015 Step Out of the Shadows and Into the Light of Your Unique Purpose
Updated: Sep 7
Inspiration from One Man's Story of Legacy, Loss, and Living More Courageously
Many of us are living life in the shadows--reluctant to step into the bright light of life lived in pursuit of our unique purpose. By staying in the shadows, we lead mediocre lives and deprive the world of our best contributions.
Jono Belz lived in the shadows for a while, too. But not anymore. And his story will inspire you to step out of the shadows, too.
In addition to the fact that I just find Jono super-interesting--and who DOESN'T like listening to an Australian accent!--I wanted you to meet Jono because his story illustrates so well 3 themes that I hit on often in this podcast and that I hope you're taking to heart more and more:
First, our Mortality is an incomparable motivator to bring our best into the world.
Second, our story and our unique purpose in the world are inseparable.
And third, if our Mortality is an amazing motivator, then giving our inner child permission to play again as adults is a master key to unlocking our best in the world.
Keep your heart and mind open for whatever this episode has in store for you--and pay special attention to these three big ideas. And since this podcast exists to help you live the life you were uniquely made to live--not just to fill cyberspace with more podcast clutter--I'll extend a challenge to you: Let Jono's story motivate you to connect one or two more dots between YOUR story and your unique purpose in the world.
Meet Jono Belz
Jono gained fluency in Mandarin Chinese after just one year--a feat that normally takes English-speaking Westerners 8 years or more.
In fact, China's Global Times reported that Jono Belz learned Mandarin faster than any other Westerner on record.
That accomplishment is one fascinating chapter in the story that Jono has written with his life so far. Other chapters include an unfortunate run-in with a cricket bat that led to his first encounter with Mortality as a nine-year-old and a second shocking encounter with Mortality just 4 years ago. Listen to the episode to hear the full account of these experiences and their impact in Jono’s life.
Today, Jono is the founder of Belz Family & Associates, an investment and advisory business that leverages “family office intelligence” to build meaningful relationships between Australia and Greater China. This entirely new kind of endeavor is the current manifestation of Jono’s commitment to step out of the shadows, step into the light of his unique purpose, and put his story and his purpose to work in the world.
Jono’s experience over the past 15 years covers investment banking, capital markets, private equity and family offices, spanning New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Australia. As a fluent Mandarin speaker, Jono has facilitated complex relationships and transactions between China and Australia, and is passionate about improving the cross-cultural experience.
Prior to founding Belz Family & Associates, Jono held the title of Investment Manager at the CEO Office of Victor Smorgon Group. In this capacity, he was instrumental diversifying the business’ China growth strategy. Before that, Jono was an Executive Director of Goldman Sachs in both Hong Kong and Sydney, where he was pivotal in developing key relationships in Asia and Australian family offices.
Jono holds a dual-degree in Law and Economics (Honours) from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, and successfully passed the highest level of official Chinese fluency exams (HSK VI) in 2014.
BTW, I met Jono through my friend and past guest on this podcast, Phil Kohn. Check out Phil’s episode, More Alive Than Ever: How Pain Points the Way to Purpose.
Starting at the Top
We kick off this episode--after a lighthearted cultural bridge-building exercise I called “Stereotype Busters”--with Jono’s explanation of what he does professionally today. Then, we “read” the story of Jono’s life from back to front to discover how Jono’s life story has led him to this point today--where he is fulfilling his unique purpose in life more than ever before.
Highlights in Jono’s Storyline
Escaping Tyranny, Surprised by Hospitality: Jono’s grandfather fled the Nazi’s persecution of the Jews in 1940 and spent the next five years in China’s “Shanghai Ghetto.” His grandfather remembered fondly the kindness of his Chinese hosts--poverty-stricken though they were. This was Jono’s family’s first contact with the Chinese culture.
Cricket Bat 1 - Jono 0: At 9, Jono fell on his cricket bat and broke his femur. As he recovered in the hospital, he met a young girl that he really enjoyed but who was really sick. Then one day, the young girl wasn’t there any more. Her death was Jono’s first encounter with Mortality, and it changed him. Tune into the full episode to learn more about the impact of that experience.
Boys Don’t Play the Flute! Jono picked up the flute as a young man and was often encouraged to switch to an instrument more stereotypically associated with men. But he persisted, and at 13 Jono decided to change schools--and found a place that, among other things, affirmed and supported his love for the flute without judgment. In hindsight, Jono sees that playing the flute gave him a huge advantage as an adult when he learned Chinese.
Wall Street Blues: As a “successful” Wall Street investment banker, Jono found that “success” was starting to cause more harm than good. Stress and anxiety were taking a toll, and his body was manifesting that toll in strange ways. He began looking for an off-ramp from the Wall Street rate race and a way to differentiate himself in an over-populated field. His sights turned toward China.
Best Westerner Ever: Jono began learning Chinese while in NYC. Progress was slow until, a year later, he was able to move to China for work. There, within a year--and with the significant advantages acquired as a flutist--he earned the distinction of gaining fluency in Chinese faster than any other Westerner on record. Flutists rule! The cognitive challenge taught Jono a ton about the way his brain works, and his best learning began to happen when he stopped trying so hard, let go, and focused on the learning rather than the final destination.
The learning process also reconnected Jono with a part of his inner child that simply took pleasure in learning and being immersed in a new pursuit.
Losing Dad: Jono’s dad had historically been the very picture of health. Then, in 2016, he contracted a flu-like illness--eerily similar to COVID-19, in fact. His condition worsened to the point that he entered the hospital--where, no more than 36 hours later, he died. It was a massive shock and a seismic loss for Jono. As his grief spun off intense self-reflection, Jono decided to come out of the shadows and into the light of his unique purpose--fueled by and guided by his story. Jono’s second tragic encounter with Mortality motivated him to start doing investment banking the way he really wanted to--with the emphasis on relationships, community, transparency, and cross-cultural bridge-building. Belz Family & Associates was born!
What Can Jono’s Story Teach Us?
As Jono has allowed his story to guide him to a clearer understanding of his unique purpose in the world--focused and sharpened and accelerated by his encounters with Mortality--today he's creating bridges between cultures through the vehicle of business. In Jono's business model--informed by his life's story--as businesspeople from vastly different cultures experience business success together, they also forge bonds of friendship and mutual respect.Those are bonds that transcend borders and nationality and religion and political ideology. And that is world-changing stuff.
Your story can change the world, too, right where you are. Do you believe that? You are the One and Only You. There never has been anyone just like you, and there never will be again. Borrow a page out of Jono's playbook: Tune into the truth of your existence and follow where it leads you. Don't take your best stuff to the grave. And don’t wait for a major life crisis to get started right now, right where you are, with what you have.
Remember, you ARE going to die. But you're not dead yet! So get after it.
I Can Help You Fulfill Your Unique Purpose
My purpose as a coach is to help you deploy your unique purpose in the world. Connect with me on Facebook or email me. I'll help you create the life you know you were made to live. Learn more about Graveyard Group masterminds--where you tap into the power of your mortality to become the person you were made to be and live the life you were made to live.
If You Liked This Episode, Check These Out, Too
Jono mentioned this episode during the interview: 012 How to Harness the Winds of Discomfort to Get Where You Want to Go: Becoming a Seasoned Sailor on the Seas of Life. You might also find this one useful: 014 Dare to Dream Again: The Antidote to a Mediocre Life.
Connect with Jono!
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