It’s early on a weekend morning in the year 2001. I’m standing in front of a large window, a cup of coffee in my hand, with Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor stretched out before me. I live in the tallest residential tower in Asia Pacific, surrounded by spectacular views of the harbor, The Peak and a crystal blue sky filled with skyscrapers. I watch as a giant luxury cruise liner gracefully approaches Ocean Terminal. The iconic cross-harbor Star ferries silently give way to the enormous ship. I am on top of Hong Kong but I feel like I am on top of the world, on the top of my game, on the top of my career. 

A trail of Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Ferraris depart from the tower and descend along Old Peak Road. Drivers are stretched in front of the latest models of the most expensive cars in the world, waiting to drive residents to golf clubs around the island. 

It feels like a dream, but this is my reality. This luxury $10,000 a month apartment is my home. I am the Vice President, Asia Pacific of a hi-tech company. My kids study in top-notch international schools. We travel the exotic Far East for business and pleasure, employ a live-in maid and host lavish parties for our community.

My stock options value climbed above the million-dollar mark, only 18 months after receiving them from my employer. My private stock portfolio, managed by a prestigious brokerage firm, has reached 500,000 dollars. I am damn lucky! 

I take a moment to think back to just five years ago. At the time, my 30,000-dollar annual income just barely covered my mortgage payments, car loan installments and over-limit credit card debt, which I couldn’t get rid of. My wife and I lived from bill to bill. We couldn’t afford vacations other than the redemptions of credit card points. Our cost of living skyrocketed after the second child was born. Overdraft warning calls from the bank increased our stress, anxiety and feelings of helplessness. 

It shouldn’t have been that way. We were both professionals who graduated with Bachelor degrees in economics, who worked hard for MBA’s and CPA certifications. But we couldn’t pay our bills with credentials. 

I quit the accounting firm to assume a Financial Controller position in a large paper mill company. The income increased to $50,000 per year but that didn’t improve our financial constraints. Our expenses soon outpaced the new income while increased interest and inflation rates doubled our house loan liability over time.  

My efforts to move to a higher paying industry or profession failed. Recruiters repeated the same old script: “Your education is finance. Your experience is finance. It’s too late to change career path when you’re already in middle management.”

The financial struggle drove me to develop a new career roadmap. I started a new business parallel to my day job, acquired new competencies, attended seminars, read sales and marketing books and studied English all in an attempt to be hired for an international assignment. 

Two years later, I am in Hong Kong. I am an expatriate, or what we call an expat. I earn 10 times the income I earned only 5 years earlier. More importantly, I’m debt free. 

I continue to look at the astounding view of the green mountainous jungles and the blue sea right outside my home. I turn away from the window with a great feeling of accomplishment. I don’t spare a moment to debate whether my success tower is built on a solid rock or on shifting sand. 

It doesn’t take long to find out. At the beginning of 2001, the Dot-Com Bubble bursts. In just a few months, my million-dollar paper wealth of stock options has evaporated into nothing. My company’s sales plunge abruptly. Massive layoffs follow poor financial results. I call my broker to sell my portfolio and discover it is too late—we have lost half of our real savings. My wealth illusion ends brutally. 

A few months later, my wife and I decide to divorce after a 15-year marriage. It is very painful to leave home and be far away from my children. Divorce is tough. Unexpected divorce is even tougher. The emotional turmoil of breaking up a family could fill a book! 

The combination of my company’s plummeting performance and my deteriorating personal performance due to the divorce begins to take a toll. The result is that my contract is not renewed. My only chance to stay in Asia Pacific is to accept an offer for the wrong position in the wrong profession but in the right country - Singapore. I assume a CFO role for a large semiconductor company in Singapore however, after a few months the company merges with another company. I’m not the CFO of the merged company.  

My career stalls and for the first time in my life, I am unemployed. Without any income, my savings drain rapidly. I start a new business but it’ll take time to yield significant income. I’m back to square one. I struggle financially again. It is even worse than before. My career is stuck. The only good news is that the worst has already happened; I’ve hit rock bottom and the only direction is up. Or so I thought until the telephone rang.  

A nervous voice calls me and asks me to come to see a specialist in the hospital. The hematologist is looking at me calmly but choosing his words carefully: “Sir, you have a condition called Essential Thrombocythemia (ET). It is a chronic form of leukemia where bone marrow makes too many platelets. You are at serious risk of blot clots which can lead to stroke, heart attack and even sudden death.”

“What’s the cure?” I ask.

“Unfortunately, there is no cure for this rare condition. The only treatment that has some success is chemotherapy oral medication,” the hematologist explains.

“For how long?” 

His answer hits me like a bullet. 

“For life.” 

10 minutes later, I leave the hospital and my head is spinning. That’s it? Is this the end? In one year, I have lost my family, my job, my wealth, my health, and maybe even my life.

I ask myself: Have I lived fully? Have I mattered to people? Have I made any difference?

I hate my answers to these questions.

What I felt in front of the window with my view of the world in Hong Kong was a false success. It was not sustainable. It compromised every aspect of my life. I was so consumed by my career and financial success that I forgot to live. I neglected my loved ones. I had my priorities all wrong. 

Not only was my success unreal; I also continuously wore a façade, masking how I really felt. I never shared my struggles with my friends. I was never vulnerable or asked for help. When someone would ask how I was doing, I faked a smile and lied about how great it all was, even when every aspect of my life was falling apart. It was more important for me to keep up the façade. 

It was already midnight when my head suddenly stopped spinning. I began to feel a sense of relief and the heaviness in my chest faded quickly. I close my eyes and begin to envision a new life coming ahead. I start laughing—this is insane! I should feel defeated after hearing the news about my disease and the risk of death I’m facing, but instead, I feel reborn to new life. This moment. Now.

I visualize leading a large organization and helping millions of people improve their lives. I visualize that I’m healthy, fit and energetic—in the best shape ever. I visualize that I love and am loved by family and friends. I reach success without side effects. I accomplish my goals while staying connected and fully present in my relationships. 

I finally fall asleep at dawn.

A few years later, my vision has come true. I’m the CEO of a multinational organization leading 500 employees in 15 countries towards annual revenues of almost half a billion dollars. I’m remarried to an amazing wife who shares my passions. I have a new daughter and we’re deeply connected emotionally. I travel the world. I’m a role model of health and fitness with a platform to inspire thousands of people and help them improve their wellbeing. I live a balanced life. I replace my ego-driven management style with service and coaching leadership. I love. I dare. I care. I share. I begin to write. I begin speaking publicly. I live fully. 

I transformed from an inauthentic executive who lived without purpose to an authentic leader who lives with purpose, passion and service. There is a way to overcome challenges in life. There is a way to live fully while making a difference in the world. 

I am blessed helping CEOs and executives to realize their full potential and live a meaningful, fulfilling, abundant, healthy and love-filled life so together, we have a ripple effect on the world.

I am fully committed to empower organizations in achieving peak performance and accomplish extraordinary results.