Living Lean

March 28th, 2008 by gvanourek

There is much hand-wringing these days about the current economic downturn: mortgage crisis, foreclosures, credit squeeze, gas and food price increases, and more. All valid concerns, but the intrepid life entrepreneur bears in mind that much of our economic circumstance is actually in our hands.

In writing our book, we were re-introduced to the powerful concept of “living lean”—living below our financial means to help us weather the storm when times are tough. Equally importantly, but often overlooked, living lean also frees us up to pursue promising opportunities as they arise.

After getting his MBA, Seth Goldman was working for Calvert, an investment firm specializing in socially responsible businesses, when he had a breakthrough idea for an organic tea company. After extensive due diligence, he decided to go for it. At the time, though, he and his wife were having their third child.

According to Seth, “I said to myself, You know what? This is the wrong time to do it, but there is never a perfect time. We have the right idea and I’ve got to try.” With his wife’s support, he launched Honest Tea out of his home and dubbed himself the “TeaEO.” Today, Honest Tea is the best-selling product in its market niche. (The company has been repeatedly ranked in Inc. magazine’s annual list of the 500 Fastest Growing Companies in the United States, and earlier this year Coca-Cola took a 40% stake in the company.

Looking back, Seth sees the trap that he could have fallen into: “You’re in college, you’ve got loans to pay off, and then you go work for some big, high-paying job and then all of a sudden you move into a fancy apartment and then you’ve got to pay for that. You buy a fancy car or go to graduate school and you have more loans to pay and all of a sudden you can’t take the risk.… And then you get married and have kids.” Now, he says, “We’ve been living a pretty lean lifestyle. We don’t have cable TV. I’m still driving a 1999 Saturn. We try not to get too accustomed to material things that come and go.” By living lean, they were able to jump at a life-changing opportunity when it arose.

Living lean can also give our lives clarity and focus. By focusing on our true needs, we can unburden ourselves from work that doesn’t fit in the “sweet spot” of our values, passion, and purpose (or relationships, for that matter). That frees us up to zero in on our true drive and direction in life.

Simple enough, but hard to realize in practice. Taken one step further, living lean means having the courage and the discipline to say “no” to some requests and opportunities even when we don’t know that there will be enough to say “yes” to. Call it a leap of faith. This can be especially challenging when we are flush with opportunity. But the consequences of not living lean can be painful down the road when circumstances catch up with us.

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The Case for Boredom

March 25th, 2008 by cgergen

Most mornings I walk our three-year old daughter to school and then take our family dog, Mango, for a walk through the woods behind her school.  Up until recently, my walks would consist of me checking my emails and returning phone calls – all while trying to keep from tripping over the branches strewn across the trail.  No longer.


Like many of my fellow over-busy people out there, I feel like I never have enough time to do everything that needs to get done.  So I rely on my technology gadgets to squeeze “productivity” into every minute of my day.  But is that ultimately the healthiest path?  While these minutes spent stumbling through the woods trying to jumpstart my day may seem productive, it’s actually shutting down a perfect opportunity for quiet contemplation and creativity.


When we are faced with a quiet moment or two, weird things can happen.  Rather than celebrating this rare moment to take a breath, it can trigger a sense that “boredom” is soon to follow. So out pops the Blackberry and our world keeps spinning at its same frenetic pace.  We’re conditioning ourselves to avoid “boredom” like the plague – and we are building and buying the technologies to enable this behavior.


But as Carolyn Johnson points out in her wonderfully refreshing March 8th article in the Boston Globe titled “The joy of boredom”

“To be bored is to stop reacting to the external world, and to explore the internal one. It is in these times of reflection that people often discover something new, whether it is an epiphany about a relationship or a new theory about the way the universe works. Granted, many people emerge from boredom feeling that they have accomplished nothing. But is accomplishment really the point of life? There is a strong argument that boredom — so often parodied as a glassy-eyed drooling state of nothingness — is an essential human emotion that underlies art, literature, philosophy, science, and even love.”


In our lives, these moments of “boredom” are increasingly few and far between – and when they present themselves, it is time to resist the urge to fill it.  Less can be truly more.


 So this morning I set out into the woods free of technology.  It’s springtime now in Washington, DC and the birds and flowers welcomed me back – with a fox darting through the brush before me. 

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Climbing Everest… Blind

March 21st, 2008 by gvanourek

All the talk in the news lately about China closing Mt. Everest to climbers because of the Olympics reminds me of a talk I heard recently by Erik Weihenmayer.In 2001, Erik became the only blind man in history to have reached the summit of the world’s tallest mountain. During that climb, his team also set a world record for the most people from one team to reach the top of Everest in a single day (19 of 21). He has also climbed the “Seven Summits”—the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents.

