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196: Russell Gray on Life After Loss

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Buck: Welcome back to the show everyone. Today my guest on Wealth Formula Podcast is one half of the dynamic duo that makes up The Real Estate Guys Radio Show, the number one real estate podcast in the world. Now Russ has been a friend of mine for several years and I got to tell you, I really enjoy talking to him. He’s a guy who’s seen a lot success, failure, happiness and sorrow and he’s never afraid to talk about any of this and in that respect he offers a significant opportunity for people to learn from. He’s a guy with a lot of wisdom. In fact for this reason, and and for many reasons, I had invited him to our next Meetup which we had called Hindsight 20/20 in part because we were going to be reflective on this but unfortunately he had a prior commitment so the next best thing was to have him on the podcast. So Russ, my friend, welcome back to Wealth Formula Podcast.

Russ: Thanks Buck. It’s always a pleasure to be with you. And I want to say congratulations to you for your success and the difference you’re making in the world right now. I know you’re changing a lot of lives and sharing the things that you’ve learned so keep up the good work.

Buck: I appreciate that. You know Russ you know a lot of people already know you from The Real Estate Guys Radio Show but give us a little history on yourself before you did that and then maybe we can kind of transition into you know sort of the topic for today which is you know being reflective in trying to understand how to learn from you know these problems in your life and things like that.

Russ: Yeah so I’ll answer the question kind of in the context of the topic and get kind of the highlights or really kind of the lowlights right of my life and my career. I met a pretty little blonde when I was 16 years old that I wrote in her yearbook her junior year that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her I ended up proposing to her at 17 years old and marrying her at 18 years old and trudged off into life. I was too impatient to go to college and ended up in corporate America at the very very bottom of the corporate food chain and quickly realized that I had no future there and I needed a way out and I needed a mentor. Fortunately my uncle was an experienced salesman in Southern California and he took me under his wing and I learned outside sales in the streets of LA and that was a real eye-opener and a life skill that really served me the rest of my life. After kind of getting caught up in the LA hustle and bustle, I made some mistakes in my life that nearly cost me my marriage. My wife left me for a period of time, we nearly divorced and it was the first major setback that I had and I purposed in that to figure out who I needed to become but to win her back and thankfully I did and then we set off and many, many years of marriage and had kids and when I was about 40 years old I had gotten to that point in life where I was tired of the corporate grind and decided that I saw a lot of opportunity in financial services. I had a mission that I felt I wanted to do if I could make the world better in one way I wanted to do it through financial education and I decided my entree into that would be the mortgage business based on what was going on macro economically and people who follow me know that I’m kind of a macro economic nerd but I try to figure out where the flow of money is gonna be and put myself in a position to benefit from that. And so from 2000 to 2008 I took a fun ride in the mortgage business, made gobs of money, owned millions of dollars of real estate. That’s where Robert and I you know I got involved in the real estate guys radio show we were doing the seminars together we started a real estate development company that exists hit this day we wrote a book we had a TV show I mean it was like he and I had the Midas touch it was awesome. And of course then in 2008 it all fell apart but an interesting thing happened to me I’m kind of turning the time clock a little bit back in 1987 when I was 27 years old I was in the securities business so I took a little time out from corporate America and made my first entree into entrepreneur ISM I’d already started and sold a business. I had already bought and sold a piece of property and made profit so I understood equity I was entrepreneurial so I wasn’t quite a full-blown being and I to use the Robert Kiyosaki cashflow quadrant vernacular but I was definitely oriented that way and learning. And so 1987 my dad took a company a high-tech company he started public he took it public in June of 1987 and he became an overnight nine-figure eight figure millionaire. And so he was in his lockout period where you can’t sell your insider stock when October 19th 1987 hit stock market crashed unfortunately he was margined on some of that stock it dropped all the way over 90% he took the margin call couldn’t raise the cash got taken out. Not only did he lose his fortune he got handed a huge capital gain because even at the takeout price based on his founders rate it created a huge phantom gain he had no money but he had a big tax liability and that cost him his home really it cost him his career because he lost his confidence. My dad’s and I love my dad and have gobs of respect for my dad but my dad at that time his self-worth was wrapped up in his net worth and I looked at that and I made a vow to myself I said you know if that ever happens to me and I hope it doesn’t but if it ever does I swear that I will not lose my mojo. I will not think that because I lost everything that I’m a permanent failure, it’s just something that happened and I can rebuild. Little did I know at about the same age as when he lost everything in ’87, I lost everything in 2008 and so that was a big big hit and and so then to fast forward you know kind of rebuilt got back on the horse and just this last December that pretty little blonde that I married way back in 1978 died in my arms after 41 years of marriage and 43 years together and then that was the hardest hit of my life and so I’m just now about seven weeks removed from that experience and I’ve had to figure out how to really rebuild my life without my without my wife and I’ve never lived alone as an adult or as a child in my entire life and I’m figuring that out too so that’s kind of it yeah you know big picture a lot of lessons in there that I’m happy to share.

