The Five Entrepreneurs I Met on Earth
Finding the ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ balance in life
Life is made up of a series of choices, and we can choose to be happy with our work, consumption, temperance, or lack thereof. We can find balance or flow (Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, 2004), or let our low moods bury us into a inward spiral of pessimism. As Csikszentmihalyi says,
Happiness is not a rigid state. Happiness takes a committed effort to be manifested.
I wish I got to listen to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi lecture or teach (aside from listening to his TED talk), but these five entrepreneurs I did get the chance to meet with face to face in Vancouver and Hong Kong, have said inspiring quotes that constantly rise up to the surface of the ebb and flows of life, even after many years have past:
1. Don’t let life randomly kick you into being the adult you don’t want to become.
— Chris Hadfield, first Canadian astronaut
Have you ever felt that nagging sensation that there was more to life than just floating along with the waves you happen to wake up on?
When I met Chris Hadfield, he had just published his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (2013), and given epic life advice on his Reddit AMA through. When I shook his hand at his book signing in a Surrey shopping mall, he looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “thank you so much for coming here”. That humility shook me, and wholly made sense after I finished reading his book.
A common theme in it is how gratitude helped propel his career forward, rather than wallowing over a professional failure, which only sucked himself inwardly, sulking and stuck. He reflects about the conscious decision to change his mental state, shifting his focus towards others, which got him out of a blackhole and into a new and better space.
2. If you want something enough, you will do anything in your power to make it happen.
Have you ever thought about making a change, but feel stuck because of indecision of what to do?
That’ s how I felt and changed my attitude about, after I met Jackie at a coffee shop in Vancouver just by reaching out and tweeting her about a few questions I itched to ask her. You never know how a cold call touches someone who sincerely wants to help people. Usually remarkable people have remarkable struggles that were overcome. Jackie shared stories of how she made a career change, faced her struggle with depression, and came out stronger for it because of sheer willpower.
3. Go for 100 interviews if you have to.
— Henry Au, venture capitalist and owner of Goldfinch Restaurant, where internationally-renowned Wong Kar Wai’s movie, In the Mood for Love (2000), had their cafe scene filmed
Have you ever felt discouraged about all those rejection letters?
Henry told me his life story about starting as one of Asia’s first technology directors at Citibank, before going from one job to another, and finally ending up as a venture capitalist, and now, father and restaurant owner. It seemed at first that all the interviews he want on, literally 100 (he counted), resulted in nothing. Looking back though, he realized he had picked up many life lessons through asking CEOs and Directors from top companies questions about their business. He pocketed these entrepreneurial lessons for his future opportunities, which came with time.
4. Do something you genuinely like.
— Lister Woo, Owner of Typhoon 8 Paddling Products
Have you ever witness someone pass away from cancer?
A few entrepreneurs have offered me wisdom with a similar line of thinking, but Lister said it best: “the pursuit of happiness doesn’t translate to just satisfying yourself, but the people around you”. This dragon boat coach and entrepreneur had witnessed one of his ex-bosses pass away from overwork and stress, doing something he had no joy out of. Genuinely deriving happiness out of customer satisfaction may be a common thread that connects sustainable businesses and their founders.
5. Your job is only your job. It’s not your life.
— Inma Diaz, Managing Director at Morgan Stanley
Have you ever based your happiness on your career path?
At a workshop for young professionals, Inma described a real life story about the dangers of building a career as part of your life, versus just treating your job as train stops on the track of the journey of life. There is no loyalty in big companies. No matter how long you have worked at a company, or the “friends” you make there, once cuts need to be made, it’s just a numbers game. Who are the authentic people in our lives who will stick with you through thick and thin?