Welcome To The Unamerican Dream

Sure you can hustle, but for how long? Remember the childhood story of the tortoise and the hare. There is a reason we all were taught the fable, it’s true. Yet our culture of success has overrun our lives as we work longer hours, take on more stress than we can handle, and neglect the actual parts of our lives we believe we are working for. Carlos Hidalgo tackles this issue head-on in his upcoming book, The UnAmerican Dream. In the powerful book, he shares his own story of how we changed course. I recently caught up with Carlos to discuss what he believes is the cause and the solution.

Here are the highlights of that interview.

You’ve built multiple companies, given a TEDX talk, written multiple books, and raised a family. By many accounts you are ‘Successful’, so why were you unhappy?

From the outside looking in, I certainly was and believe that I am more so now that at any time in my career, but the difference now is, I truly am happy. However, that has nothing to do with where I am professionally.

In looking back when I had my first company and published my first book, I allowed myself to tie my identity and self-worth to my work, a dangerous place to be. I was continually looking to outrun the quiet, and sometimes, loud voice of shame that tells us we are not good enough. As a result, I was constantly trying to achieve more. The reality is, it was never enough. The more “success” I had, the more I wanted and it was quite unfulfilling.

It was not until I did some hard work on myself and accepted myself for who I am and realized that my worth is tied to what all of us have, a “spark of the divine” as Kelly Flanagan states it that I chose happiness.

We are bombarded with this idea of The Hustle. Hustle is not a bad word, but it has a price. What did you find that price to be?

(I’d like to use the AdamK image here, and then have you elaborate further ) Hustle does not have to be a bad word at all, but it has taken on a quite perverted meaning. When I look at this meme, which I also have in the book, it tells me that our jobs, even if we love what we do, becomes the center of all things.

As human beings, we are wired for relationship. When we find ourselves working all the time, as I once did, something has to give as we cannot create more time and the thing that often takes a hit is relationships.

For me, the cost of the hustle was my relationship with my wife and my kids as well as close friends. The reason was pretty obvious . . . neglect. You cannot pour the majority of your waking hours into a profession and then fit cultivation of relationships into the margins. Believe me, I tried and I failed miserably. So, we can love what we do and choose not be consumed by it.

Most people feel they just need better work and life balance. You disagree, rather suggesting boundaries may be a better place to start. What is the difference in balance and boundaries?

Balance does not exist and even if it does, 60–70% of say they do not have it. The reason I like boundaries is they are more permanent and established. Once I set a boundary, it takes work for me to move it. With trying to achieve balance, the smallest mis-step or disruption knocks us off course and we spiral.

In the book you list 8 tips to creating boundaries, can you share a few?

The first is to add structure to your days. I have done this and look to consistently live by it. I start and end most my days at the same time each day. I reserve certain days for meetings and others for writing and working on client deliverables.

I also look to plan ahead. Recently I had to fly overseas for work, so before I made that commitment, I talked it over with my wife and we agreed to move the boundary in that instance, but then planned ahead for me to give time back when I arrived home.

The last one I will mention is tracking the positive impact. I know for me my relationships are stronger then they have ever been. I am also so much better professionally — I am more creative, far more productive and producing better quality of work for my clients. These are some of the positives that have come as a result of establishing my boundaries.

There was a profound statement you made in the book that really stuck with me, you said “We are replaceable!” Care to elaborate?

This was a hard one for me to come to terms with, but the reality is, it’s true! Our ego likes to tell us that we are irreplaceable, that our businesses, departments and companies cannot get by without us and that the work will not get done if we are not there. The reality is, that it will get done and the world will continue to spin on its axis.

If I were not in the role I am in, my clients would go find another outside resource. Your manager can find someone to cover for you while you are out and not connected. We see it all the time in companies large and small. The best example I can think of is my first company. It is still running and doing well despite me leaving over two years ago. Knowing this should help us be more committed to our boundaries as the work will be there when we return; whether that is the next morning or after a two-week vacation. We are not the scarce resources we like to think we are.

As a manager if someone approaches you asking to set up boundaries, how do you respond?

I would embrace it! Healthy employees perform better and as a manager not only should you be concerned about getting the work done, but you should have your employees’ best interests in mind.

You can embrace this by creating the kind of culture that encourages employees to do this, be part of the community that holds them accountable to it and even help them define them. You will be surprised at how much better they perform.

I work with some who have done this and the results have been incredible for them both personally and professionally.

