Trade Up is Dean Niewolny’s latest book. Niewolny, CEO of the Halftime Institute, addresses finding real purpose in our lives in this book expand their own “first half” success and skills into passion and purpose for meeting human needs and making a difference. In his “first half,” Niewolny spent more than 20 years in executive roles with three of Wall Street’s largest financial firms.
In his “second half,” he joined the Halftime Institute as CEO and now speaks at events around the world, encouraging business leaders to channel first-half achievement into a second half defined by joy, impact and balance. Niewolny recently talked with us about Trade Up, which is available now from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group.
How did your personal goals and motivations factor into the Trade Up: How to Move from Making Money to Making a Difference book you wrote?
Trade Up is my story, which starts with baseball, where I learned to set goals and practice and score and win. But also in those growing-up years, in various circumstances, I’d have pointed out to me, “That guy’s loaded.” And the competitor in me formed in baseball would mentally post a note: Go to college and get rich.
After college, that competition cog turned on finance, where I could make 300 phone calls a day, compete with everyone around me, and score with money. Up, up, up. And one day on the 40th floor of the Chicago Mercantile Building, in the office I’d worked so hard to get to, I hit my head on the desk and moaned out loud, “There has got to be more to life than this!” Trade Up describes the journey as I traded one kind of goal for another. And it spells out how anyone else can make that shift.
What support/inspiration did you experience during your work on this book?
I was inspired by people in my life along the way. My little league baseball coach, for example. (He also was our mailman.) And a former pro baseball player in our neighborhood who pitched to me. And a prof in college who nearly flunked me. As often as possible, Trade Up names names. Support while writing Trade Up came from across Halftime, the organization I now head. Halftime was a deep well of anecdotes, examples (positive and otherwise), ideas, prompts, you name it.
The sports analogy and positive elements in the book are impressive. How did your experience in semi-professional and college baseball factor into this book and your current outlook on life?
Baseball made me competitive. Or maybe competition was in the drinking water in Wausau, Wisconsin, and that stoked the baseball. Either way, Wausau turned out more than its share of star athletes. Sports taught me to think in a team, have friends, set goals, prepare hard, play hard . . . all positive qualities with shadow sides, too. I say that because those things also drove me to excel in a career I didn’t love, and to keep score—in my case, with dollar signs.
In high school and early college, baseball also could be a place to hide: As long as I won games, academics didn’t matter. Until they did. I’m grateful for everything sports taught me. I’m also grateful for the torn rotator cuff that spit me out of sports into the real world. I’m grateful for the focus I’d acquired when it came time to discover my real-life purpose.
Describe your passion for using your expertise to help others and make difference in their lives.
Nothing is wasted; let’s start with that. Everything I’ve learned, even (especially) the mistakes, factors somewhere in my work now helping other people trade up. I understand competition, and “winning,” and the smoldering discontent that forces its way to the surface when winning starts to ring hollow. I understand the emptiness and lack of peers at the top. I understand what it takes for a person to know herself—her strengths, passions and gifts—and how those can lead us to work with meaning. That’s the thing: Everything that comes before, even the negative, can be redeemed.
How did your professional and personal passions begin?
Personal passions for winning and scoring led to professional passions that ultimately failed me. Who can say when such primal feelings first stir in us? As I said earlier, the ballfield played a big part.
Please describe the most memorable speaking event you have experienced as the speaker and/or attendee.
My most memorable event actually is a hypothetical one—a question we ask at Halftime to help people begin to get a picture of how a life can add up. It’s your 80th birthday, we say. You think you’re out for a small dinner, but restaurant doors fly open and the entire place has been rented out for the occasion. At least a hundred people are there, maybe 200. You see faces from your work, family, the neighborhood . . . you see friends of your kids’, people from associations and clubs you belong to, acquaintances who know you better than you know them. After a great dinner, you’re wide awake—pretend that, too—and one by one, every person in the room stands to clearly say what affect your life has had. At that point, we ask our Halftimers: What do you hope to hear?
How does your family influence your work?
My wife and kids are my heartbeat, the pulse in my veins, a big part of why I want to leave a legacy, set an example, be the man God made me to be.
How does your youth sports coaching experience relate to writing about your financial/business expertise in your book?
For kids or grownups, coaching is about helping people tap their talents and get to their best selves. It’s about helping them set personal goals within a larger story, and believing what matters is “more than me, more than here, more than now.” Both sports coaching and the coaching I do now, because they affect lives that affect other lives, are high callings.
Thanks so much.