What happens if you have everything but you still feel empty? Robert Althuis’s life began as a fairytale–successful career, amazing wife, tremendous health, until it all fell apart. His relentless pursuit of more ruined his life. His new book, Never Enoughitis, chronicles his wild rise to success and cataclysmic fall, with all the painful details and mistakes of that journey laid bare.
It’s filled with stories of an idyllic childhood, youthful world travels, love and marriage, and then how it all went wrong. It also pivots to talk about transformation and is designed to help others avoid the same mistakes. If you feel stuck, empty, unfulfilled, or at the end of your rope, Never Enoughitis aims to light your way forward, helping you unlock the true, “Why?” of your best life.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Appelbaum and I’m excited to be here today with Robert Althuis, author of Never Enoughitis: A Story of Success, Emptiness, and Overcoming Myself. Robert, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.
Robert Althuis: Thank you, I appreciate it, Drew.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off, would you mind giving us a rundown of your professional background?
Robert Althuis: Yeah, sure. I’m originally from Amsterdam, I came to this country in my early 20s and I made my way into real estate, that was my original career, real estate development. I went to night school and I ended up, right on my 30th birthday, at Columbia Business School in New York. Then I jumped to big corporate America and joined GE Capital. I was there for about seven years and rose through the ranks quite rapidly and traveled around the world. I was part of a unit that built airport infrastructure around the world and released aircraft around the world, so I was traveling all the time.
Then the financial crisis hit, and that unit became toxic to GE Capital. The regulators came in and I bought out the unit from GE, and I bought out an orphan business, and that’s how I really got started for myself. I was again, still building airport infrastructure around the world, doing private equity and venture capital, those types of things, for the better part of the last 10 years.
Even though I have bought down most of those interests in the last few years, that’s in a nutshell my professional background.
Swimming with the Sharks
Drew Appelbaum: Why was now the time to write the book? Did you have an “aha” moment or a moment of inspiration or did you simply have more time on your hands due to COVID or other situations?
Robert Althuis: No, the background story to this book is that I sold a big part of my business in 2015. I reached that proverbial mountain top where I had all the money I thought I needed to be happy, and I had a palatial house in an oceanfront community, a beautiful wife and kids, and toys and cars. I had everything, but I felt completely empty. I swam with the sharks in business and I had become a shark. I really become a monster.
I was a narcissistic asshole, I really didn’t know where to go from there, but I couldn’t stand myself, I couldn’t stand the man I had become. That was, in hindsight, my awakening and I don’t like to use that word too much but that prompted me to search, a kind of a spiritual search.
Then, when I had a divorce in 2017, it kind of burst my heart wide open. I had so many repressed emotions and feelings about my marriage falling apart. I went into therapy and she told me to journal. I wasn’t that consistent at it and at one point, I asked her, “Well, what if I write a book?”
She said, “I just want you to write,” and that’s really where the book originated. I started writing–it was self-help, it was therapy. I didn’t have any aspirations to publish it at that time, I was just trying to work through the big wounds I had in my heart that had driven me to the behaviors, and the way I showed up in life. That’s what became the book.
The first part of the book is the fairytale. I describe coming out of business school and meeting my wife and having a double income, no kids, and our corporate careers were taking off–this beautiful wedding, dream wedding, and life is just grand.
Then the second part I call real life. I had a lot of worldly success. I was making a lot of money, but it was changing me, it changed my relationship with my wife, and I became a person that I ultimately wouldn’t really recognize. I was lost in the game or in the matrix if you want to call it that.
Then the third part is phoenix rising, which is my path out of it and finding a different way to live life. My life also fell apart and I fell from grace, I had some natural disasters that wiped out a part of my business, and I found myself on the edge of bankruptcy. Losing all that material wealth that had been so much a big part of my self-worth was kind of an interesting journey to go through, but we get in life what we need.
The book ultimately came together over the course of those years. From June 2017, and I finished it in April this year.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, who is this book for? Is it for men only, is this for millionaires only, or can anyone take away some knowledge from this book?