Buck: Yeah you know and that’s kind of what I thought would be a really useful topic for us because you know you are I think sort of like me in that you’re a problem solver right and I think the thing that makes people like you and me most uncomfortable are things that you can’t solve and before the show you and I you were telling me a little bit about some of the strategies that you initially tried and and didn’t seem to work very well for you know your most recent loss and and then ultimately sort of how that led into more of a process that I think that might be useful for you know not only these kind of personal tragic losses but you know all kinds of setbacks. Do you want to talk about that?

Russ: Yeah well I think you know from a practical standpoint every single person listening at one point or another has or will suffer a tragic loss. We lose love we lose money deals go bad we have health issues there’s just you know a thousand things in life that happen to us and what I’ve learned in my nearly 60 years on the planet is that the people who have success aren’t the ones that avoid loss because it’s common to all but it’s how how they respond how quickly did they pick themselves back up when they’ve been knocked down how quickly did they get back in the game and you know the first time it took me a long time took me a few months to really kind of figure out who I was and that I love my wife and I wanted to try to win her back and then I realized a particular area that I needed to work on and that was my discipline, I was undisciplined I couldn’t control my urges, I couldn’t control my impulses, I couldn’t control my temper, I wasn’t abusive or anything like that but I was a typical young guy that just wasn’t in control of myself at the level that a mature man would need to be if he wants to really have a responsible life. When I lost everything in 2008 I was in the dumps for about 90 days so I have any money I was just feeling sorry for myself and even though I seen my dad’s experience and had vowed not to let that happen to me it’s one thing to say oh I don’t I don’t want to let that happen to me but it’s another thing to know what to do and so it took me a while to kind of figure that out. This last time I drew upon those previous two experiences and I’d never taken an emotional hit like this so I really didn’t know what to do and so I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do and it’s not YouTube but I read a book. So a friend of mine sent me a book about how to survive the loss of love that she had found that helpful when she lost her father and I read that book and I got a couple of pieces of the puzzle and and part of that puzzle was you know you’re gonna feel this in your body you need to be kind to yourself give yourself time to heal, this is just the same as having a really bad physical injury. So it was kind of it’s okay that you’re hurting, it’s not unusual, there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re not weak you’re just gonna have to go through a process of healing. And so I took a week off and I was meditating on that and I was journaling and I was doing a lot of crying and thinking and just all the things that you do and I realized at the end of the week I would not only wasn’t better I was worse and I thought well I can’t I can’t keep going like this then my daughter gave me a book called It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay by Megan Devine and I didn’t even read the whole sometimes I don’t read a whole book I get to the point where I get the thing the Aha moment like okay I got the piece that I needed and what I picked up from that I don’t know if this was her words or if it was something that she said that stimulated this in my own mind but it came out in a journaling session which was one of the very first things I did, I started getting up every day and journaling just to process what was going on and that’s a habit that I’ve had anyway but I mean I really turned it up a notch doing this and what she said or what I came up with is you know when you stub your toe it’s an injury and it hurts it turns black and blue it hurts like hell you you feel like you know your toe is never gonna heal or maybe that it got cut off but it’s not really that bad and it’ll heal and then you’ll be back to normal and then you can have an injury where your foot gets ripped off in an industrial accident it hurts like hell except eventually the pain heals but you’re never the same you know you’re basically you know disfigured or mutilated and that’s what this kind of a loss is I’m never gonna forget my wife I’m never gonna stop missing her I don’t want to run from the memories or try to erase that and I don’t want to just bury the emotions with busyness because I could do that too so I’m allowing myself to feel what I’m feeling but I’m also realizing that it isn’t about healing it’s about adapting and understanding that fundamental difference just like my balance sheet after 2008 my business my income wasn’t gonna heal itself it was never going to grow back on its own it was only going to happen if I took action and I had to adapt I didn’t have the same things to work with I didn’t have credit I didn’t have capital to a degree my reputation had been tarnished a lot of the infrastructure that I had was no longer there so it was a whole new ballgame and the same thing was true here in this in this incidence in 2008 or with the loss of my wife last December.

