By Michael Gunther

I have been entrepreneurial from a very young age. Growing up as one of seventeen children, my parents had no real disposable income beyond meeting the basic needs of our household of nineteen. Therefore, my drive as a youth was building businesses to meet my financial goals. My friend Sal Competelli and I had created every business you could imagine, ranging from doughnuts and neighborhood newspapers to putting on carnivals and setting up fruit stands.

As I entered college I continued to create enterprising ideas on how to earn income needed to pay for college education and life. It was expected in my family that once you turned eighteen you would take responsibility for all of your financial needs.  Thus, my focus of working hard to create what I needed began. I have always been goal oriented. I started to realize I could achieve anything if I set my mind on the goal and worked endlessly towards making it a reality.

I soon found myself moving to the San Francisco Bay area to begin my career with Procter and Gamble. I was so excited because they were moving me out of Los Angeles, providing me a car (my first one) and paying me a great salary. Life was made. I had achieved many of my goals and was now living and working where I wanted to be. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that I had made the wrong decision. I remember my boss and I sitting near the Bay Bridge eating lunch when he stated, “life is too short not to be doing what you are passionate about.” I went home that evening and thought about his comment and realized I had taken this job, not because I was passionate about selling coffee and cooking oils, but for purely the extrinsic rewards. There were no intrinsic rewards. I was not enjoying what I was doing and the financial rewards were not worth the sacrifice of my passions. I met with my boss the next day and told him I agreed with him that life was too short and provided him with my two-week notice.
With my youthful naivety in full force, I transitioned from a secure position to no job at all. I knew I would find the right role and company that could meet both my intrinsic and extrinsic needs. After struggling for eighteen months, I landed a role with a small self-storage firm. Not a very sexy industry, but an amazing opportunity. The firm was positioning itself to grow aggressively and their founder was a relentlessness learner. They funded my master’s degree in psychology plus sent me to programs at Wharton School of Business. In addition, they fed my entrepreneurial psyche. They treated each person as a small business owner and within four years, at the age of 28, I was running a $30 million division and earning stock in the organization.

For the next four years at this firm I continued to grow, but began to lose sight of my impact on individuals and the company. Knowing the firm was going to go public, I decided to get back to my roots of teaching individuals to be better leaders and growing companies and I started Collaboration.  For eight years, I built a small consulting practice of helping other people achieve their visions within their businesses. But I still felt something was missing. I was helping everyone build his or her vision while not building my own.

In 2003, I decided to move to San Luis Obispo and I took four months off to begin redefining my vision of a company that would impact other peoples’ lives. Over the next decade, I built a solid reputation and practice. My drive was to build a firm that generated revenue without myself being the main consultant or revenue generator. Although I enjoyed what I did I was getting tired of having to ‘feed the beast’ I had created. I added diverse services, grew a team of 12, brought on business partners – all the things that I felt were needed to achieve this goal of getting myself out of consulting. By the time I left for my sabbatical last September I was burnt out. I was not only exhausted, but also felt I lost my focus and purpose, once again chasing this elusive goal.

On my sabbatical, I was totally off the grid for seven weeks. No email, no cellphone, no calls into the office. I was able to assess my last thirty years of business and professional experience. What has worked, what hasn’t worked? I knew I couldn’t or most importantly, didn’t want to live my next ten years how I had lived the previous ten years.

I also began to develop a “work-to-live” attitude and perspective instead of the “live-to-work” perspective I had been operating from over the last thirty years. I saw this pattern of mine of trying to reach these extrinsic goals without a clear evaluation of the intrinsic value of the goals.

I knew upon my return I was going to begin making some drastic changes in my work-life and business. As my organization transformed into a work-to-live organization, I saw amazing results. We grew faster than ever but only with projects that truly inspired us. My team has become less stressed because we continually monitor how people are doing, not just on their outcomes but also on their life balance. We shifted work schedules and added more flexibility to allow people to create their work-to-live lives. I was very clear I didn’t want to lose my core focus and passion again chasing unbalanced goals.  Our intrinsic and extrinsic values have become aligned.

Bottom Line 

As I got back to my own core motivators, like I once had at the storage company or when I first started my company twenty years ago, I recaptured my intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Are your goals properly aligned or are you chasing goals for the wrong reasons?


This is another article in a series on Michael’s entrepreneurial story and how being raised in a large family and his belief in creating a growth company with a work-to-live mentality has influenced his career.  Michael Gunther is Founder and President of Collaboration LLC, a team of highly skilled business professionals who are dedicated to assisting proactive business owners to build profitable, sustainable businesses through results-oriented education and consulting services. 


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