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How Phil Sarros took control of his business and his life before it was too late.

Phil Sarros | September 8, 2013

I took another gulp of my coffee and tossed my half-eaten bagel aside before heading into my first appointment of the day. The sales call was for a back yard patio, some drainage repair and maybe outdoor lighting. At least that’s what they said on the phone. I eyeballed the patio and wondered if three-piece or four-piece pavers would be better.

“You’re going to need a catch basin to redirect the water Mrs. Walters,” I heard myself saying. “LED lighting far outperforms its halogen counterparts,” I went on.

By the end of the sales call I felt I had said all the right things and had come up with some pretty good ideas. I’ve sold thousands of catch basins, patios and lighting systems, and this one was no different. I dressed appropriately – khakis and a polo, and shared our company literature with the customer.

I drove off and that’s when my phone rang. It was my physician. My cholesterol was high. Again. Actually, “dangerously high” was the term she used.

I felt tired, deflated. I was ready to give up.


Times Of Doubt
This article speaks to owners that have been in the business at least five years, if not 10 or more. It also speaks to those of us 40 years and older whose bodies are slowing down and wearing down and yet we still live paycheck to paycheck with little legacy.

Throughout my career, I’ll admit, there have been times of doubt – serious doubt – when I thought I couldn’t take another moment of running my company. Symptoms of burnout range from a general weariness to out-and-out lethargy. In some cases, it’s exacerbated by the financial stress that comes from the roller coaster of sales. It comes from watching money go into our bank account and then right back out. Or when we go into winter with no money saved.

This burnout can often be the precursor to a company going out of business. But when it happened to me, I decided to take a personal inventory. I thought about leaving the green industry altogether, or going to work for another company. But I was reminded about the jobs I’ve sold while half asleep. Years of solid experience has made my “B” game better than my competition’s “A” game. I don’t say that to be arrogant, only to illustrate that there is something very valuable in not having to take on a new learning curve.

Then there are my children – two daughters, Sophia and Olivia, and a son, Niko. They remind me with their laughter and innocence that there are a million reasons to simply chill out and not worry so much.

When I come home at night, they remind me that a hug is more valuable than anything. I’m completely free to coach their teams, be at their school plays and type this article at 4 o’clock in the afternoon while my daughter takes her dance lesson. After all, I’m the boss and I make the rules. Maybe instead of resigning myself to failure and loss, I can lean on these great fringe benefits as a new motivator.


What I Did
Since that day when my doctor called, I’ve committed myself to no longer neglecting my health, my wealth or my family. There is a lot of “windshield time” in my day, driving between appointments and jobs. I now use this time to listen to audiobooks. I try and listen to everything I can get a hold of: motivational books, books on business, health and fitness.

I’ve taken up yoga for stress relief and have come up with a very simple plan to save a fixed percentage of every project I sell to serve as a winter savings account.

What You Can Do
Without delay, go find a way to share your knowledge with someone.

I reached out to my daughter’s school and asked if I could come in and teach the kids about trees and end the lesson with actually planting one.

I spent the afternoon talking with kindergartners through fifth graders and I left feeling incredibly grateful for my knowledge in the green industry.

Nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, will put you into a positive mindset faster than giving. So whether you volunteer at a soup kitchen or spare some change for a stranger, get out there and give. When was the last time you invited your spouse to lunch in the middle of the day? Or took your children to the park?

My daughter Sophia has a book about trash and landfills that tells the story of how a truck collects all the trash and then dumps it at a landfill. So, one afternoon, I picked her up from school in our dump truck, full of trash.

We stopped and shared a hot chocolate together and then we drove to the landfill. That afternoon we talked about recycling, our impact on the planet and how daddy, being a landscaper, works to help people have beautiful trees and plants in their yard.

Your individual impact on your community, your family and yourself is likely to be far greater than what you might think. Do you think a steady 9-5 job is the answer to your burnout? Perhaps, but I suspect that it’s not. My prescription is a good dose of happiness followed by a drastic change in re-evaluating how you spend your time. The happiness from giving is instant, so begin by giving. Change, for me at least, always happens when I pick up, or listen to, a great book by a great author.

I personally like audible.com for audio books. It has great business and self-help categories with reviews of each book from other readers.

If you need me to fish for you, then start by reading “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. For a quick snippet of daily inspiration, subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog. I can also recommend any book written by Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Michael Gerber or Steven Covey. This list could get very long, but the point is to rapidly and dramatically change your direction and interrupt your current negativity.

Burnout goes away when you continue the habit of giving to yourself and to others. Combine this with exercise, eating healthy and reading great books and you have just about everything you need to run your business with a skip in your step.

Rethink that 9-5 salary and the sense of security you think will come with that. I’ll bet you can’t quiet the true entrepreneurial spirit within you. L&L


The author is president of Sarros Landscaping in Cumming, Ga.

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