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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