Robert Althuis: I think it’s for everyone. Any seeker, anybody that recognizes it in themselves and this concept of “never enoughitis,” that we’re constantly chasing on this carousel of trying to fill ourselves up with stuff from the outside, whether that’s material stuff or relationships or anything else.
In the eyes of the world, I was extremely successful but, I ended up being very empty. Ultimately depressed, I even had suicidal tendencies at one point, and my whole life fell apart.
I do think that there are lessons there for the masculine. I was a very stoic guy, repressed my feelings, and I didn’t express myself. I had a big father wound–my father wasn’t very expressive, I wanted him to be proud of me and that drove this relentless ambition that pulverized everything in my path to gain his admiration and his pat on the back. I never got it, so I just kept chasing and I kept pushing myself and all the different things that came from that.
I think people will find themselves in that and will find a story there that they might recognize.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s start with a classic question. “Can money buy happiness?”
Robert Althuis: No, I don’t believe so. I think money is important though, we’re here, obviously in this world and we’ve got bills to pay and money makes life so much easier. I always tell people, it’s very difficult to be spiritual if you don’t know where your next work check is going to come from.
Money is part of our life, a fabric of life, and it can buy you wonderful experiences, and it can give you beautiful things and comfort, and honestly, you can sleep better at night if you don’t have any huge concerns. But money itself will not fill up that hole on the inside of you, at all.
Neither will a car, neither with a house, neither will a relationship, it all comes from within. That’s the essence of what I found. Because I was trying to fill everything up from the outside, I was trying to fill it up with more money, more prestige, more validation, more recognition, and the more I changed it, the goalposts kept moving.
You make your first hundred thousand, you think that’s going to make you happy, and then you want to make 200,000, and then you want a million, so on and so forth. You end up in this carousel, getting these little dopamine hits but it doesn’t really truly fulfill you, it doesn’t really give you true joy.
Drew Appelbaum: Can you talk to us about the exact moment, if you remember, or the time period where you realized, “I’m not happy,” and you thought, “Okay, I’ve hit rock-bottom.”
Robert Althuis: Rock-bottom is an interesting concept because whenever you think you’ve hit rock-bottom, you haven’t yet. There were a couple of pivotal moments. One was, I sold this business interest, and most of it was in Latin America in Bogota, where my headquarters are, and I was taking this last flight back from Bogota, just closing this deal, it was a huge payday. I was flying back to Miami and I thought, “You know, I should be really ecstatic right now. I just sold a big part of my business, I am early 40s, and I made a lot of money. Why do I feel so empty? What is this?”
I was really disillusioned by it, I thought, “This is not what I was promised. If I do all these things and I have this career and I go to an Ivy League business school and I make all this money then I’m supposed to be happy.” That was a really pivotal moment because I thought, “Well, what is this, and what’s wrong with me?”
Everybody was looking at other people and I wondered, “Why is everybody happy?” That prompted the search. I think rock-bottom came a little bit later, somewhere around 2016, early 2017. I lived in this very prestigious oceanfront community and there was a guy that committed suicide. They lived in a beautiful house, had kids, had his own construction business, it was a prestigious family here in Miami. He walked into the mangroves at 5:30 in the morning and blew his brains out. I don’t want to put it that graphic but that’s essentially what happened. I remember, everybody in the neighborhood was appalled by it. “How could he leave his wife and leave his kids and how could he do that? It was so selfish.”
I remember thinking that I understood his pain, I understood his suffering, and that he saw no way out. I never got any closer to suicide than that but, I realized, “I understand this guy,” and I could just trace his steps and I could just feel his energy walking into the swamp outside of his home and just pulling that trigger. I thought, “Man, this is crazy,” and the only thing that really steered me in a different direction was I kept thinking about the kids. I kept thinking, “I just can’t do it to them.” but I would have had no problem.
I remember flying, I was traveling so much. I remember flying around and people would say, “Safe travels.” I would think, “I don’t really care if the plane comes down.” I really didn’t. I was at this stage where I was in so much pain and anguish.
