Nearly a year ago, I saw Melissa and AJ Leon on an interview on Jonathan Fields’ Good Life Project. Immediately, I knew I wanted to know them. The way they described living so intentionally and so fully – together – was beautiful. They create. They travel. They share. They give. All with excellence, and all together.
Just since I discovered them, they’ve launched a quarterly magazine for creative arts, created a conference, funded a Kickstarter project at nearly 400%, and traveled all across the US in Pegasus – their veggie-fueled, hand-painted converted bus. (Yes, it is that cool. We got to ride in it.)
In early March, I had the opportunity to spend time with them in person, and it was perhaps the most inspiring week of my life. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that it led to my most focused month ever. I knew I had to catch up with them again so I could share their insights with you too. In particular, I wanted to know how they managed to work so well together in every aspect of their life. In today’s world, that is incredibly rare.
Melissa, thanks so much for letting us inside such a personal area of your life. I know the insights you have to share will improve dozens of marriages and business partnerships. What you and AJ are doing together is so special.
First, do you and AJ have the same definition of success? How do you know that? Did you actually have conversations about what it means to each of you?
Yes, AJ and I do have the same definition of success. We anchor our lives and business around doing work that truly matters, living with intention, and changing the world in some tangible way. When AJ and I started Misfit, we sat down together and wrote on a yellow pad what we wanted our life to represent, what types of things we wanted to accomplish, and how we wanted to work. It was at that point that it was cemented in both our minds our true definition of success. What came out on that yellow paper became the road map for our life and business — we wanted to work together, travel at least 50% of the year, and donate a portion of our time and expertise to work on humanitarian projects.
Was there a time when you had a different definition? What changed that?
6 years ago, AJ and I were living separate lives. He was a financial executive in Manhattan, and I was a middle school teacher in Spanish Harlem. At that point in time we were not working towards our current definition of success as you can imagine. If I am being honest, we didn’t have a definition of success. We simply knew that we were not living the life we wanted to lead.
This all changed on December 31, 2007 – 4 days before AJ and I got married. AJ used to be a financial executive in Manhattan. He made six figures, had an outrageous bonus package, and a corner office overlooking the greatest city in the world. The problem was he didn’t care about any of these things. He was passionless about his work. And of course, hated himself for trading the hours of his life away for more money at every turn. So he walked away. Not for a change of scene, not for a vertical move to another company. But to stop once and for all living some other dude’s life.
I was so happy when he called me and told me that he left. We both knew this was our opportunity to change everything. So we spent hours and hours on our Honeymoon in Southern Africa figuring out what type of life and business we wanted to build — that’s where the yellow pad I was talking about earlier made its debut.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
After showering and brushing my teeth in the morning, I cook breakfast and make a fresh vegetable juice. This may sound like a small thing, but it is a very important component of my health and something that I neglected for about 5 years. Then AJ and I find a coffee shop to enjoy an espresso together and plan for the day. This time in the morning is incredibly important because it centers our entire day. After coffee and planning, it is about 10am. I then review all my tasks and deliverables as well as all my team’s projects to see how I can push the ball forward with them. At 11am I start work on my own projects. At the end of my day from about 4pm to 6pm, I get on a video calls with everyone on the team to review their projects and talk priorities.
Because everyone in our company works from wherever they want, this time is extremely important to moving things forward in addition to just simply connecting and building trust with each member of the team. Since we are not in an office together, video calls are the way that we can connect on a daily basis. The rest of the night is spent making dinner and reading for enjoyment. At night is also the time where AJ and I dream and plan together.
Do you have any particular habits or routines that are essential to your success?
Of course, without routines and habits it would be very hard for AJ and I to travel as much as we do while launching projects as much as we do. The time in the mornings we spend together over coffee is paramount to our success. It is where we work together on the priorities of the company and decide who needs to take which pieces. Typically I manage all client projects and AJ manages all internal projects. Most people find it very strange that AJ and I are husband and wife, business partners and travel buddies — the common question is don’t you get sick of each other — how can you be around each other all day long and actually get work done? I think the key here is communication. We are very honest with each other when fleshing out ideas about our business and don’t allow our egos to get in the way. It is a hard thing to do, but with daily practice we’ve made this a habit.
Are there any habits you’re working to develop next?
I would like to set aside more time for reading. This is a hard one for me because there is always something that I could be doing so it is difficult for me to commit to setting aside the time. I would also like to find a form of fitness that I enjoy — possibly running as I cannot stand the gym.
Thanks so much for being such an awesome couple – and for showing us exactly how you do it. I am refreshed and inspired again, and I know my readers will be too.