Jason Garner was a Fortune 500 exec who worked with Jay Z & Beyonce. He gave it all away. Here is why.

Steve Hind

At 37 Jason Garner was the CEO of Global Music for Live Nation, working with artists like Coldplay, John Mayer, Beyonce and Jay Z to produce over 20,000 concerts a year.

A year later, in 2009, Jason looked at his life and decided to walk away. His mother had just died of cancer. He had been divorced twice. He wasn’t looking after his body.

He set off to transform himself and put his life into balance. And now, a few years down the track, he’s written a book about it called And I Breathed: My Journey from a Life of Matter to a Life that Matters. This week The Harbus spoke to Jason via email.

Steve Hind: It wasn’t until after you’d achieved great success that you realized you needed something more. And it seems like it’s easier to walk away and declare success overrated once you’ve achieved it. Why should people at the start of their careers believe you that conventional success isn’t worth it?

Jason Garner: First, the fact that you’re asking this question and that we’re having this discussion is exactly why I wrote, …And I Breathed. I don’t believe in telling people what to do. Your readers are smart young business people who are independent thinkers. It’s obnoxious when someone shows up saying, “here is what you have to do.” What I hope to achieve with my book is to provoke questions like these by sharing my own story in a very honest and vulnerable way and allowing the readers to draw from it whatever lessons are authentic for them.

In my case, you’re right. After a lifetime of scrappy entrepreneurship I reached a point in my life where I had achieved a lot of material success, but inside I was falling apart. I was on top of the world professionally but personally I was twice-divorced, I wasn’t caring for my body and I had just held my mom as she died in my arms from stomach cancer. None of that was easy, nor was walking away from the life I had built. I had my entire identity wrapped up in “Jason the Businessman” and waking up and having to look myself in the mirror and sort through “Jason the Human Being” was a tough learning experience for me.

What I learned, and believe is worth sharing, is that we don’t have to choose between business and well-being. It doesn’t have to be an either / or situation. We simply have to learn to develop a life routine or as I call it, a daily practice, that supports both success in the business world and our own success as people in the areas of health, happiness and well-being. In my opinion that’s true success.

Steve Hind: What do you think is driving people to value the wrong things (i.e. conventional success over physical and emotional health)?

Jason Garner: I don’t think it’s about right or wrong. It’s just the awareness that material success is only one part of life success. That realization is easier said than done though, because our society overvalues the material part. So we are taught to sacrifice our own well-being in the process of achieving societal success. I know I used to think, “I’ll take a break when I accomplish my goals.” But the problem was, that day never came because I was always striving for bigger and bigger goals in a never-ending quest to be validated and loved.

That’s really the key of what I’ve learned — that our need to be loved is really the underlying factor we are all striving for. As children we were rewarded with love, attention, good grades and accolades for doing stuff. Over and over again throughout our lives we’re conditioned to work and work and work, and very little, if any, attention is ever placed on teaching us to love ourselves and to take care of our health, emotional and spiritual needs. And so all of us have an unloved little child inside who will do anything to be loved, which often manifests itself as working ourselves to death. The result is that here we are as a society feeling stressed out, all alone and unloved. That’s really what my entire book is about – my journey to learn to love and care for myself as much as I loved and cared for my career.

Steve Hind: You’ve talked about what individuals can do to change their outlook. What can the institutions that nurture them (business, and especially business schools) do to change their outlook?

Jason Garner: I love that word you chose – nurture. And for me that is really the answer. As leaders, and teachers and mentors we have to move beyond just filling the mind with intellectual facts and figures and begin to nurture the hearts and souls of our employees, students and associates. There are a lot of really smart people in the world. What’s rare, is smart people who know how to use their minds and their hearts. When we connect with people, in business and life, from an open heart, when we look across the table and see another being just like us instead of an adversary, when we’re honest about our goals and intentions in negotiation … that’s when magic happens. The beautiful thing is that we are starting to see this shift from heady business to heart-felt business. Leaders like Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, Marc Benioff and my business mentor and former boss Michael Rapino are examples of this — leaders who are stimulating not only the intellect of their teams but also their hearts and souls.

Steve Hind: How can people who still face real financial pressures (e.g. business school loans) make some of the re-balancing choices you talk about, when most of the better paying jobs require very long hours (etc)?

Jason Garner: I was raised by a single mom who worked three jobs to make ends meet. The memory of her struggle and sacrifice is one of the real driving forces for me in sharing my story.

Balance is a buzz-word right now. The challenge I found as I sought to achieve it, was that very few of the books I read actually told me what it meant … what does a life of balance look like in the real world where, as you say, we are working long hours and paying off school loans?

What my teacher, Guru Singh, taught me was that we don’t have to check out and go to the mountains – that balance is simply the development of a daily practice of self-love to go along with all the other things we do during the day. And it doesn’t have to be complex.

In my case my daily practice involves morning yoga to teach my being to bend and not break when the stresses of life stretch me, meditation to fill my heart with peace and self-love and green juice and other nutrient dense foods to nurture the cells of my body and give me the fuel to face the day. You’d be amazed at what 30 minutes a day of dedicated practice like I described above can do. For me, that’s the path to balance and I think I’m living proof of the results.