March 7, 2021

JF2378: Not Letting your Business Run your Life with Darrah Brustein #SkillsetSunday


Darrah used to be an entrepreneur who built businesses thinking that bigger was better and more was the way to go. Over time, the four companies she has built took over her life, and Darrah hit the burnout phase.

She restructured her businesses and her life in order to spend more time traveling and learning. That’s how she got into mentorship and coaching, helping other entrepreneurs and investors who are at a burnout point find their passion again.

Darrah Brustein Real Estate Background:  

  • Founder of four businesses; Equitable Payments, Network Under 40, Network Over 40, & Mind Your Business Accelerator
  • Author of “Finance Whiz Kids”
  • Prolific writer & interviewer for Forbes & other outlets working with Shaq, Seth Godin, Bobbie Brown & many more
  • Her mission is to connect people to the resources they need to elevate what they do.
  • Based in Atlanta, GA 
  • Say hi to her at: 
  • Previous guest on JF151

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Best Ever Tweet:

“We don’t know when it’s enough and why we’re building it in the first place.” – Darrah Brustein.


Joe Fairless: Best Ever listeners, how are you doing? Welcome to the Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever Show. I’m Joe Fairless. This is the world’s longest-running daily real estate investing podcast where we only talk about the best advice ever, we don’t get into any other fluffy stuff.

And today – well, it is the weekend and I hope your having the best ever weekend. Because it is the weekend, we got a special segment called Skillset Sunday. And the outcome of today’s conversation is to make sure that we are setting up our businesses to do more of what we really want to do, and not just setting up a business to create a business.

With us today is Darrah Brustein. How are you doing, Darrah?

Darrah Brustein: I’m great, Joe. It’s really good to be here with you again.

Joe Fairless: Yeah. And you said again, and we were looking at this before we started recording – Episode 151, aired on January 31, 2015; more than five years ago, and wow, a lot has changed since then, especially for this show. And I’m looking forward to learning more about what has changed, or really just what’s the latest with you.

So I think it’s important that we first give a refresher on where you’re at. I have a couple of things that I’ll mention and then I would love to learn more from you. So Darrah is the founder of four businesses – Businesses Equitable Payments, Network under 40, Network Over 40 and Mind Your Business Accelerator. She’s the author of Finance Whiz Kids, and she’s based in Atlanta, Georgia.

But would you mind, Darrah, given us just a refresher on your background and your focus now? And then we’ll dive right into the outcome of our conversation.

Darrah Brustein: Great, sounds good. After spending a decade plus building most of those businesses that you just rattled off so eloquently, I hit a point where I realized, much like you teed up at the top of the show, that I have been building these businesses, thinking just bigger is better and more is always more, and I’m hitting all these metrics that other people are celebrating and glorifying… But when I looked around, I thought the life I’m living is not at all commingling with the things that I say I value, like growth and learning, connection, things of that nature. And I have really [unintelligible [00:05:08].12] those in favor of growing this business for the sake of that alone. And I was burnt out and sort of miserable, and I thought, “Well, what’s the point of doing this if this is the outcome?” And I sat back for quite some time, and it just sort of occurred to me that the thing people were asking most of me about three years ago now was, “How do you live the life that you do?” Because when I started to make that realization, I decided that I would shift all of my businesses to a place that would actually support the life that I wanted, which was about 50% travel, which allowed me to be at the milestones of people I cared about, it allowed me to constantly be learning and growing and collaborating with people whom I admired and respected intellectually, and all these other things. So I began to shift my career at that point to one of coaching and consulting entrepreneurs who were burnt out and felt like their business was running them.

Joe Fairless: So 50% travel and the other 50% was what – coaching the entrepreneurs?

Darrah Brustein: Well, interestingly, as I would travel, I would work. I just made sure all of my businesses were structured such that I could do them from wherever. And like I was implying, I’ve really sort of crafted this formula for myself of first design your life, identify what it is you want, identify what your core values are, and what your North Stars are, and then identify what does that life actually cost me so I can reverse-engineer my business or businesses to make that possible, rather than consume and de-escalate the things that I say that I want, but I’m not actually carving out time or priority for. And then lastly, it’s build the network that opens the doors to the success you’re seeking on your terms. And that’s how I started to prioritize everything.

Joe Fairless: Well, you went through that just now high-level… Can we unpack it a little bit, one by one? So is the first one, design your life, or is that the ultimate outcome and then the first one’s North Stars?

Darrah Brustein: Nope, you are totally right. It’s design your life first. And for some people, I think that’s really complicated, because the older we get, the further and further we get away from dreaming and envisioning what we actually want. And oftentimes we get bombarded by what other people expect of us or from us, or the things that our culture, society, parents, company, employees, fill in the blank, tell us that we should have, whether that’s directly or indirectly.

