By external measures, as CEO of Global Music for Live Nation, Jason Garner was spectacularly successful. But he still felt empty.  (iStock)

By all external measures, Jason Garner was stunningly successful. He had a big job promoting the concerts of megastars like Beyonce, Maroon 5, Enrique Iglesias and Jay-Z. He hobnobbed with celebrities like Chris Martin of Coldplay and Toby Keith and dined with President Obama at George Clooney’s house. He was rich. But inside, he felt hollow. It took the death of his mother to force him to look inside and make a change, one he recounts in his new memoir, “And I Breathed: My Journey from a Life of Matter to a Life that Matters.” He explains:

Q: Your book is about transformation and second chances. Did you have one Aha! Moment that made you want to change?

Garner: I was the CEO of Global Music at Live Nation. I was responsible for 20,000 concerts a year around the globe. It was a really big job. I had been raised by a single mom in a trailer park in Arizona. I’d barely finished high school, and scraped my way as an entrepreneur into this great job. I was right at the top of my game. I thought I had it all.

But inside was this nagging insecurity, a nagging fear that had been lingering with me for a long time. Questions like, Does anybody love me for who I am? What am I if I don’t have this job? What if I fail at my next task? I had all this fear in me, that kept driving me higher and higher looking for reprieve. But with every new success, there was this voice that taunted, ‘You’re not good enough.’

[Related: The Dalai Lama’s translator: Being kind to yourself is good for the world.]

I found myself in the middle of a second divorce. My mom was diagnosed with stomach cancer. It really hit me. She was given six months to live. I took some time off from work for really the first time in my life to be with my mom.

She died in my arms, with my sister and I sitting with her in bed.

I looked at my mom, this amazingly, loving, giving woman. She worked herself to death. She worried herself to death. She dealt with all the same fears. She was a daycare teacher. But she really carried the weight of the world on her shoulders, or her stomach, where the cancer was.

It just hit me: This is going to be me. As sad as that was, it was really an opportunity to do something different.

Q: What did you do?

Garner: I realized that, without my job or fancy title, I had no idea who I was. So I went on a quest to find out: What do I have to do to feel successful?

I had learned, from a young age, that we’re valued when we work hard to please other people, whether that is learning to smile, saying ‘Mama, Dada,’ getting a gold star at school, 100 percent on spelling test, getting into the right college, being good at sports, marrying the right person, getting the right job, getting the right promotion, doing the right things.

We have this lifelong programming: I am good when I’m doing something for someone else.

I believed I was this business warrior, a mature man living the dream, marching forward. I had expressions like, ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’ Yet there was this voice inside, almost like a little child, asking after every success, ‘Do you love me now?’

I got so caught up in caring about the health of my business, that I forgot to love myself. I forgot to care about my own health. So that’s where I started, with my health, and thinking about my body as a community of cells that I need to treat with love and compassion.

I was able to work with my boss and mentor to find a graceful way out of my job. And I studied with some great teachers, learning about nutrition, green juice, Chinese herbs from the Shaolin monks, yoga, mindfulness and meditation. It’s been a nonstop learning adventure.

Now, I have a daily practice of taking care of myself, and reminding myself from the cells up that I matter.

Q: What is your daily practice?

Garner: I’ve remarried, and my wife and I get up about 6:30 am. We take a series of deep breaths. I do 30 minutes of yoga, thinking of how I’m preparing my body to be flexible and adaptable for the coming day, so when life gets stressful, I don’t break.

I take 20 to 30 minutes and sit on a cushion and practice meditation. I start the day with a green smoothie.

And the final piece of my daily routine is just to remember to breathe. It sounds so simple, but the breath is so powerful. It sends a message to the entire body, ‘You need to stop, pause, take a deep breath, and know you’re safe, there’s no threat around the corner.’

Now, I write a blog, I’ve written this book, I do private consulting with a handful of people, that keeps me engaged in the real-life world of business, and I’m sharing what I’ve learned with them. Because organizations are just like people. If leaders browbeat people, if we bully the people we work with, push them, and never nurture them… at some point, they’re going to rebel.

I show them that they have an opportunity to help people show up as present individuals, versus this continual spinning out on this constant treadmill, asking ‘Am I loved yet?’ Because you’ll never find the answer at work. The answer will always be: Work more.

Q: You had the luxury of having both time and money to take this journey. What about people who have neither? 

Garner: I learned I felt scared and alone without money, and I was scared and alone with money. Money can give us space and time. But I’ve learned that you don’t have to take time away from work and run to the mountains in China to find peace. We just have to create space in our busy lives to let the peace that’s already there sneak through the cracks.

In the world of honking horns, horrible news blasting in our faces, email and workweeks that are increasingly not 40 hours, but 60 and 80 hours, It’s unrealistic to think that when something stressful pops in our lives, our parents die, we go through divorce, we’re laid off from jobs, that we’re just going to know what to do.

[Related: Science shows that stress has an upside. Here’s how to make it work for you]

I think the same way we practice being good our jobs, we have to practice being happy. That’s what the daily practice has given me. We don’t have to run to the mountains to find ourselves. But I do find it very helpful to take 20 to 30 minutes a day and find the mountain in ourselves.

Q: What’s one thing readers  who want to start making change in their own lives can do?

Garner: First, just take a really deep breath. After that, take another. We are a culture that holds our breath. Like we’re waiting for something good to happen tomorrow. Or because we’re scared. Or because we don’t feel love.

The beginning of this path is just to take a really deep breath. Then another one. And start to get in touch with things going on inside us.

Q: How have your former colleagues in corporate American reacted to your journey?

Garner: I was kind of afraid when I wrote my book. In the early days, when I just started writing my blog, I had five subscribers. Then I started seeing some really interesting names coming in – people who’d worked with me, high-level executives, billionaires, artists that I had promoted. Then, over time, I started getting phone calls from these same people.

What my blog has opened the door for, is for a lot of people who are feeling the same level of being overwhelmed, lack of love, wondering, does this matter? And asking, how can I create a life that matters?

It all starts with creating space to ask those questions and explore.

 

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