Just as much as hustle is a part of our success culture, so is sacrifice. Yet as you point out the real sacrifice is often born by others. What do you mean?

Those who work long hours and build businesses use this all the time and often in regards to what we are sacrificing (often tied to time with our families and closest relationships).

We talk about missing out on their stuff. For me it was family dinners, concerts, shows, games, etc. However, we are missing out on these things because we are pursuing what we want.

The real ones making the sacrifices are our families as they are giving up the time with us. This was true in my case and as I write in the book, if we are taking time away from them and they are sacrificing without our permission, then we are just selfish as at that point we are stealing that time and not sacrificing.

Is that why you choose to have your wife write one of the chapters?

The reason I had Susanne write a chapter in the book (which by the way is my favorite chapter) is because there is always another story behind the hustle and the relentless pursuit of a business goal.

So many books on business success only talk about the visible achievements and I felt strongly that Susanne needed to tell what it was like to be married to a work-a-holic, someone with an unhinged focus on business and what it was like to live on the promise of someday.

She does a beautiful job talking about the impact it had on her, our children and the slow demise of our marriage. We who are in business and have lofty goals need to understand what happens when we make this our only focal point.

You discuss that success does require work but we often justify a false sense of success by lying to ourselves. What lies are we telling ourselves?

Make no mistake, I believe in hard work and had that modeled for me by my dad. However, when we cross over into the toxic world of hustle, we so often justify it with lies to excuse our behavior. I detail some of the ones I used and also hear from others like. “I am doing this all for my family”. This was my go to, the reality is my family wanted more of me, my presence and availability. The other lies included, “people are depending on me” as if my family was not, “when this all slows down” as if the pace of business ever slows down and “this is what is required for my standard of living” which is completely arbitrary.

This is why I now have what I call “Immovables”, these are things that no matter what the circumstance, I will not move for work. These include birthdays, anniversaries, major school events, etc. All of which supersede the importance of work.

You’ve lived it, changed and wrote a book about it. What are the three pieces of advice you’d give to anyone who is currently struggling?

  1. Community — try to do either a paragraph or two for each

I believe it is vital we make these changes with those closest to us, what I call our community. I feel so strongly about this because we need those around us who can help us make these needed changes and more importantly stick to it. Additionally, they will see things we cannot see and by inviting them into this process it serves as a way to be aware of our blind spots rather than falling back into old patterns

2. It’s a journey

I continually remind myself that these changes and this new outlook is a continuous process. I do not know that I will ever have “arrived” in terms of having it all figured out because as life changes, so will how I approach my work.

Early on for me, I had some habits I had to break and from time to time I find that I can still go back to those. It is something I will continually practice and invite others to help me along the way

3. Be Gentle

The key here is to be gentle with ourselves, knowing it is a journey and that it will take time for us to put old habits to rest, we cannot beat ourselves up when we fail (like the other night when I started to respond to emails at 8:00). We need to be realistic in our approaches to any changes we make and trust the process.

Carlos’s story of success and it’s dark side really hit home for me. I am going through many of these struggles in my own life as I write this. Trying to find time to write up this interview, while managing a research project, at the same time launching a new product, and hoping to have time left over for my personal life. It’s not easy, and I know I’m not alone. We all struggle with success, and it’s tradeoffs.

None of us would be where we are without hard work, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work better. More focused, with clearer boundaries and open conversations about the true cost of our effort. I found Carlos book to be timely, refreshingly honest, and very needed in the current climate of corporate America. The chapter written by his wife was one of the more powerful things I’ve read in recent years.

Success requires hard work, but it doesn’t have to take over. The practical advice laid out in this book is powerful for anyone in business, regardless of their tenure or position. We all struggle, but I found the practice advice, and honest discussion to be things I needed to hear and have already begun to put them into practice. Success doesn’t have to be a bad word, but knowing how to succeed healthily takes knowledge, Hidalgo provides that wisdom in this book. Go ahead and pre-order your copy on Amazon today, and succeed in a better way.

Here is the link to Amazon: http://bit.ly/unamericandream

Also link to the website: www.theunamericandream.com




Director of Market Strategy @Salesforce, Author of The Context Marketing Revolution (HBR 20), and contributor to Forbes, AdAge. Covering the Future of Marketing

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Mathew Sweezey

Mathew Sweezey

Director of Market Strategy @Salesforce, Author of The Context Marketing Revolution (HBR 20), and contributor to Forbes, AdAge. Covering the Future of Marketing

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