So it really is about pausing for long enough to tap into ourselves and suss out what is truly what I want, versus what other people have given to me. And that sounds quite simple, but actually is often a really big sticking point for people. So there are a ton of exercises that I do with my clients, or tons of freebies on my website if anyone wants to dive into them… It will really help you analyze what those things are, so that those North Stars are the goals.

I really encourage people to identify, what are your top three values? Because when you know those, it really makes decision making and road mapping for yourself, both short and long term, so much simpler. Because when you say — like, I mentioned two of my top three, when I was speaking earlier, about growth and learning and connection… So when I look at those things and I say, “Well, does this move me in that direction, or does it move me away from that?” And if it’s going to move me away, is it just temporary? Is it just a season? Or is it going to long-term do that? And if the answer is no, and then no, again, it’s definitely a no for me; but it helps me to really put it through the funnel of my own needs and value set, rather than just looking around and think what other people seem to value. Often that’s a subliminal process. But that, I think, is always the most important starting point.

Joe Fairless: What is an exercise that you do with your clients?

Darrah Brustein: Oh, there’s so many…

Joe Fairless: Yeah, I know, so that’s why I said just one of them.

Darrah Brustein: From the values-based perspective, I give them a list of 300 different values and have them chop it and chop it and chop it until they get down to the three… Because there’s this recognition, just like with everything in life, that just because it’s not your top priority doesn’t mean it’s not a priority for you or you don’t value it.

So for example, so many people would say, well, kindness isn’t on there, family isn’t on there, fill in the blank; it doesn’t mean I don’t value those things. They’re just not in my tops. And that’s okay. When we start to do that prioritization, it makes our yes-es a lot clearer and our no’s a lot clearer as well, which really trickles down into boundaries. It’s very simple these days to just say yes to everything, or have the FOMO of, “Well, I’m going to miss that opportunity if I don’t say yes to that.” But if we pause for long enough and either put it through that sieve of our own intuition or put it through the sieve of the values, we would have a lot more clarity.

You asked for one, but I’m going to give you one other. There’s also, on my website, a free guided visualization that I find very helpful for people who are saying, “I’m stuck, or I’m in analysis paralysis mode, or I just have so many ideas in my head, or I can’t even begin to figure this out.” It will take you through a 15 minute guided visualization to help you unearth and tap into some of the subconscious stuff that’s there, so you’re not judging and being critical of it.

Joe Fairless: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I see that, I’m on your site right now.

Darrah Brustein: You’re like, “Signing up right now…:

Joe Fairless: Yeah, I actually will be signing up right now, so I’m keeping the placeholder for after our conversation.

Darrah Brustein: Nice.

Joe Fairless: Alright, so design your life. First, we’ve got to know what we value and how we prioritize those values… Then what?

Darrah Brustein: Then is where the business comes in. So depending on where people are in their real estate journey, and the people I work with, myself included, do sometimes real estate – I do it as part of my portfolio – but oftentimes, they have other types of businesses, either as well or alternatively. And it’s really about either making sure that the business that you are going to start and grow aligns and elevates what that is, and doing some profit planning and projection based on “If I’m going to do this product or the service or invest in these cash-generating cash flow real estate opportunities, is it going to get me there? And how much of that do I need to do? And how does that either elevate or diminish the goals that I have set for myself? Because now I know what that life looks like, and a longer-term scale, typically a five to 10-year roadmap, and I know what it’s going to cost.” And what is the real roadmap to get this business to shoot off that type of cash to me and not just obviously revenue from the business, because obviously, you have to take out expenses and taxes and whatever else, to get you to that number.

And that’s when we know, “Is this business going to really do that for me, both from a time perspective and a financial perspective?” And if you already have the business to look at — this is exactly what I did with my earlier businesses, and I said, “How do I get these to be the types of businesses that allow me to be on the road and traveling, that allow me to make the same impact, create the same amount of revenue or greater based on what the goals were at the time, and do that so that it all aligns?” But oftentimes, we see the opposite, that people just go out and say, “I’m going to start a business, I have this idea, I’m going to build my real estate portfolio” and we don’t know when is enough or we don’t know why we’re building in the first place. And oftentimes that becomes quite taxing or fruitless, because we get these moments that should feel so fulfilling, but then suddenly, what was once the ceiling is now the floor as far as our stretch goals were concerned, and then we just say, “Well, I guess I got to get to the next thing and the next thing.” And it becomes this real fallacy of “when” – “When I get x, then I will feel _______.” And so many of us have experienced that in so many parts of our lives and businesses and know that that’s not true.

But when you say, “”Okay, the freedom for me is at this number, because I know that because of the life I planned and designed, and when I calculated its total, then when this business hits that, then I have hit my goals, and I can choose to either feel satiated, or I can redesign”, and that’s up to you.

