Author Dean Niewolny once found himself living out his dream of making as much money as possible, but despite the financial comfort he achieved, something didn’t feel quite right.
Niewolny, who now leads the Halftime Institute, a group that helps business leaders find significance in their success, told Faithwire about how he started out working in the financial services industry when he was in his young twenties.
He had set his sights on financial success after growing up without a lot of money or resources.
“My dream was to make as much money as I possibly could,” Niewolny said. “I thought those things would bring me happiness. It was my drive from a very young age to go out and be successful.”
And during the first 23 years of his career, Niewolny, who recently released the book, “Trade Up: How to Move from Just Making Money to Making a Difference,” said he found incredible success, going on to become a managing director at Wells Fargo Advisors.
But that didn’t fill the emptiness that he felt deep in his heart. Eventually, he hit a breaking point.
“I thought to myself, ‘I should be the happiest person around. I have a beautiful life, I have great kids,'” he recalled. “But I remember looking out the window and thinking, ‘Is this all there is? There has to be more to life than this.'”
What followed was a timeframe back in 2006, which Niewolny described as his “season of smoldering discontent” — a time during which he contemplated what he needed to do to fill that gaping void.
Then, an experience overseas changed everything.
“I was invited to go on a missions trip to South Africa, and I went into some of the most desolate areas I’ve ever experienced, but I saw people with incredible joy and contentment and they had nothing,” he said, noting that he reflected on how he had everything yet was still unhappy and had a “hole in his heart.”
Niewolny said he quickly realized that his “faith was nowhere near where it needed to be” and learned a deeper lesson amid the ashes of his frustration: “I was finding my security and my value in my things and that will only bring you so much happiness.”
He immediately sat down to talk with his wife and kids and told them that he had an “overwhelming need to simplify” his life. Around the same time, he started studying the book “Halftime” with his boss, a text that focused on finding significance.
“I was going to figure out what the rest of my life would look like and how I would make an impact on others rather than focusing so much on myself,” Niewolny said.
He soon found himself heading down to Dallas, Texas, to meet with the Halftime Institute, where he heard the founder speak about the importance of finding significance.
Niewolny recalled feeling God ask, “What did you do with the gifts that I had given you?” and realized that he really wasn’t doing anything with his gifts. So, he hired a Halftime coach to help him figure out his strengths and spiritual gifts and developed a mission statement.
Then, in 2010, he heard that the Halftime Institute was looking for a CEO and, after one thing led to another, he ended up taking the position. Now, he’s helping others find significance in their lives, and has a powerful and important message for young people.
“I would say to [my younger self] that really take the time to understand yourself, understand your strengths and your gifts and your passion,” he said. “Because if you focus just on the success component in an area that you might not be passionate about, you are not going to have joy, impact and balance in your life.”
Niewolny encouraged young people to find a mentor or coach to help guide them. And while he said that he sees many Millennials today looking for significance and success rather than just the latter, he said it’s “scary” to see that the faith component is far too often missing from that quest.
“My encouragement is to go out and be successful,” Niewolny said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but you need to couple that with something that is significant, something that has a lasting impact, something that is going to fill your heart other than just fill your wallet.”
Read more about Niewolny’s story in his book, “Trade Up.”