Understanding what that guy went through was really a dark moment for me. I realized, “Wow, I need to get some help, I need to start thinking differently, these are not healthy thoughts.” In hindsight, I think, we get all these trials and tribulations on our path for a reason. Today, I’m more dedicated to helping other people in these situations and helping them find their purpose in their life. I don’t think you can really teach this until you’ve been in the dark yourself.
I could see poetic beauty in it now but obviously, going through that experience was quite traumatic.
Gifts in Sandpaper
Drew Appelbaum: What did you decide to do to come out of this state? You seem to have several moments where you’re saying, “Things are bad, I can now see it for what it is, I need to make some changes.” What was that process like?
Robert Althuis: Starting in 2015, I was still doing my business, but I had this other thing that materialized. I had always had this Midas touch–everything that I did in my life turned to gold but I started having this dry spell.
My heart wasn’t in it anymore. I was still pitching to the same investors and my decks were pretty good but the deals weren’t happening. So that was really gnawing at me. Then I had this overarching interest. I was really getting interested in spirituality and I was reading books, I was going to workshops and retreats and I thought, “There’s got to be an answer, there’s got to be a different way.” So, as I delved more into the ancient wisdom traditions and went to various workshops, retreats, online courses, and god knows–astrologists, tarot readers, I mean, I’ve been to everything, energy healers, everything under the sun. I explored and I did it with the same relentlessness that I had pursued my career because I wanted to find a way out. Over time, I got a lot of intellectual knowledge about it and I started seeing a different way of looking at life, and there was so much more to life than what I had understood reality to be.
However, I still had to internalize it and I still had to embody it. That really came somewhere in the fall of 2017–life gives you these gifts in sandpaper sometimes, but I finally decided to get divorced around Labor Day in 2017 and about eight days later, Hurricane Irma wiped out a business I owned in the Keys.
That’s the only business I’ve ever done an unlimited personal guarantee on. By the end of that year, the insurance company didn’t payout, we couldn’t get permits to rebuild this restaurant, and so by the end of that year, I found myself meeting the divorce attorneys talking about a financial settlement that I didn’t have any idea how to pay for anymore, and I was talking to bankruptcy boards. Literally, my whole life just fell apart in the course of three months, and that’s when I committed to more intense therapy.
That’s really where things started falling into place because spirituality and these ancient wisdom traditions really started to anchor at that point. There was nothing of the old, I didn’t have anything to hold on to anymore. I didn’t have the money anymore. I didn’t have the power. I didn’t have a successful business.
That guy was just literally dying. He was gone, I was naked, I fell from grace and it stripped me butt naked. That’s where I think it really opened up for me.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, you saw a therapist, and she told you to start journaling and when did you decide that, “Hey, maybe this is a memoir, maybe I’ll put this out in the world,” and was it a good way to really get in touch with your emotions?
Robert Althuis: Yes, it was very instrumental in processing my story, and even just remembering my story. I asked, “Where are all these holes, where’s all this pain that I experienced, where is this coming from? What is driving this?” But I guess it was about two, three months in and I had written the first part of the book and I realized, “Well, if I’m going to write a book, I want to publish it.”
I started calling around a little bit and I called one or two publishers and they asked me to send a writing sample. It was really interesting because I got a really positive response, which kind of surprised me really because I’m not a writer, that’s not a skill of mine. Since then, it’s really become a passion of mine, but I had no experience in any of this. It was really interesting because all of them said that I was very raw in my book and I really exposed all the ugly stuff and the dirty laundry, and then I talk a lot about love and compassion, opening up your heart and being vulnerable, and things like that.
All these publishers were saying, “This is such an interesting book because we get a hundred of these from female authors, but we never get an alpha male like you that talks about these things in such an open way.” I was talking about it so openly because it was therapy. I didn’t originally have in mind to put this out there in the general public. That encouragement was huge and then, to be honest, I finished the second part of the book. Then I had some time lapse before I wrote the third part of the book.
It was personal circumstances, and I was busy with life. I was in a new relationship and all these other things, but I also had some internal resistance because I really thought, “Who gives a shit about my story?” I didn’t really see the need or how this would benefit anybody. When I started sharing it with people, and I started helping and mentoring some people, I got more and more people urging me, “You know, you should put this out there. It could help someone else.”