Joe Fairless: What’s a tactical thing that’s completed? You said profit planning in this stage, you said taking a look to see if it elevates or diminishes what I ultimately want my North Star… What’s the deliverable from this that you do?

Darrah Brustein: It depends on the client and where they are. The profit planning – we use a spreadsheet that literally goes through, “These are the services or the products that I have, this is what I sell them for, this is how many of those I am either currently or plan to sell them at, these are my tax lines, these are my expenditures”, and then they have to move those around, because let’s say that number is 200,000 a year in income, not just revenue – then they’re going to have to move those around and say, “Oh, well, I need to flip this many more houses to get to that number”, and then look at that and say, “Well, is that realistic or does that mean I need to move into a different echelon of homes at different price points? And is that a risk that I’m willing to take?” And it allows them to go through some of that mental, both calculation and mental gymnastics to play out and envision the scenario, as well as look at how the numbers might get them there.

Or they might say, like I do, my real estate portfolio is just passive, and I use it as straight up investment, but it’s not my full-time; that’s not where I get my cash flow from. They might say, “I want to build something else on the side.” Otherwise, we’re often just looking at, what’s actually essential in your business? What’s actually making the money? What’s actually the path of least resistance, and where do you have the most impact for the least amount of effort? And how do we dial that up? Versus having scattered impact or scattered energies across the board.

Joe Fairless: That makes a lot of sense. I can tell you firsthand when I focus on my strengths and I’m not focused on a bunch of different stuff, then the overall business benefits, versus if I’m scattered across the board.

Darrah Brustein: Well, I think that comes down to a mindset thing. And I do this all the time too, where we think if we’re busy – and oftentimes it’s artificially busy – or we’re feeling productive, because we’re checking things off, that it makes us feel good. It makes us feel like we’re moving things forward… When really, if we really look at the impact of the things that we’re putting our energies into, oftentimes we can narrow it down to a much smaller list and delegate out other things, or get rid of them altogether. And then oftentimes, it opens us up to some of those mindset concerns… Because this is always where my clients get into the mindset hurdles, that no matter how much you think you have your stuff together, we all have mindset narratives that are holding us back; it’s the doubt, it’s the fear, it’s the ‘what are people going to think’, the ‘what if I fail’, it’s that ‘am I good enough’, the ‘they’re already doing it’, the ‘you fill in the blank’.

But when we hit that point, we have to recognize when you clear the slate a little and you create the spaciousness in your mind, that dust is [unintelligible [00:15:03].20] And that’s actually a healthy and a good thing, because it creates a spaciousness for you to be more creative, to get better ideas in your business and to come back more strongly.

Joe Fairless: What’s the next step? Is it the reengineering—oh, no, I guess it’d be building the network to accomplish this?

Darrah Brustein: Yes, I’m a big believer in once you know where you’re going, that it’s a lot easier to bring people along with you. And it’s just in my natural proclivity to be a connector and a collector of people and to help connect the dots for others… So I’ve always been a big believer in no matter how many technological tools we have at our disposal, nothing will be as powerful as human connection, whether that’s virtual or in-person, depending on when someone is listening to this.

And that being said, when we know where we’re going and we can enroll people in that mission and we can galvanize people [unintelligible [00:15:52].25] people who are helping us with our reno, or it’s having the people who are helping bird-dog for you and find the opportunities or whatever it is – your network are the people who hold the keys to the success that you’re seeking. And that is obviously by your definition, as we’ve talked about.

But it’s a little bit fruitless to just be garnering and gathering a whole slew of people into your network, when there are studies—there’s a woman named Robin Dunbar who talks about this, that we have about an average of 200 or so people with whom we can actually have contact. In three concentric circles, she displays this as five is our inner circle, 50 is the middle circle and about 150 give or take is in the external circle. And that each of those represents the amount of closeness and amount of actual contact and engagement we have with people. And everyone else is basically just a social media contact or in your CRM, Rolodex, whatever that is for you.

I think that’s a really important visual because it reminds us that there are seasons to life, there are stages of life and there are stages in our business. So when you’re in a growth stage, you might need more people who are helping sort opportunities or helping as mentorship, and that might be where you are investing some of your energy in those 200 people.  And you might have to recalibrate and do some housekeeping and say, “Well, these are the people that I was spending the most time with and I was investing my energy into and nurturing and maintaining my relationships.” But really now this other segment of people are those. And it’s hard to know who are the right people to do that.

This is a tricky combination here because I’m a believer that the networks are really just a fancy word for relationships, and relationships need to be you giving, you nurturing, you taking the lead…

Joe Fairless: Right.

