Peter Thomas: The Five Foundations of an Extraordinary Life

It is hard to be positive about business when so much of what we hear about these days is negative— rising unemployment, falling revenues and hardship dominate the daily headlines. In my opinion, now is the perfect time to focus on the positive and turn bad news into good news.

The global economic downturn, which has touched all of us in some way, presents a perfect opportunity to do this. While we may be suffering—some more than others—we have a prime opportunity to rethink what’s important and determine the true meaning of success. From there, we can focus on how to best achieve success in our personal or professional lives.

Where do we start? It all starts with the Five Foundations, which I’ll get into in a moment. First, I’d like to touch on my own experiences to provide you with some background. As a husband, father, grandfather and international businessman for more than 40 years, I have been through a number of ups and downs. By allowing my values to dictate my direction and setting of goals, I have been able to work through and overcome many obstacles.

For example, in the late 1970s, the real estate market was booming and I was on top of the world in my real estate business. Unfortunately, when the market took a turn for the worse in the 1980s, my fortune of $150 million plunged to minus $70 million. What did I do? I certainly did not give up. Instead, I took a deep breath and checked in with my values.

Health was a big value of mine, so instead of hitting the nearest bar to wallow in my sorrows, I hit the running trail. The physical activity helped clear my head, refocus and build the stamina I needed to recover from this serious setback. I eventually rebuilt my business without ever having to compromise my values. What I realized through this turmoil was that although I had lost my money, I was still blessed with many other things that were much more important: my health, my family, my friends and so on.

In 2000, I encountered another major obstacle that tested my values and resolve. My life was marred by tragedy when my only son, Todd, committed suicide at age 36. In the days and weeks that followed, I thought of nothing else. For the first time in my life, I encountered something I could not fix. There was no way of bringing Todd back. I felt unmotivated and seemed to sleepwalk through my days without the spark, desire and excitement for life I had always possessed.

How did I get over this devastating incident? I decided to channel my grief in a positive direction by starting the Todd Thomas Foundation, which raises the awareness of the magnitude of mental illness and the effect it has on people and society. I also focused my energy on other worthy causes, like creating The Todd Thomas Institute for Values-Based Leadership. Now more than ever, it has become more evident that business leaders have compromised their values by placing the bottom line ahead of all else. Our hope is that the Todd Thomas Institute will change the business leaders of tomorrow.

Shortly after my son’s death, I also founded LifePilot, a non-profit organization that offers workshops to help empower people to reach their potential. They do so by following what I have identified as the “Five Foundations”: Values, Focus, Visualization, Inspiration and Reflection. I think of these Foundations as pillars, a support system that helps you stand tall in good times and bad, and inspires you to realize the kind of life you’ve always dreamed about.

The Five Foundations have supported me tremendously throughout my life. It is what I called my “operator’s manual,” and serves as the theme in my latest book, Be Great: The Five Foundations of an Extraordinary Life. It’s a collection of stories and advice from a variety of sources who reached their goals by being true to themselves and following the foundations. Here are some of the steps they took to success in work and life:

  1. Sticking to your VALUES is critical. Write down the things that are most important to you, and when it’s time to make a decision, take a close look at your values. You will be amazed at how much easier your decision making will be.  
  2. FOCUS on your goals. Do not let anything distract you from what you want to achieve. You must do this without compromising your values.
  3. VISUALIZE what success looks like. Define what success means to you and have a clear picture of it in your mind. Post that picture to a bulletin board or a computer screen to serve as a constant reminder.
  4. No one can do it alone, so turn to those who INSPIRE you. Let your heroes be your mentors by asking yourself, “What would they do?” 
  5. Take the time to REFLECT. We are often so busy forging ahead that we don’t take the time to look back and enjoy our wins or learn from our mistakes. Take the time to reflect, and you’ll find success can be more easily achieved.

If you feel the pressures of life or business weighing you down, follow the Five Foundations and focus on what you have, not what you don’t have. Remember, your success will only be limited by how big you dream.

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