Buck: Yeah you know it brings up a lot of other you know things have ever heard you know actually I think actually yesterday I remember and I was watching something where Anderson Cooper was talking to somebody about Kobe Bryant it was the husband who had lost his wife in there and said that Gloria Vanderbilt had told to him after his father’s loss and after his brothers lost the same thing which was that you know that grieving doesn’t have a timeline right, it’s ultimately you know it’s just something that is there and it will continue to be there and you know you just kind of move on, not move on, but you you continue with your life you know like Ben Hardy says change is inevitable the question is you know is there growth and then and so you made sort of a I think a decision from what you’re telling me that you’re gonna try to figure out okay well what is the path forward then and then I think you actually sort of felt like there was this like a systematic way of doing that is that right?

Russ: Yeah you know buck you know me one of my skill sets I’m not very good at very many things but I’m pretty good at a couple things and one of them is strategy. Pretty good at trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B. And it’s about what needs to be done in the scope and sequence kind of a step by step how do I take what I have and work with it to get what I need to get where I want to go. And you know you do that in investing you do that in business and I just said well I need to apply that same methodology, I need to define a process that I can follow to get from where I am to where I want to go and I didn’t know how to do that from a healing perspective but I clearly knew how to do that from an adapting perspective. So the first thing that I did was I just as I mentioned carved out some quiet time to just begin to journal and in the process of journaling I asked myself questions and I always say that if you want great answers you got to ask great questions. So I was asking my question what is the way forward? And what came doing was the first thing I needed to do is I needed to cultivate positive energy in my life. I was experiencing a tremendous amount of negative energy sadness sorrow loss grieving and there was no escape from it I mean reminders of her were everywhere and like I said I didn’t want to forget so I was going to have to bring a counterbalance of positive energy into my life and I was gonna have to cultivate that and so then the next question is well how do you do that right so well the first thing I gotta do is I gotta cultivate positive energy in my body I need to take better care of my body I’d spent the last several months sleeping in hospitals eating whatever was available not really working out I was deprived of sleep deprived of nutrition deprived of exercise and so physically I was already drained then it added this emotional drain. So the first thing I did was I stopped drinking just completely I just said you know I’m gonna admit to myself that I’m a potentially weak human being I’m in sorrow and I don’t want to be that guy that is crying himself to sleep at night watching mindless TV sucking down a bottle of Jack Daniels to alleviate my pain. So I’m just gonna announce to the world and myself and make a commitment I’m just not drinking at all not socially not privately I’m just not gonna do it that was number one. Number two is I was gonna put good things in my mind, not negative things, so I said I’m not gonna watch TV I get all the news I need from my news feeds you know most of the time I’m just watching Talking Heads you know expound relentlessly about trivial things going on in the world that really don’t impact me but they’re all negative I said I don’t need it right now I don’t have the emotional strength to handle it there are good ideas in my head good things in and on my body I set up appointments with doctors and naturopaths you know chiropractors and physical therapists and I went and got blood tests done and started getting supplementation I didn’t try to be a do-it-yourselfer I wouldn’t got professional help to just improve my body chemistry, you know how can I do that so number one was just creating positive energy and the other thing was just surrounding myself with the right people and I’ve already done I think a pretty good job you know I have a great network a very supportive tribe and so rather than avoid engaging with people you know within a few weeks I was out at our annual goals retreat it was great I was around a bunch of positive people. Last week I went and spoke at a conference for some investors on a sat on a panel on macroeconomics that was great and so I continued to engage in my life but I really am working on emphasizing time with positive people so I could go on and on but then the idea is you know whatever it is for you step number one is cultivate positive energy and then that’s a goal but it isn’t really a strategy so I had to come up with a strategy and a set of tactics underneath the goal how do I actually do that and for me those are some of the things I chose to do. So that was step one and step two I can go on to and go on. So step step two was to establish productive structure and it was based on this premise that there is no motion without emotion. I’m a big believer that emotion is what motivates you it’s what propels you. And a lot of people go to seminars so they read self-help books or they get inspired or motivated but it’s short-lived because they get this burst of energy but it isn’t it isn’t focused in a structure so I liken it to an explosion. You know if you have an explosion there’s a big release of energy and maybe it destroys a few things or warms the room for a little while but without any real structure it just comes and goes. If you compare that to say up you know a gun or a rifle or a cannon or something you have an explosion but because they’re structured to funnel that energy in a specific direction you can aim it at a target and hit the target. And so I said well I’ve just been given the gift of extreme emotional energy either it’s gonna roll me over or I’m gonna channel that through some productive structure so I decided that that’s what I was gonna do and I also knew it was gonna be so much energy that I was gonna need to reserve time in my schedule to actually vent some of it. So I got Kleenex all over the house I allow myself to look at my wife’s picture and if I feel like crying I do and I don’t try to man up I just just vent it a little, but I also I also have a lot of things driving me and so the structure is first of all time it was a very first thing I did. I got out and I blue printed my schedule for 13 weeks I figured out everything I needed to do like a budget I said okay here’s the total amount of time I have to work with here’s all the things that I want to do by order of priority step number one I need to take care of my body so I joined a fitness center hired a personal coach and I blue printed all my appointments I got the doctor blue printed that physical therapist all that chiropractor all of that workout times all of that so I set that time aside first. Then I figured out when I was going to sleep when I was gonna eat and then what was left over is when I was gonna work and then inside of that I blueprinted all of that so that the team would know what to expect because everybody was leaving me alone because they’re sweet and their concerned for me and I get it but at the same time I need to be around positive people I need to be feeling like I’m making progress in my work so it’s important for them to feel like hey you can engage I mean here’s the time slots where you can do that you’re not bothering me I’ve allocated the time for you so getting really complete control of my time. Second one was my space organizing my office organizing my computer or just organizing the house to my liking now because I’m in it alone just kind of getting my space organized and I’m still in the process of doing that and then there’s more you know accounting structure financial structure entity structure because a lot of things change you know when you lose your spouse. So I’m just getting all of that together so create productive structure routines habits quit you know there’s a little saying this is in the beginning we make our habits and then eventually our habits make us and when you’re in a life transition like this the temptation is or the the the probability is if you don’t manage it proactively then you’re going to emotionally at a subconscious level default to things that are bad habits like eating the wrong food watching the wrong shows drinking too much hanging out with the wrong people just a lot of things that you know you can naturally fall into so step two is establishing you know productive structure.