Not content to settle for climbing, he also taught himself to be an accomplished paraglider (after devising a radio and bell system to help him get his bearings as he flies), ice-climber (he uses the sound of the ice to guide him), and skier. After losing his sight at age 13, he became a middle school teacher and wrestling coach but then one day had an epiphany when he signed up for a rock-climbing class.He says that it was exhilarating—really scary but beautiful… and a re-birth for him into his new life as a world-class adventurer, facing temperatures of 50 below in Antartica, 8-day monsoons at 21,000 feet, and ice chasm crossings that are breath-taking. Check out his photo gallery.

Erik likes to work in teams. In 1999, he climbed an 800-foot rock tower in Moah, Utah with Mark Wellman (the first paraplegic to climb El Capitan in Yosemite) and Hugh Herr (a double-leg amputee and Harvard scientist). The trio also formed a non-profit called No Barriers, helping people with disabilities push through barriers in life via innovative ideas, approaches, and technologies.

Erik is also an author and speaker—and a consummate life entrepreneur. Here are some of the things he talked about in Denver:

* Life can be a great adventure.

* Having a unifying vision for your life is essential. It binds together our goals and gives them purpose and power. This vision is an internal compass that guides us, even through nasty weather.

* We need to decide how we see our selves living our lives and serving people. What will our legacy be? He urges us to figure out what we want to do with our lives—allowing ourselves to be bold and to know what our dreams are—and then to figure out what we have to do to realize them.

* He approaches challenges as a problem-solver and innovator. He’s motivated by a sense of what’s possible, by a light he believes that we all have inside us.

It’s important to note that he’s not fearless. One of his greatest fears, he says, is “not participating in life.” When asked how he approaches fear, his answer is powerfully simple: “I practice overcoming fear and adversity by overcoming fear and adversity…. I climb. When you do big things, you suffer. Try to suffer nobly.”

Erik speaks to us all about the power of human beings to rise above adversity and forge into new terrain beyond perceived limits. He has much to teach us about the value of failure and the power of adventure in our lives.

To learn more and be inspired, check out Touch the Top.

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Entrepreneurship 3.0

March 11th, 2008 by gvanourek

Entrepreneurship is a defining feature of our time. Unfortunately, our thinking about it is now obsolete.

We typically think about entrepreneurship in the business context (what we call “version 1.0” of entrepreneurship). Of course, business entrepreneurship has been around for centuries. Its conceptual origins can be traced back to the 18th and 19th centuries (through the influential work of economists Jean-Baptiste Say and Joseph Schumpeter among others), and there are examples of entrepreneurship going back millennia.

In recent decades, the phenomenon of social entrepreneurship—geared toward social transformation, not profit-making—exploded onto the scene. We call it “version 2.0” of entrepreneurship. The term was coined in the 1960s but became popular in the 1980s and 1990s—and became celebrated on the world stage with Muhammad Yunus’ Nobel Peace Prize. Of course, examples of social entrepreneurship can also be traced back centuries, though the term wasn’t used then (just check out the work of Ashoka the Great).

Today, there is a new phenomenon emerging with implications equally large: life entrepreneurship (what we call “version 3.0” of entrepreneurship). With life entrepreneurship—which we define as creating a life of significance through opportunity recognition, innovation, and action—people are integrating entrepreneurial mindsets and principles into their entire lives. It’s a promising way for people to transform ordinary lives into extraordinary ones—and it is being embraced by a growing cadre of people seeking more out of life, especially rising generations of leaders and seekers.

Welcome to the dynamic world of “entrepreneurship 3.0.” It promises to be a grand adventure. How are you going to live it?

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An Invitation

March 4th, 2008 by cgergen

When we started down the path of writing Life Entrepreneurs, we knew we were headed into uncharted territory. While the notion of applying the power of the entrepreneurial mindset to one’s own life path was all around us, it hadn’t been articulated yet. In setting out to capture this spirit, we realized quickly this couldn’t be a closed process of lonely reflection. Rather, we needed to throw our minds wide open to learning from the experiences and perspectives of others.

In the end, we engaged 55 leaders around the world, all of whom embody the entrepreneurial life spirit. The lessons we gleaned from these conversations were inspiring and ultimately shaped the framework in our book. But these conversations are far from over; rather, they are just beginning.

As we continue to explore this nascent field, we aspire to enrich the conversation by opening it up to a much larger audience. Through this conversation, we hope to hear from emerging leaders, established entrepreneurs, and people from all circumstances and phases of life—from people who are excited about this new area of interest and from those who are skeptical.

As we open up this conversation and gather new perspectives and stories, we hope to achieve some of the benefits of the “open source” movement so compellingly laid out in books like Mavericks at Work and The Starfish and the Spider. Through this, our understanding of and appreciation for “life entrepreneurship” are certain to deepen. And we can all benefit as a result.

So even as Life Entrepreneurs rolls off the presses, let the next generation of thinking begin. We invite you to join in. In the coming months and years, we will be actively soliciting contributions by guest columnists and bloggers and will regularly share comments provided by our readers through this blog. So, please send along your own ideas, insights, and suggestions. We’re excited by what the future holds in store, and we welcome you to the conversation.

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