Not too long back, I participated in a charity event that involves running 100 hills at a 35 percent incline in just over two hours. It’s called Hell on the Hill—and for good reason. The event is thrown by husband and wife, Jesse Itzler (founder of The 100 Mile Group, co-founder of Marquis Jets) and Sara Blakely (founder and CEO of Spanx).
I’ve known Jesse since one of my earlier jobs out of college, hustling chia bars to pay rent (he was an early investor in the company), and ever since, he’s been a source of personal inspiration. He’s a Long Island kid who grew up to work with Run DMC, write bestselling books (Living with the Monks: What Turning Off My Phone Taught Me About Happiness, Gratitude, and Focus, and Living With a SEAL: 31 Days Training With the Toughest Man on the Planet), and become part-owner of the Atlanta Hawks. He’s always ready to offer wise counsel when I need it and lives a life that is grounded in wellness. He completed an ultramarathon; he did a stand up paddle board race around Manhattan (roughly 30 miles); and he hasn’t eaten anything but fruit before noon since 1990.
So after stressing my body with the hills (with a lot of coconut water, watermelon, cold towels, and, thankfully, no cramps) I sat down with Jesse for a Q+A to steal some life lessons for my mind.
You talk about building your “life resume.” Why is that important?
I just think the more that you’ve experienced, the more you have to offer. And the more empathy you have. We tend to get caught up in just our work resume—our traditional resume—and that dominates who we are. I think that you can land your dream job, get your promotion, and become more interesting and more alive at work through experiences. So I've always focused on working on stuff that builds what I call my life resume—and my traditional resume builds as well.
You have a lot of autonomy in your life—where did that start?
At a young age, I recognized that I wanted to have freedom to work for myself, win or lose. And at an early age, I had that independence. I love that structure. I could make my own hours, do my own thing. It became really addicting. It was important to me, before the money, before anything else, it was that freedom that I created at an early age. And then the money followed. It took a long time, but if followed it.
In this Instagram Age, people mostly just see other people’s wins. Talk about your losses. What were the major losses that taught you some lessons?
I still have losses all the time. I've had races that I've dropped out of, I have losses with my kids, with my wife, business losses. The thing is: the things that I recognize that I've had regrets about, I also recognize that if it's fixable, I try to fix it. I don't want to have the long-term regrets when I'm 70 and I’m like, “I could’ve run this race and I didn't do it. I should've tried this business but I was scared. I could've gone on this trip, but it was the wrong time.” So I'm very aware of future regrets, and I really try to avoid those.
Also, I look at my wins no differently than my losses. I don't think back about all the accomplishments or failures. I look at my window as being from today until my time is up. The first 51 years, they're in the record books already. I look at everything through the front window. I don't dwell on my successes. My scorecard immediately goes to, “What next?”
“Wellness” is super huge now. What have your wellness practices taught you?
It's always been a hot button for me. When I was 21, I was running my first marathon and I read a book, looking for any kind of edge, called Fit For Life. And in the book the author challenged the reader to only eat fruit until noon for 10 days, and then go back and have your regular breakfast. So I tried it and I felt amazing. And then on day 10, I had my regular breakfast and I felt disgusting. And 29 years later, I've only had fruit till noon.
Never messed up a day?
It’s been pretty unwavering. It's all about energy for me. You only have a limited amount of energy and you use a lot of energy for digestion. So for me it's like if I could streamline my digestion through what I eat, it would free up energy for everything else.I discovered that at a really young age, and I've been feeling very vibrant since then.
I don't think there's anything more important, man! You could have all the money in the world, billions of dollars, sports teams, airplanes, this and that, and if you have a sore throat? None of that matters. You're like, “I got to get rid of my sore throat.” So that's how important health is.
"It takes years to build stuff. There's a patience involved. Most of the people that I know that are super successful are patient."
Another thing that’s big right now is mental health. What has living with a Navy SEAL, or living with the monks, or any of your other experiences, taught you about mental health?
The only way you can really be in tune with your gut is to spend time alone. We get bombarded with information. And I invest a lot in time spent alone. It’s not like I'm going to go sit in the Himalayas—not that kind of alone. It could be a run, it could just be 10 minutes. But I invest time thinking, about work, about what I want my kids to experience, about how I want to live my life and. Thinking versus being influenced.
The physical side has always been important to me, but when I realized I was neglecting the spiritual side, I said to myself, who are the masters? I learn through experiencing and immersing myself in stuff. And the masters of spirituality to me were monks. I lived with them for 15 days. I was never where my feet were. At my kid's soccer game, man, I'm thinking about my run, my work, everything. [With the monks] I learned two things. One, to really re-establish my relationship with time. And two, to be where my feet are.
How do you still do that on the day-to-day?
If I see myself drifting, I'll catch myself and be like, “I got to come back to where I am right now.” And I also put parameters around the distractions. So, my phone's not by my bed anymore. I'm not bringing my phone to a lot of events. I didn't check it once today yet. I put some parameters around me to limit that.
You’re also a part owner of the Atlanta Hawks. Has being around NBA players and elite athletes rubbed off you in any beneficial way?
Everything rubs off on me. The greatest gift that I had at Marquis Jet wasn't the success of the company—which was amazing and changed my life—it was the people it introduced me to. And as a young kid—27, 28—I was obsessed with daily habits. So if I had a minute, like this, I'd be like, “What time do you go to bed? What do you eat? How often do you train? Where do you keep your money? What do you do with it?” I just wanted to know the habits of successful people. Anyone that I can learn winning daily habits and routines from, whether it's a pro athlete or the cab driver, I'm all ears.The habits are the foundation for everything.
So if somebody is sitting in the back of the car with you for 60 seconds, what's the advice you give them?
If you're in your early twenties, don't lose your twenties. You still have to enjoy your twenties—you don't get them back.
Also, things take time. People think, “Oh, if it doesn't happen fast, I'm going to give up.” It takes years to build stuff. There's a patience involved. Most of the people that I know that are super successful are patient.
And three, you got to really respect the process. You have to have the passion for the process. A lot of people think, “Oh, well I love what I do.” Of course, you have to have that. But it's the passion around the process. When everybody else is at happy hour and you have to go because the manufacturer said something's broken, that's part of the process. When you have to stay home late and write your book and everybody is watching the college football games on Saturday, you have to make that commitment. That's the process, the good and the bad. If you don't have an appreciation for that, the obstacles become too big. But if the passion—I'm talking about a burning, deep down desire to accomplish your goal—is there, then the obstacles become obsolete. Because you recognize you're going to get bombs dropped on you. That's just part of the process.
What’s one wellness practice that you would suggest other people try?
If people just reduce their sugar and dairy intake, stopped eating at 7:00 PM, and ate around 50 percent fruits and vegetables, they probably would be a lot better off.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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Originally Appeared on GQ