Buck: So now you’re so you’ve got you know and so far that makes a lot of sense because you’re saying first one was positive energy you’re gonna you know turn all this energy into positive enter you know introduce positive energy and then you have to actually have harness that energy and that’s where number two comes in what’s what’s the third step?

Russ: So the third step is setting clear goals, strategies, objectives and tactics in other words having a target to aim at. So I had to redefine who I was so I created a document I call my thought maybe I had it here on my desk I read it every day but it’s my mvvgo mission vision values goals and objectives and I read it every day. So I get up in the morning I journal for 45 minutes minimum and then for the last fifteen minutes I read this document and I continually refine it. The first thing I read is my personal vision my vision for my life and it’s really Who am I so I call them my I am statements and I just made a set and a couple of them that I put in there I put in that were relevant and I’m you know I’m not suggesting these should be other people’s but these are mine just by way of example one of them I put down is that I love myself in practical ways so I can love others in practical ways because I have children I have grandchildren I have teammates I have partners I have people that are counting on me to bring my a-game every day but in order to do that I need to take care of myself so that I can take care of them. It’s one thing to love them in your heart but they have the energy to love them in practical ways you got to take care of yourself. Another one of that I have is I am a thriving survivor because I do think you have to paint a picture of who you are and then be who you’re becoming and so I have this vision and there’s it’s a long list about my character qualities and just who I am and what I do and what I stand for. Then I have my values I have both my personal values but you know and I’ll just tell them you know it’s simpler this little acronym acts it’s authenticity I try to be an authentic person, contribution I’m not here to take I’m here to give I believe in the law of reciprocity, tenacity I don’t want to give in or give up easily I fight I compete and then the last one is stewardship I recognize that life is a gift all the things that I have are a gift my responsibility is to steward those gifts most of them I will not take with me when they end when I buried my wife she didn’t take anything with her and I saw that and I thought you know I’m just a steward of all these things most of these things are gonna end up in somebody else’s possession if I’m a good steward and hold on to them until I’m no longer here. So that little acronym is really my set of values and then our business we have a set of values I have a personal mission statement an internal mission statement which is what kind of what I want my life and my actions to do for me but I have my external mission statement as why am I here on earth what am I here to do my personal mission statement from an external perspective is to empower individual freedom through financial education for effective action have been about that for going on you know 20–25 years now and it just drives what I do and then I have a strategy underneath how to do that. But the point is you got to have a clear vision you have of who you are a clear set of values that you operate by a clear video mission statement of what it is you’re really trying to accomplish both personally internally and externally and of course those translate in my case because I’m an entrepreneur into my business and my investing and I communicate some of these things to our team because their job is to help make those things become a reality and I focus on these things on a daily basis now I’ve got positive energy I’ve got structure in my time getting up every morning journaling reading these things and then all of the time management structure team structure productivity structure to actually act out on prosecuting these mission vision values goals and objectives and I think that’s really important to just why we do our create your future that every here is to help people go through a disciplined process of figuring out what those goals are. You can’t hit a target that you haven’t identified and all the structure and energy in the world won’t work if you don’t have a target to aim at so that’s number three.