It took me a while to break through that resistance to actually do finish it. Obviously, I share a lot of things that I’m not that proud of either. A lot of stuff that happened isn’t the stuff you write home about to your mother.
To share it raw and ugly. Going through the editing process, pushed me to really be raw and vulnerable about it. It’s one thing to live through it and acknowledge and own it yourself, it is another thing to put it out in the world. I had to overcome that a little bit.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s get onto the title of the book. What is your definition of “never enoughitis” as you call it?
Robert Althuis: Yeah, it’s never enough. That’s my definition. We live in this world, we’re on this carousel and there’s lots of societal programming and pop culture and we believe we need to become something that we are not enough just being ourselves, and so we pursue. We get on this carousel and life just takes over and we want to have a career. We want to become somebody. We want to gain material things.
We want to have all of these, whatever it might be for us. Whatever our goals might be, but we actually kind of forget about life, and we’re trying to fill up and be something or be enough by all these external things. What I really found in all the ancient wisdom traditions, when I found the spiritual path is it’s all within. There’s no amount of money that’s going to make you feel abundant unless you feel abundant inside.
I’ve learned this the hard way because I had millions and millions and I felt poor, and it is really hard to understand that when you don’t have that kind of money, but it’s true. The same goes for love and the same goes for health and all of those other things. These are things that you have to cultivate within. We can’t fill that hole from the outside, but our society, the way it’s structured and the way we pursue life and what we deem to be successful in life–we’re on our LinkedIn profile and our social media profile and it’s very outward-focused but I think what we are seeking is within.
A Problem of Perception
Drew Appelbaum: What happens to these folks? You mentioned how you get stuck in this loop. What are folks with “never enoughitis” that have this, what are they really suffering from and what is the danger there?
Robert Althuis: Well, at the very core it is the perception of what we think we need to be in this world. I think a lot of people don’t live their authentic true self and true purpose. They grow up, they have some societal programming, they have some upbringing, maybe their parents wanted them to be a lawyer or a doctor or whatever it might be. We have this sense of what we need to do and that we need to get married–we believe that we’re such freewill people, but we are very much influenced by what we see.
We’re very much influenced by marketing and what we’re supposed to be. That is what we try to create, and we get lost in that. That is the structure, and they want you to get lost in that. They want you to keep pursuing all these things, they want you to buy in on this. They want you to get lost in this stuff and, preferably pile a bunch of debt on it so that you’re really stuck in it because you really don’t have that much freedom.
You can’t just say, “No, I don’t want to work anymore,” because you have bills to pay and mortgages and rent and all of this seriousness that comes into your life. I feel like many people get lost in that and we forget, “What is my true purpose, what am I really here to do?”
Everybody has gifts and talents and superpowers. Everybody, I believe, has some secret mission that’s within them. Once we start aligning with that life becomes a lot more flowing, life becomes more in alignment and we get off this carousel, of just chasing all of this stuff that we think is going to make us happy, but ultimately gives us these little dopamine hits. It doesn’t give us that true fulfillment that we’re seeking within.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, you say everyone a lot, so is this something that people of all income levels will go through, or is this something that once you have tasted success or you’re at a higher income level that people perceive as success, that you kind of then go down the rabbit hole?
Robert Althuis: I think it’s for all levels. I am sure there are people that might not experience it this way. But there’s a very interesting story. There was this billionaire in Germany, and he was the richest man in Germany, and something happened to his business empire. He lost a couple of billion dollars, and he committed suicide, but he still had about $12 billion or something like that. A god-awful amount of money.
By all means, he still had everything, but in his mind, he didn’t have enough. He wasn’t the richest man in Germany. I think this is pervasive. I think money is an amplifier. This kind of fear-based behavior is everywhere, and I can tell you from being fairly high up in the business world, the greed is insidious, and you would expect from people that have so much, at some point that would somehow taper off. But I actually think it gets amplified. The kind of moral corruption, I don’t say that all wealthy are bad people, but I’ve just seen what it does to people.
