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“Want it like you want oxygen”, Ryan Skinner and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

As a business leader I think it helps me that I don’t take myself too seriously. By not taking myself too seriously it helps me stay happy and upbeat. I also do a lot of preparation for high pressure situations. As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had […]

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As a business leader I think it helps me that I don’t take myself too seriously. By not taking myself too seriously it helps me stay happy and upbeat. I also do a lot of preparation for high pressure situations.


As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Skinner.

Ryan Skinner is founder and co-owner of Summit Financial Partners, a Woburn, MA-based firm offering a range of services including retirement planning, life insurance and long-term disability. Author of Taking Stock: Protect Your Wealth and Create Reliable Income for a Happy and Secure Retirement, Ryan and Summit Financial Partners have been seen in some of the most recognized American news publications, including Fortune, Forbes, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. Ryan Skinner is living proof that survival from a dark, downward spiral is possible. Once an addict in his mid-twenties, he was given a second chance at life, and he took full advantage. Today this passionate businessman speaks about recovery in high school drug awareness initiatives, has guest lectured at The Heroin Education Awareness Task Force Program and hosts an addiction recovery group.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

In grades 1–5 I attended public school. I used to get picked on a lot because I had dyslexia and reading comprehension issues, so I was often seen as a bad student. As a result, I got picked on a lot which led to me acting out. In 6th grade my parents decided to take me out of public school and enroll me in Catholic school thinking that if I didn’t get picked on as much then I would do much better in school. It turned out that I still didn’t do too well in school, but I didn’t get picked on, so it allowed me to feel better at school.

Seventh grade came along and I had a teacher who noticed that I was really good with numbers and thought she would try to teach me. At the time she was saving for her retirement because Catholic school teachers don’t get Social Security. She was reading a lot of books about how to invest for retirement. She gave me a subscription to Investor’s Business Daily and 50,000 dollars in fake money. I bought Coca-Cola, Nike, Gatorade because those were things related Michael Jordan. I did pretty well. I ended up beating the S&P. She wrote a letter to the author of the book who was promoting his principles and wanted to meet with me. That’s where it started.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.

My mom. My mom is the person who told me that I didn’t have to play it safe and if I wanted to own a business then I should go after it. I didn’t want to work for somebody else. My mom supported my dream to start my own business while my Dad wanted me to play it safe and take the job offers, I was getting. Anytime the odds were against me my mom believed in me. At one point my mom was going to refinance our house in order to give me money to do workshops and seminars.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

As noted in the previous question, I definitely wouldn’t be here today without my mother because she was always there for me. However, I have a friend Billy who also gave me a lot of help and encouragement to get me to where I am today. When I was at the bottom it was a hard ride up. It was scary and I had no money and was in rough shape. I had scars on my face and my teeth were smashed. Because of this I was really self-conscious and felt bad about myself. Billy was always there teaching me how to believe in myself and because of him I now believe in myself.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I think the funniest mistake that’s happened to me in my career was during a time I was flown out to Arizona for a roundtable with some of the top people in my industry. During this round table we had to go around and introduce ourselves. Everyone was introducing themselves by their name, company and industry. However, because I was so used to attending AA and drug meetings, I introduced myself as “Ryan Skinner a drug addict and alcoholic”. This opened my eyes to how far I have come.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Want it like you want oxygen. If you need success like you need oxygen, you will have success like you have oxygen.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I have been incredibly inspired by the book “The Power of Positive Thinking.” It has really helped me grasp the value of visualization and believing in myself in pursuit of my goals. Taking control of your thoughts and making positive attitude changes is the first step in shifting control in your life and breaking bad habits.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“What you do to the least you do to me.” Matthew 25:40

This quote means a lot to me. How you treat the people who can do nothing for you is what defines you. I don’t treat a guy on the side of the road any different than a guy who would give me a million dollars. I would probably treat him a little better because I know the pain that he is in and I know that when people show love and compassion it helps.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I am going to be doing a coaching day where I am going to run a mentoring program. This program is going to be for financial professionals who want to get to the next to the level. By getting involved in this I will be able to help them reach the next level. This means a lot to me because I will be helping them help their clients. Not only will this help their clients but their families as well. I know that I will be improving their lives too because it is a trickle-down effect. If you’re helping other people and their business, it is ultimately going to help a lot of people.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?

As a business leader I think it helps me that I don’t take myself too seriously. By not taking myself too seriously it helps me stay happy and upbeat. I also do a lot of preparation for high pressure situations. By preparing for workshops and presentation is releases the stress you would feel if you had not practiced at all. By practicing the presentation many times before the event, it is in my mind and I am ready to go. Prayer and meditation also help to center me. I do things to keep myself grounded. The top of your head and the bottom of your feet are all nerves. However, when you’re centered inside there aren’t too many nerves.

Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

One of my strategies is meditation. This allows for my mind to be calm and get out of my head so that I can be present in the moment. I also use visualization. I have a couple different things that I do, I have one method that involves touching my fingers. Another thing that I do is put a cylinder on the floor and I’ll look in the cylinder and envision in it with colors in it and I’ll envision confidence, composure, leadership and being well spoken. Then I touch two fingers together so that during my workshop when I touch those two fingers my shoulders go back, and I feel calmer and more dialed in.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.

Like I mentioned previously I use a lot of meditation and visualization. visualization helps bring my goals to fruition. Slowing it down (at least) three times a day and taking time to meditate and breathe allows me to be present and feel positivity. Manifestation and visualization have allowed me to create a clean and productive life for myself, leading me to become a passionate and successful businessman.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

Centering myself and feeling present is the best way to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions. Going back to the visualization I mentioned earlier, I can touch my finger to my thumb and it will bring me right to that calm moment. In that moment there are no distractions and I am present and ready to hit it hard.

We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

Habits are everything to me. Your either have good habits or you have bad habits, but everyone has habits. Some of my good habits are simple things such as just getting up and starting my day with a similar routine. Some of my habits are very focused and more goal oriented such as on my workshop days I start my day the same every time. I will get up and do my prayers, try to spend a few minutes with my wife and my baby. For my workshops, I will pack my bag and my suit the night before. I wait to put on my suit and do my hair until I get there. I find that getting ready right before doesn’t give me time to have nerves. Boom, I’m out there and I’m ready to rock.

What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

The best way to develop great habits for optimal performance is to develop a routine. It is important to stay focused on your goals. Without a goal, it is too easy to let other things inhibit your success: busyness, impatience, fear, negative social pressure and numerous other culprits can become roadblocks when there is no clear goal. I think it’s also really important to take control of your thoughts and make positive attitude changes in shifting control in your life and breaking bad habits.

As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

We should always strive to be positive and spending some time with gratitude. Being positive is the first step on the road to success. To achieve such a mindset, put effort into reading positive things and surrounding yourself with the people and activities that bring you happiness.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would like people to realize that we shouldn’t leave people homeless. We should find ways that kids grow up with the understanding of what public housing is. We should raise people with the understanding of second chances and make sure people have opportunities. I think we could take the fear out of people by focusing more on encouragement rather than fear.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I would love to sit down and have a mean with the younger George Bush. I was amazed by him when 9/11 happened. He genuinely felt the pain. For the most part I feel like the president feels so far away and you’d think they’d feel some pain. You could see it in his eyes that he really genuinely felt the pain too and just wanted to make it better. I would like to talk to him about how his relationship with God got him through that.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can further follow my work online by visiting my website: http://www.ryantakingstock.com/ and connecting with my on LinkedIn. You can also further follow my work by reading my book, Taking Stock: Protect Your Wealth and Create Reliable Income for a Happy and Secure Retirement.

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