Michael Kay is a financial life planner, coach, speaker, and author. He has helped thousands of women, men, and families master their financial lives, a process that almost always includes uncovering–and planning for–what they value most. Michael is the President of Financial Life Focus, a fee-only, multi-advisor, financial life planning firm, and the author of The Business of Life. He is the author of the book The Feel Rich Project and his latest project is the podcast called, Chapter X, for men transitioning to life after work.

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

I grew up in West Orange, NJ, where I still reside. Both of my parents were musicians (although my father was a full-time school teacher, music was his second job). He was a work-a-holic. I learned that working hard was no big deal and began working at age 13; first for a local butcher 5 days a week, then at the bagel shop on weekends. Earning money and being independent was very important to me and set me on a path that is still true. Hard work is not hard when you value what you do and why you’re doing it.

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

Yes, for sure. My father grew up in the Depression and carried the scars all his life. My mother was 11 years younger and had a vastly different outlook on money and communications. In other words, they fought constantly about money. It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s that I realized that my Money Mindset was that Money=Conflict. That lack of understanding leads to unnecessary conflict with my wife. Once I gained that understanding, it opened the door to better communications and less stress and anxiety about money.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Wow, the financial services industry is overflowing with bad recommendations. So many “advisors” provide advice that is driven by either their own greed or lack of knowledge. Whether they are touting the latest 5 Star mutual fund, IPO, insurance policy, or alternative investment strategy, they (the financial services person) don’t begin with gaining a true understanding of their clients’ values, experiences, and life’s desires. Their recommendations are misaligned because they are predominately focused on making the ‘sale’. Consumers lose.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

I opened my own financial services practice and was working 6 ½ days a week, was severely overweight, and financially stressed. I was trying to do everything by myself to support my family and build a business. It was not a happy time. I was fortunate to have found Money Quotient (a women-owned business) for training in Financial Life planning. It turned my life, my relationships with my clients, and my business around into a values-centered life. True success comes with understanding, passion, listening, and truly caring.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

I have learned to be a very good listener and observer. Helping people (regardless of the situation) feel heard, understood, and cared about is the key.

What is your morning routine?

I am typically up between 6 and 6:45 each morning. I am a home roaster and therefore, coffee is important. We have a puppy, so she demands her time in the morning for play and cuddles. I begin my workday around 8:30-ish with a review of my day’s appointments or tasks. I try and write every morning.

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

I am committed to eating healthily and exercising 4-5 times per week has made a big difference. I source food to the greatest extent possible from local sustainable farmers and avoid processed and non-organic foods. My energy level is strong and while I battle some aches and pains that come with age, I am blessed in that I take no medications and attribute that to my eating and exercise regimen.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

Being productive is directly tied to knowing your biology (when I am the strongest and most focused). I aim my most demanding meetings or focused work into that space. I am also dedicated to admitting when I am less strong, focused, or energetic and willing to move things around based on my day. There’s no point in trying to force activities when I am not in my flow.

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

I read across many genres, including biographies, non-fiction, and fiction. The following are books that carry important messages and meaning. All these books delve deeply into human emotion, meaning, and purpose.

Some of my favorites include: Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl), The Power of Meaning (Emily Esfahani Smith), Start with Why (Simon Sinek), Shantaram (David Gregory Roberts), Of Human Bondage (Somerset Maugham), and Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

“Passion will move men beyond themselves, beyond their shortcomings, beyond their failures.” — Joseph Campbell

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give” — Winston Churchill

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” — Eleanor Roosevelt