Darrah Brustein: …you not making someone feel like it’s a transaction, because it’s not… And you’re not keeping tabs and certainly not doing something waiting for someone to do something in return for you. But you’re really investing because you believe in it. I personally call it this karmic retribution of giving in relationships where — it’s very a la Adam Grant studies, that when you give, it ultimately comes back to you. And in his studies givers win in the world, over matchers, who are the people that are sort of the ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine,’ who are the takers, which are understandably, the people who feel like it’s all about them and them as number one. And that’s really counterculture to what we’ve been taught; we’ve often been taught, reciprocity is essential. But ultimately, I am such a believer, both anecdotally and through the studies from people like Adam Grant, that when you are a generous person, that it does come back to you and that it might be me giving to you and you giving to Alex and Alex giving to someone and that person ultimately comes back to me someway somehow, because that’s just how it works.

But you still need to consider about who those people are and being strategic about how you stay in touch; setting up systems in your calendar, in your CRM system, or baking into parts of your day that you text three people or while you’re making your coffee, you make a quick phone call or send a voice text or you DM some people that you’re following, just to let them know that you’re there and you care and you’re being considerate of the relationship… Because those little things to keep you top of mind and them for you, are really what makes the difference between a relationship going dormant and an opportunity being available to you when the time is right.

Joe Fairless: How do you balance over-communicating with people who you’ve recently found that, “Hey, I should bring them back into my network, I haven’t been as intentional about it”?

Darrah Brustein: I love this question, because I see people do it poorly all the time, where they’ll reach out and just immediately say, “Hey, I saw this thing you did,” or “I’ve been following you, help me.” And it immediately goes to the ask, or the brain pick… Or if you look at it from a bank account perspective, of “Let me take a deposit or let me take a withdrawal from this bank account that I have put no deposits into in the last decade.”

I’m just a big believer in defusing the situation and calling it out and taking the onus on yourself. So you and I haven’t spoken, like we’ve talked about, in over five years. And if I had reached out directly and just said, “Hey, Joe, I realize it’s been over five years and that’s on me and I am so sorry, but I’ve been following your career and tremendously admire it,” meaning that as a sincere and true compliment… And then say, “Here’s why I’m showing up in your inbox today”, or in whatever format I’m showing up… And if you’re going to be asking something of that person or you want to get them to be interested,  you have to make it something that’s both quick and palatable for them and isn’t something you can just find on one of your podcasts or on their website or on some other place that they put information out there, and make it something that’s going to make them want to help you, and it doesn’t ask for too much of them.

But ultimately, I think when you just call it out, that goes such a long way to demonstrate that you realize you kind of fumbled or that life just got in the way, and that you’re sorry that you haven’t been there throughout this, and that you don’t want it to just be this one-sided relationship. But that I have seen time and again, really helps the situation.

Joe Fairless: I’m glad that you elaborated on that. As it relates to this thought process of designing our life so that we’re spending the time doing what we truly want to do, versus just mindlessly doing things because that’s what we wanted before, or because maybe someone else wanted it, or whatever the reason… Is there anything that we haven’t talked about, before we wrap up that you think we should?

Darrah Brustein: Another tough one. Sometimes I just let my intuition kick in and tell me who is going to need what message today… I think a lot of that really does come back to the mindset piece. I’m really glad that there’s a lot of well-reputed entrepreneurs like Sara Blakely, and other people who are these billionaires in the world, who are talking openly about this idea, that success is not something that we can have if we don’t first tackle the mindset stuff, and we don’t continue to tackle it.

And no matter who we are, no matter where we are in the span of our business, by just the fact of us being entrepreneurs, we are growth-oriented and we are pushing ourselves into terrain we’ve never been in before, which means naturally at some point, you’re going to be uneasy and uncomfortable.

So getting more comfortable with that discomfort and with uncertainty, and saying, “What’s coming up for me? Why is it feeling this way? Is this narrative mine? Do I want this? Does it serve me?”, like you were hearkening to before… “Was this something that did serve me, whether it’s like an actual thing or a mindset or a thought, or not?” Because sometimes that can be the key differentiator to unlock an entirely new portal for us.

Joe Fairless: How can the Best Ever listeners learn more about what you’re doing?

Darrah Brustein: You can head to my website and grab some of those freebies if you’d like. It’s just

Joe Fairless: It’s such an important topic that if it gets brushed over now, we’ll likely regret it decades down the road when too much time has passed and we wouldn’t have time to do something about it at that point. And it’s tough to really capture, because people, myself included, tend to be so focused on business results and growing. Until some life event or someone like you come on and enter into our world, it’s tough to really break that cycle, and it’s important to have that jarring event to really understand, “Hey, let’s ask ourselves some tough questions that ultimately will be beneficial to ourselves now and in the future from a fulfillment standpoint.”

So I greatly appreciate you sharing your insight with us. I greatly appreciate you being on the show again, and looking forward to continuing to learn from you. I hope you have a best ever weekend and we’ll talk to you again, hopefully, before six years from now; we’ll try to make that conversation more frequent.

Darrah Brustein: Likewise. Thank you, Joe.

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