The wealthier people are, the more successful they are, they actually have a higher probability to become a victim of this and we’ve even seen this with celebrities. They self-destruct eventually–whether that’s musicians or actors.
Because the way we deal with this dissatisfaction is we find displacement activities and we numb ourselves with alcohol and drugs and nicotine and gambling and TV binge-watching or sex or porn or having affairs and all these displacement activities. Because we are trying to numb this pain. This undercurrent that we don’t know how to satisfy.
Drew Appelbaum: Talk to us about, let’s call it the new Robert that you had a transformation and you’ve written this book. Talk to us about the changes you could make even if you find yourself really, really deep in the well. You’re not happy, things start to go wrong. You keep grabbing the things and nothing is coming from it. You know, we joked about rock-bottom, but you are close to that giving up point, but you decided to make the transformation. You put in years, you dedicate time, what can you see at the end of that tunnel?
Robert Althuis: It helped me tremendously for a couple of things. First of all, seeing that everything happens to us for our greatest experience, our greatest evolution. So, whenever we find ourselves in that time and place in our lives, it is there on purpose. It is all in perfect order and that’s really, really difficult to see when you’re in a tough spot. Because you think, “You know, this just sucks,” and the pain and the suffering. But when you look beyond that and you start thinking, “Well, what’s the lesson here? What can I gain from this? What can I learn here?” That is a huge step.
I think the second exercise is working on having a spiritual vision. I think most people are fairly aimless in life. They follow this roadmap that the world tells us, “This is a successful life,” but if you take a step back and you say, “Well, what do I really want to create in my life?” And if you opt-in on marriage or relationship, you want to do it with your partner. “What do I really want to do? What are my values? What is important?”
I think now with COVID and what’s happened this last year, we’ve all been kind of confronted with this because we’re more at home, we’re more with our families, we have more downtime. There is less distraction and that restaurant or the bars might not be open or the parks or some of the stuff that we keep ourselves busy with, right? Some of this busyness is kind of locked out and now we’re confronted with ourselves.
This is a great time to ask yourself, “What do I want to create?” I think a lot of people are doing this, I think there’s a lot of people moving out of cities and accruing different types of lifestyles or even switching careers and switching the way they work. I think those are all really, really valuable things because once we get clear on what we really want to create, it becomes a lot easier to see what part of our life is not in alignment.
That could be a job or career. It could be a relationship, it could be toxic people that we have in our lives, that we spend a lot of energy on. It could also be just looking at our own behavior and where we are spending our time and energy and is that really in alignment with what we want to create? I think there’s any one of these, you start finding that rope, finding that well, and kind of start climbing up a little bit.
Drew Appelbaum: The final chapters of your book, they are there to help and I wonder, how do you feel that your story and your approach differ from other self-help books or approaches that are out there today?
Robert Althuis: Well, one of the things I talk a lot about is we have this notion in the world that’s very self-interest driven. It’s a lot of greed and I talk a lot about it. I think our innate nature and our real desire is to be of service to others, I think that is a big part of where joy comes from and true fulfillment. Most self-help is about how to become more efficient in the matrix, but we are not really changing the world that way.
I do really think the world needs to change. There is a lot of things that we can see–wars, hate, violence, inequalities, injustices, pollution. There are so many different things that we see today in the world that we’re sort of numb to but when we change within that is how we change the world. Most of the chapters in the self-help part are to help people relate to how we show up in the world and the ripple effect that it has.
You know, our true enjoyment and true joy really comes from being of service to the world and somehow seeing ourselves as contributing to this world in a meaningful way. That could be anything. That could be a schoolteacher doing a great job. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that you’re a big powerful person who changes and touches millions of lives. It could be a mother at home and the way she raises her kids with love and care.
It could be in any way, but my chapters and what I really talk about is finding those things that really give you purpose. I give a perspective on how you could look at the nature of reality and you start looking, observing yourself. I talk about the nature of reality, which we believe this world that we see with our five senses is the real world but, there is actually if you strip that back a little bit, you get some really profound insights. Also, how you could change it and how you can change your own world.