Buck: Yeah that’s a big one too can’t be a jumbo jet traveling 500 miles per hour and not having a destination you’ll run out of gas eventually and crash so what’s the final step?

Russ: It’s easy. Act relentlessly. Act relentlessly because you have to act. Thinking about it talking about it dreaming about it hoping for it none of that gets it done you you’ve got to act and you’ve gotta act relentlessly. I look at life and have always looked at life this way and you know me because you’ve seen me believe you always have to keep your shoulder to the boulder. If you don’t keep your shoulder to the boulder there’s a slight uphill sometimes it’s even steep but if you take your shoulder off that boulder it’s gonna roll you backwards so there’s no status quo you’re either advancing or you’re regressing that’s it then so once you’ve kind of got the positive energy going you’ve got your structure in place you’ve got goals that you’re excited about and values that you operate by now you just got to go out there and execute you know Jim Collins talks about the execution the relentless execution of the boring basics it’s easy to reinvent and refine and revisit and talk about all these different things but if you can just focus on the fundamentals you know Vince Lombardi after he wins a football championship spring training shows up he’s got the greatest football team on earth standing before him and he looks at him he holds up a football he says guys gentlemen this is a football and the game we play is about running throwing catching blocking tackling kicking. We’re gonna get great at those things we’re gonna do them at such a high level that we win, not knowing how to do 80 million things it’s just the relentless execution of the boring basics.

Buck: Yeah how do you as an entrepreneur sometimes that’s difficult to do right because we have a tendency to at least I do as an entrepreneur to you know try to catch myself from chasing shiny objects. I guess the first part is admitting you’ve got a problem.

Russ: So I’ll keep it short you know I definitely have that you know feature creep mission creep you know idea creep whatever you want to call it but you know you’re always innovating. As an entrepreneur as a visionary that’s your job and you have to do that. What you have to have is that your right-hand side you have to have somebody who is an implementer of your vision and they have only so much capacity. So it’s structure and that’s your team structure so it’s a structure of identifying not every opportunity you could pursue but what are your most important opportunities and then usually those opportunities dovetail in to each other at least mine do so I have business A and then I can do business B and business C and business D but they all kind of dovetail into business A and so you know when I have my meetings with the team it’s a reality check it’s like okay what do we have the capacity to do. One of one of the disciplines we have in our organization is that when you’re 80% full you’re full. The other 20% of your time needs to be dedicated to to personal improvement personal development process improvement making the operation more efficient training so that you can bring new people in as you grow to take your place so you can move up to the next level and cross-training so that we have redundancy on all vital functions. So the answer really is discipline entrepreneurs don’t like to hear that but it doesn’t mean you have to stop dreaming you keep dreaming and filling that idea bucket up what you’re doing though is just disciplining yourself not to try to do everything at once you pick them off a little at a time based on what your team is telling you they can actually help you implement.

Buck: That is great advice my friend and again I do want to thank you for taking the time out today to be on Wealth Formula Podcast and hope you can come back you know in the end in the near future and and get some updates on how you’re doing and and you know all the productivity that you’ve been able to muster out of this situation.

Russ: Yeah I mean I would trade it all I would trade it all back in a moment to have my wife back but since that’s not an option there is no point in crying over spilled milk if you will or you know the past is cast so I have a new set of reality. If I would have been in an automobile accident and lost my legs then I would have to learn to live life without legs I’m having to learn to live life without my wife and that’s just a reality so I don’t like it but it is what it is and I’m making the best of it. I know that she would want me to go on and have the best life that I could have and I feel like for all the people that love me to support me my kids my grandkids my partner my partner’s my friends I owe it and especially for the mission just to pick myself off the mat and keep going so I am and this is how I’m doing it and if that helps even one person out there recover from a setback get back in the game and get busy about their life’s work then I’m happy to have taken the time to share it so thank you for giving me the platform Buck congratulations again on your great work keep it up and next time you schedule an event you want me out just give me a little bit more advance notice and it would be my absolute pleasure to join you.

Buck: Thanks Russ. We’ll be right back.