One of my favorite movies of all time is Cinderella Man starring Russell Crowe. It was inspired by the real-life story of the heavyweight boxer James Braddock, whose once-promising boxing career was cut short after breaking his hand in the ring. For years he toiled in manual labor jobs struggling to provide for his family during the Great Depression. With the money gone and no other options, he agrees to fill in for a fight against the number-two contender. Braddock stuns the world by knocking out his opponent in the third round. His rags-to-riches story earns him the nickname “Cinderella Man” in the press, and in one of the greatest upsets in boxing history, goes on to become heavyweight champion of the world.
It’s an inspiring story, but I truly love it because Braddock isn’t really fighting for the heavyweight title; he’s literally fighting for his family. He’s fighting to put food on the table and to have a warm place to sleep at night. He’s fighting to keep the electricity on and his children in school. If he didn’t win those fights, his family may not have survived the winter. When your back is up against the wall, when you’ve exhausted every last option—that’s when your true character is revealed.
I’ve never experienced hardship like James Braddock. Even in my darkest moments, I was always able to put food on the table. But I’ve been thinking a lot about that movie recently as I look back on the past fifteen years of my career. I’ve had the privilege of writing three national bestselling books, and a lot of folks think that’s how I’ve earned most of my income. In truth, thought leaders like me don’t make a living off writing books; we do it by traveling and speaking… exhaustively. For the past fifteen years, I’ve averaged 200 speaking engagements annually. That means I’m on the road, away from my family, for 250 days every single year. That’s 68 percent of my life. I don’t think about my career in terms of how many days I’ve worked. I think about it in terms of how many days I’ve missed.
I’ve missed my son, Tate’s, hockey games. I’ve missed my daughter, Caroline’s, music recitals. I’ve missed my stepson, Anthony’s, award ceremonies. I’ve missed date nights with my wife, Jill. I’ve missed PTA meetings and Disney vacations and museums and family game nights and camping trips and the countless moments, big and small, that make a good life. I’ve been at home with my family as much as I possibly could, but it was never enough. In the blink of an eye, Anthony is in his second year at West Point Military Academy, Tate is at hockey prep school in Minnesota, and Caroline is touring colleges on the East Coast. When I was growing up, my dad made it home from work every day before 5 PM. I don’t remember a single family dinner without him. Not a single one. How many family dinners have I missed over the past fifteen years? It breaks my heart to do the math.
I may not be fighting to put oil in my furnace like James Braddock did, but I’m fighting for weeknights at home with my wife. I’m fighting for hockey games and dance recitals and school plays. When it comes down to it, I’m fighting for memories. I’m blessed to have a career I love. My team and I get to change the lives of others day in and day out. But if the Covid-19 pandemic taught me one thing, it’s that there are many ways to change lives. There are ways that don’t involve flying millions of miles crisscrossing the country at the expense of those I love most. And so, it’s time I take a risk and change how I do business.
May 3, 2023, is when everything changes. That day, my team and I are holding our first ever Leadership Changing Lives Global Summit, where nearly 900 people will join us in Denver for a half day of inspiration, leadership lessons, and life-changing stories. Meanwhile, thousands more will join me virtually so that we may truly bring heart-led leadership to everyone in the world. Our goal is to help organizations define their own personal leadership philosophy; build authentic, lifelong customers and clients; and learn how to give the gift of positive influence in their everyday life. We’ll use the best of technology, with music, storytelling, and multimedia to make our global virtual summit unforgettable and life changing. I know the Global Summit will let me touch more lives than ever before, but my motives are also deeply personal: this is the first step toward being a more present husband, father, and friend. Because heart-led leadership does not end when you clock out from work at 5 PM. You don’t get to be an incredible influence at work and then not be present at home.
I admit I was worried when I first announced our Virtual Global Summit. What would my clients and customers—many of whom are dear friends—think? Instead of flying hundreds or thousands of miles to see them, here I was asking them to do that for me. Here I was asking them to not just help me become a better father and husband, but to sponsor the event financially. Never before had I been so vulnerable to so many people. The response was swift and moved me to tears:
“100 percent we’re there, Tommy!”
“Sign us up!”
“We support you!”
“If this summit allows you to be home with your family more, than count us in!”
And on and on and on. One by one, heart-led organizations that supported me for years, like Graebel Relocation, Haselden Construction, Omni Hotels and Resorts, and Pepsico, have stepped up to be platinum sponsors. The funny part is that up until now, I’ve tried to keep my family and work lives separate. I didn’t want to discuss clients and money at home when I could watch a movie with my kids or ask them about school. But now I’m excitedly texting my family updates like: “Carter’s is in! Aflac is in! Cigna is in!” Because I can no longer pretend that my work isn’t personal. Today I feel like Cinderella Man fighting for something more than business. And I’m incredibly humbled to see so many clients and customers join and support me on this journey. And like James Braddock, I will fight to the last round to make sure our inaugural Global Leadership Summit is a renowned success – changing organizational cultures and the lives of millions.
Never forget why you get up every morning and head to the office, wherever that may be. Work hard for your family. Be ambitious. But as Dolly Parton once said, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life!”
There are still in-person and virtual tickets and sponsorships available for individuals and organizations to the inaugural Leadership Changing Lives Global Summit on May 3, 2023, from 8:30 AM–11:30 AM MDT in Denver, Colorado. Please join me!