Drew Appelbaum: The book is not a straight memoir. Again, we talked about the self-help section, but you have sections at the end of each chapter, which is really great because you put the spotlight on the reader and you ask them to look inwards and to ask themselves some questions. Why did you choose to do this and if you recall, what are a few of the questions that you really hope readers will ask themselves?
Robert Althuis: Thank you for asking that because as we were going through the editing process and in discussions with the editing team, we needed to connect the third part of the book better with the first two parts and so we did a little bit of retooling on the third part to make it more relevant and have more examples. I think it ended up being more powerful and we are really happy that we did that. I didn’t have that original insight.
We worked really hard, getting these questions because I can talk about these things intellectually at length but unless you can connect it to your personal life and, “What does this mean to me, and where does this come into play for myself?” You really don’t internalize, and you just put the book away and say, “Okay that was a nice read but what am I going to do with it?” Each chapter has three of these questions.
We are just prompting this introspection. How do you see yourself in the concepts that we describe? I think they’re all very powerful but one of the chapters–and I like all of them–but one of the chapters was a huge help to me, it was the chapter “forgiveness,” because I never understood this concept of forgiveness, and I was really hard on myself.
Even as I was going through my healing process, I was just so disappointed. We beat ourselves up. We do a lot of self-criticism and usually, we are our own worst critics. Forgiving situations and forgiving things that we had done in the past when we screw it up is difficult.
There are things in my life that I’m not proud of. I wish I could undo them, but I can’t. But we can’t move beyond it and there’s no point in continuing to carry it with us. The process of forgiveness and the questions that are asked at the end of the chapter are what kind of unhealed wounds do we have, where do we carry these things? These are just like rocks in a backpack that we lug around and keep beating ourselves up with.
What I was misunderstanding, what I was taught about forgiveness–I always thought that forgiveness releases the person that’s forgiven. But what it really does is it heals you from carrying it around because that person might not even know, they might have offended you in some way and they’re never even aware of it, or that person could even be dead.
Even after the death of my father in 2017, I went through some processing on that with some of the grief, but I also forgave him at one point and that was to free me up, not to free him, he was gone. I had to let go of this anger that I had towards him, this disappointment that I had. Why could he never express himself? And when I went through that process it was really interesting.
I started putting myself in his shoes and I started living his life. This was a guy that was born in World War II in Holland when it was occupied by the Nazis, he had German soldiers in his home when he was three years old, his father died when he was four in the war. He grew up with hunger, he grew up with scarcity. Holland was annihilated after the war, it took the better part of 10, 15 years to rebuild the country with the martial plan.
He grew up and that was his world that he grew up in, so this guy grew up with scarcity, he grew up with fear and he was driven by fear his whole life, he was always afraid to lose everything. I had two older brothers, and he was always teaching us to be tough, he was teaching us to have jobs and make money and, he was just doing the best he could. Forgiving him for that really released me of that burden I was carrying around.
I think that’s one in particular that I really like because it’s a very easy one to get your head around once you understand that forgiveness is really for you, it’s not for the other person.
Drew Appelbaum: I mean, that’s still really powerful. Writing a book, especially like this one, in which you look so inwards, and you talk about your intense emotional journey, I think will help so many people look inwards themselves and be able to change outward. It’s no small feat to write a memoir like this so I just want to say congratulations on publishing this book.
Robert Althuis: Thank you. Yeah, it was self-help, and writing this book really shifted a lot of things for me so it was extremely helpful. If it can help one other person gain some insight from this or some relief or some other way of looking at life and it opens something up for them then it has been worth it.
Drew Appelbaum: This has been a pleasure and I’m really excited for people to check out this book. Everyone, the book is called Never Enoughitis and you can find it on Amazon. Robert, besides checking out the book, where can people connect with you?
Robert Althuis: On Instagram, I’m @thezenwhisperer. I post there almost daily about various aspects of life and my teachings and some of these wisdoms that I love sharing.
Drew Appelbaum: Wonderful Robert, thank you so much for coming to the show today, and best of luck with your new book.
Robert Althuis: Thanks so much, I really appreciate it.