network), where the format is the same, but the interviewees are leaders and executives from all industries.

I am completing a book currently titled, “90 Executives on Authentic Leadership” based on the podcast and working on speaking to audiences on the topic of Authentic Leadership (which I believe is a great recipe for success in wellness programs). Please go to www.drjameskelley.com to stay informed of what and where I will be mixing it up. 

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