An Interview with L. Jay

L. Jay’s life and professional experience uniquely combine to offer a rich and varied approach to creating successful relationships, personal enrichment, goal actualization, problem solving and living the BEST LIFE.

In a recent interview with C. Van Shelton, L. Jay revealed his personal journey and history which lead him to focus on helping others find The Best Life.

C. Van Shelton: First, can you explain a little about how someone should go about finding a good consultant or mentor for personal growth?

L. Jay Mitchell: That’s a great question and one that needs to be carefully considered. We ought to be selective in choosing our mentors, coaches, advisors, counselors, and teachers. Their ideas and interactions with us can powerfully affect our lives. We need to trust their character, competence, professionalism, and human compassion. Often, we do not know them well until after interacting with them. However, we conduct our due diligence beforehand to find the best match for us. We want to know what we can honestly expect from them. We need to discover what drives and motivates them, what their core values and competencies are. We need to examine how they live their lives: is it consistent with what they teach? That’s where trust is built.

C: Trust, I’m sure, has to be the foundation of that type of a relationship. So, when you work with people what can they see in your life that helps build that trust?

L. Jay: Right, trust, and I would add rapport, are essential to working together successfully. As far as my life goes, I left a lucrative law practice to pursue what I found more fulfilling to my soul rather than my pocket book. I successfully started, founded and directed three companies that focused on helping adolescents and their families heal and find joy and meaning. Through building businesses and working with families, I learned the most, like all of us, through the challenges. I’ve been through financial crisis, litigation, setbacks, exhaustion, and even extortion. Strengthening and developing the self is required to overcome difficult business challenges. Most people don’t realize that, or don’t know how to put that into practice when the chips are down. I learned to hang on to my optimism; and I learned how to be an effective, creative problem solver. But I suppose, if someone was looking to see what kind of person I am, the kind words from a good friend, Dr. Brent Slife, who wrote the forward to my book would be a good testament. I was humbled by his kind words and gratified that he felt comfortable saying those things.

C: Oh, yes, I read your book. I thought it was wonderful. It focuses almost entirely on relationships that people have, whether with themselves or others. How did you come to focus so much on relationship?

L. Jay: Well, first building quality relationships requires developing flexibility, virtues, and attributes. If you can develop those, your life is going to get exponentially better regardless of circumstance. Life brings us a variety of relationships, some wonderfully pleasant while others are challenging opportunities. I have been blessed with a wide variety of both. None are more impactful or important than family. I grew up with an alcoholic stepfather and was nurtured by a gifted stepmother. After 15 years of separation I finally reunited with my real father. Later, I married a wonderful woman who became my greatest mentor. We had 5 children together. I lost her in an auto accident before her fortieth birthday. I was severely injured and almost killed in the accident too. Afterwards, I married a young woman who had worked for me, and she helped me recover from my physical and emotional injuries. To my surprise, the marriage ended in divorce, leaving me with many questions to answer. A few years later I was fortunate to remarry an incredible woman, and we have combined our children to form a large, surprisingly united family. All of this has given me a variety of experiences with parents, stepparents, spouses, children, stepchildren, and in-laws in many contexts. Family has taught me a lot about the importance of healthy relationships.

C: You have been through quite a few challenges. How do you maintain trust in others?

L. Jay: That’s another great question, one that people have a hard time with. Often, I work with people who have given up trust and hope. They feel betrayed. They often do not look at how they have contributed to the context of betrayal. I developed a way of looking at people that has kept my hope vibrant and trust appropriately intact. It’s a tenet I live by, “You can’t trust anybody with everything, but you can trust everybody with something. Finding the boundaries creates trusted relationships.” By incorporating that axiom, many doors of friendship will be open. In particular, I find friendships forged in the fires of mutually shared purposes are worth living for. Those friends often know what you most need in an important context. Let me give an example: I was in the hospital after the auto accident that took my wife. Every bone in my face was broken, and my jaw was wired shut. Talking was difficult, almost impossible. A close friend of mine who lived many miles away could not talk with me, so he wrote me a letter. In the letter he said, “L Jay, you will have great teachers in your life, but there is only one great teacher, and that is death.” This friend was the same age as me when he lost his wife, leaving him with their five children. Among other things, I came to understand that death is a teacher, because it inspired me to ask the most important questions and motivated me to relentlessly seek answers.

C: So do you view experiences as mentors as well? You talk about that tragedy as if it were.

L. Jay: Right. Mentors are essentially teachers, and experience provides the most effective teacher, which is “contrast and comparison”. We learn something new when we compare and contrast something with existing knowledge. The contrast may not only give us insights into the “something”, but it may change what we already know when they are integrated together. It is like mixing colors and getting a new color. Contrasting life experiences especially help frame our values. For example, the meaning of my professional success comes from its contrast with earlier, much different circumstances. Working through law school with a wife and 2 children required me to work a total of 13 jobs during the process. We were poor but happy. My wife matched me by learning to sew clothes for our children. Later on in my early 30’s I became gravely ill and could not work for over 2 years. We lost everything after going through our savings and selling our cars and home. She lovingly cared for me and had faith that I would recover. From that, I learned the value of things compared to relationships. Loving and loyal relationships trump everything.

C: In your profession as a consultant you not only work with people who are looking to better their lives, but also with businesses. How does business relate to those loving relationships you mentioned?

L. Jay: When you stop looking at a business as an entity separate from its parts, you find that every business is people. The business people I work with quickly see that the business is an extension of themselves. They are not really looking for money; people are looking for what money represents to them. That could be power, security, social standing, validation or any number of things. But what is consistent is that the meaning of money comes from how it affects the quality of relationships. What we really are looking for is happiness. Ask anyone, “What do you want in life?” They will almost always answer, “To be happy.” That is what has lead me to developing The Best Life.