Todd Patkin had a successful career running a Boston-area chain of auto parts stores, with one major hiccup: a nervous breakdown at age 36. He and his family sold the company five years later for $100 million. Now 48, he recently wrote a book, “Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and Finally Let the Sunshine In.” His conversation with Ben Steverman has been edited.
Todd Patkin: I first went into the business at 22, when my Dad gave me the reins after a year because the man who ran our 18 stores back then had a heart attack. He said, “Todd, go for it.” It was kind of amazing. I didn’t know anything about work, but I knew how to get up earlier than everybody else.
I became a workaholic because I was enjoying work so much. We really had a ball. I was a hero at work. I opened more stores. I was more successful. I felt great about myself.
I was so addicted to work that I never bathed my son, never changed a diaper. When I first went into the business, we were losing money. After eight or nine years we were making millions and my wife said to me: “Do you love me? Do you love your son?” I was like, “What are you talking about?” She said, “Well, you’re never here. It made sense when you were losing money, but now you’re making millions and you still don’t want to be with us.”
Quality time is a total misnomer and it’s killing our relationships with our children. Ever since I retired in 2006, I’m home now.
Because I was under so much pressure at work, the only way I could handle it was to go to the gym. And it’s dangerous when you have one crutch and you lose it. I fractured a foot, so I couldn’t go to the gym, and also my wife and I lost a pregnancy. I sunk down deeper and deeper and had a complete breakdown. For two days, I just wanted to die.
If you’ve ever had a breakdown -- or had something that’s so awful happen to you -- you know you can never, ever go there again. I looked at my life. I said, “I’ve got the most wonderful wife, a beautiful son and more money than I dreamed possible -- and I want to kill myself. What brought me here?” I realized it was me. I do a thousand things right in a day, but if I make just one mistake, I focus relentlessly on that one. We’re never just satisfied. That’s been my quest for the last five years -- to really find peace.
I’m blessed because I was able to sell the company for a lot of money -- for $100 million and I got basically a third of that. One thing that I’ve learned is it’s a lot easier to lose money than to make money. You’ve got to be careful when you make money when you’re young. The problem is you’re 42 years old, you’ve got $25 million in the bank and you’ve got nothing to do. I lost a lot of money in sports memorabilia. I invested money with friends but I didn’t really check their business plans. I lost about 20 percent of my money. You’ve got to be comfortable saying ‘no.’ This is how you learn.