Commonwealth's Joseph Deitch debuts as self-help author

Twenty years in the making, 'Elevate' strives to put a career in financial services in perspective

Apr 16, 2018 @ 4:15 pm

By Jeff Benjamin

When Joseph Deitch is asked about his claims that it took him 20 years to write his first book, Elevate: An Essential Guide to Life (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2018), the founder and chairman of Commonwealth Financial Network quips, "I'm a slow learner."

More accurately, based on the underlying message of the book, which was published March 27, Mr. Deitch might be described as a constant learner.

Half of the 330-page book is dedicated to raising awareness and "seeing that which we cannot see," and the other half is dedicated to "10 fundamental skills that can aid us in anything," he explained.

"We are awash in wisdom and information, and yet if all the answers are there and have been handed down to us for generations, why is it so many people are unhappy and unsuccessful, or competent here but not there?" he said during a phone interview from his home in Miami, where he lives eight months of the year.

"The genesis of my book was about finding out what was going on," Mr. Deitch added.

This is not the kind of heady stuff one might ordinarily expect from someone who engineered the development of the nation's largest privately held independent broker-dealer, with more than $150 billion under advisement.

Mr. Deitch, 67, passed the reins of CEO of Commonwealth to Wayne Bloom in 2009, three years after his wife died of ovarian cancer.

Mr. Deitch, who is also chairman of the golf course and real estate developer Southworth Development, still regularly meets with and mentors employees at Commonwealth's Waltham, Mass., headquarters.

In his writing and conversations about what he has written, Mr. Deitch is candid about his personal experiences, and how he has learned and continues to learn from those experiences.

"My wife was a therapist, and I have spent many years in therapy," he said. "In writing the book, it was my own journey of discovery. By learning what makes people in general tick, I was casting the light on myself."

Mr. Deitch, who grew up in Boston and still lives there about four months of the year, is passionate about the freedom in one's life, but is determined to unwind the riddle of the personal point of view.

"When I was 47, I had this moment when I realized I started the business for freedom, but I had built the business around me. I was central to all and everything," he said. "I had unwittingly designed a structure where I had less freedom than anyone else in the company."

That epiphany, he said, followed a three-year redesign of the company, followed by a five-month sabbatical.

"I made the company better by making myself redundant," he said.

While the book is personal, Mr. Deitch admits it is more self-help than memoir. And even as a self-help book, he hedges to avoid being boxed into too tight of a corner.

"I didn't want to call it a self-help book, but that's what it is," he said. "Self-help books come in two categories; books to help our minds expand and instructional books. I was trying to write a book that combined them all."

Separated into 10 chapters was such titles as Ask, Listen, Energize and Love, the theme of "Elevate" is unrelentingly about opening up and embracing the universe's energy to achieve the fullest possible experience.

Meanwhile, Mr. Deitch seems to warn that even as many of the answers are elusive, the pursuit is worth the effort.

Consider this short excerpt from the book: "What we perceive and know is necessarily incomplete. But that is not necessarily bad news, because when we recognize and embrace our limitations, something magical begins to happen: We automatically position ourselves to rise above those very limitations. That is the paradox of the human condition. If we humbly accept that our experience in reality is constrained, we immediately loosen the chains that bind us, and we begin to expand."

In addition to "about 40 beta readers," Mr. Deitch solicited the help of four editors, including his significant other Lisa Genova, an award-winning author of several books, including "Still Alice," which was adapted into a movie in 2014.

In casual conversation, Mr. Deitch acknowledges a fondness for "bouncing around," but usually with a message in mind.

He recalls as a boy reading a book about Bobby Fischer and being impressed by the fact the chess champion believed physical exercise made him a better competitor.

"The fundamental skills required for success in virtually any endeavor are almost identical," Mr. Deitch said. "In golf, for example, you have to be very aware of your own energy and the energy of everything around you. It's the same thing in a marriage and in business, or for pretty much anything you want to figure out."

Asked where he lives, Mr. Deitch responds, "I live in the summertime," which partially reflects his preference for warmer climates and partially reflects his attitude toward his surroundings.

"In the end, it's never about that thing out there, it's always about us," he said. "The world is a mirror of our mind, and we perceive different worlds based on our mood, based on what's going on around us. The more we can open our minds, the more we allow for information to come through. Even if you're a financial adviser, you will be much more effective the more you can open your mind and open your heart."

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