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Modern monastic

If you were to describe Gary Batara (BSM, 2019; MBA-CB, 2022) as monastic, he might flash one of his dazzling smiles. It’d be a gesture of indulgence, of benediction perhaps, at such romanticism. How much, after all, can a San Francisco Bay Area, Porsche-driving, chef-turned-marketing-executive resemble a monk?

As it turns out, in a number of ways. 

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An embarrassment of riches

Like all the best saints, Batara’s background was anything but holy. He grew up in the Bay Area to a family of healthcare professionals. When he announced he wanted to become a chef, they were skeptical at best, disappointed at worst. But they supported him through culinary school and a two-month externship in France, where he developed an enduring love of slow food and French cuisine.

But his career as a chef was to be short-lived. He started working in hospitality, then corporate food service. It was in the latter where he was quickly pegged for a management role. 

“Day one, they were like, ‘You’re much better at talking to people than you are cooking,’” Batara recalls. “I thought I was a total failure, but then I just found out that talking to people and being able to articulate thoughts on behalf of businesses was a really important, useful skill.”

Batara began to make his way in marketing. He started at a major internet company in the Bay Area, where he stayed nearly nine years before moving to Garten, where he works today as vice president of marketing. 

Garten, which takes its name from the German word for garden, is a corporate wellness company that focuses on teaching employees healthy habits so that they live longer, better and, yes, more productively.

As evidence, Batara cites a case study published by ISS. “When people eat healthily, they also have other healthy habits, such as everything from meditation to being educated about food, lifestyle, getting better sleep [and] hydration. … [That leads to] a massive reduction in healthcare costs.”

Batara had found his niche. But he had lost his way.

“I found manipulative ways to move up the ladder and position myself to get more opportunities,” he says plainly. “I was ruthless.”

And not just professionally. He found himself chasing all the avenues of instant gratification, from working out to garner the admiration of younger women to routine happy hours that led to frequent drinking.

For a while, Batara felt like nothing could stop him. “Achieving that success was absolutely rock bottom,” he says. One day, he found himself driving on a bridge, going faster and faster, eventually reaching an obscene speed and wondering why nothing, not a cop, not so much as a bump in the road, was stopping him.

“I was like, ‘Why are all these really good things happening to me?’ … It was just a really weird amount of guilt.”

Reaching a crossroad

The “gluttonous lifestyle,” as Batara puts it, separated him from the things that mattered: his wife, Marilyn, and his children, his family of origin and his friends.

“My best friends were like, ‘Who are you?’” Batara says.

Marilyn, meanwhile, was contemplating divorce, and the couple started marriage counseling. It was there that Batara got the wakeup call he needed.

The therapist asked him to state one thing he could do differently and just for himself. Batara’s response? Earn his degree.

He recalls: “I was like, ‘What is the one thing I can do that could actually better my life, and it would be something that I’m not going to get pats on the back for? It’s not necessarily going to help my career right away. It’s just doing something really hard.’ And I realized that it would just end the cycle of indulgence. … Getting a degree is about as far from indulgence as you can get.”

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Discipline for a diploma

That’s when Batara got serious about the kind of self-discipline a monk might envy. He didn’t just want his degree. He wanted to be a better husband, a better father and a better employee as well.

“At that time, I started listening to a lot of self-development,” Batara says. “Everything affirmed my beliefs that in order for you to get to [that] point, you had to ‘break’ or get rid of the old self.”

Batara started rising at 3 a.m. every day, dedicating the hours between 3:30 and 7 a.m. to school and personal growth (reading, writing and exercising). From 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., he focused on career growth, and then he committed himself to family time between 5 and 8:30 p.m.

“Gary’s discipline and dedication to fit in school with his career, family and personal commitments didn’t really surprise me because, before school, he was already disciplined on going to the gym and working out regularly first thing in the morning,” Marilyn says. “Anyone who works out on a consistent basis knows it’s not about motivation. It’s about discipline and building strong habits.”

That discipline trickled into other parts of his life with positive results too. He recognized areas at home where he could help out not because it benefited him directly but because it was simply the right thing to do.

He reconnected with his siblings, making a point to name a day and time when they should get together rather than promising some vague date. And, when his Bachelor of Science in Management was completed in 2019, he paid his parents back for the tuition they provided for his degree. Yes, the money could’ve come in handy since Marilyn had decided to stop working outside the home to focus on raising their children, but Batara knew the sacrifice was the right one to make.

Then he signed up for the Master of Business Administration – Competency-Based program.

Batara’s career, meanwhile, didn’t suffer for the added responsibilities at home and at school. In fact, quite the opposite.

“Ultimately, I started to do even better in my career, because I was less focused on myself,” Batara says, sounding a little stunned. “The trajectory of my career continues to go up, but it is a lot more meaningful, and there are people like my wife around me again encouraging me.”

For her part, Marilyn sees plenty to encourage. “Now, our family spends a lot more quality time with each other,” she says. “Gary has learned to take on more yet manage his time effectively and efficiently.”

Pacing for the future

Part of Batara’s professional success may also be his commitment to transparency. He was forthright with his leadership when he explained that he wanted to go back to school and that he also runs a marketing consultancy on the side.

All of that would be impressive enough, but Batara had one more project up his sleeve. He wrote a book.

Due to be published in 2024 by Addicus Books, 5000 Hours in 5 Minutes distills wisdom that Batara has gleaned from spending 5,000 hours devouring books and content on personal development, psychology and philosophy. The book compiles quotes from leaders and luminaries whose stories, Batara explains, have something to teach everyone about seeking the harder but more fulfilling path.

Looking at the root of all this change, Batara is profoundly aware of how fortunate he has been. He had career success and family and friends. He had enough sense (or grace) to recognize their value before he lost everything. And he had the iron will to work for redemption.

“University of Phoenix,” he says with an air of one who’s had a close call, “it really saved my life, because, genuinely, I was just careless and reckless with it.” Discipline, exerted over the course of his two degree programs, just happened to be his path back to salvation.

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Elizabeth Exline has been telling stories ever since she won a writing contest in third grade. She's covered design and architecture, travel, lifestyle content and a host of other topics for national, regional, local and brand publications. Additionally, she's worked in content development for Marriott International and manuscript development for a variety of authors.


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