“Don’t Eat In Front Of Your Computer” 5 Startup Strategies With Antesa Jensen, Founder of Adventure Awake

“Boundaries are really important. If you’re in constant “do” mode you aren’t available to receive in ways that will keep your business growing. LET GO and chill the eff out, you guys. I’ve learned that the energetics of running a business matter. If I’m so scarce about time that I can’t give myself a lunch break, chances are that scarcity is showing up somewhere else and will impact my revenue, and also the type of clients I’m attracting.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Antesa Jensen, founder of Adventure Awake , a company that is disrupting the adventure travel industry. Adventure Awake guides high-performing individuals to realize their leadership potential through transformational expeditions. Since its founding in 2016, they have led group expeditions to Greenland, Mongolia, Jordan, and Georgia to help travelers make transformational and sustainable change in life.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

My story began with an intense childhood filled with disability, dysfunction, and neglect. Travel became an escape for me, to get as far away from reality as possible. I found myself traveling to riskier and riskier places, seeking more intense experiences. Little did I know that a life-threatening situation in South America, and a bout of severe illness, would be the start of my inward journey.

I had spent 12 years in a successful career in the financial and investment banking industry. However, I returned from South America feeling emotionally lost and messy. I had been seeking something through my travels, but for what I had no idea. My frustration led me to sign up for a coaching program — I enjoyed it, and even excelled at it. I realized that being legally blind while growing up (until I received Lasik surgery at 26), not only heightened my non-visual senses, but also enhanced my perceptions about people. I developed a deep sense of empathy, and was often able to hear what people were feeling.

Inspired by my own inward journey, I decided to help others make transformational and sustainable change in life. Adventure Awake was born in 2016 to guide high-performing individuals to realize their leadership potential through outward expeditions, while discovering themselves on their inward journey. Looking back, I was successful in my 20’s despite my childhood. However, I am successful in my 30’s because of my childhood.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company

I’m so grateful that there are SO many, but perhaps the most hilarious occurred one early morning on our trip to Mongolia last summer. We were in East Taiga on the border of Siberia, which is home to some of the most powerful shamans in the world, and hundreds of domesticated reindeer. I had woken up before everyone else to go to the toilet. In Mongolia, toilets are large holes in the ground with two wooden planks over them to squat on. As I stood up, I noticed a large reindeer charging toward me. It was horrifying. I wasn’t sure if I was about to die or get mauled by her furry antlers. She halted suddenly right in front of me and began sniffing and licking my hands. I had no idea what she was looking for, but she followed me all the way back to our teepee.

As I got close to the teepee, I shouted to the women on our trip who were all still sleeping off the 45km horseback ride from the day before: “You guys, wake up, I have something really important to tell you!” They all shot up in bed as I opened the canvas door, and the reindeer trotted right inside. The shrieks of pure joy and laughter that poured out of them will never be forgotten. We were all exhausted, cold and covered in welts and blisters, and the reindeer was a true messenger of joy in that moment. As it turns out, she was looking for rock salt.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our trips are more than just beautiful destinations and adventure experiences. Each of our trips is entirely unique and created from scratch, in order to guide travelers through transformational and sustainable change in life. We design them, and all of our activities — including lodging and food — with each individual client in mind, and the particular goals they are looking to accomplish in their time with Adventure Awake. Their experience starts 3 weeks prior to embarking on the actual trip, and ends five weeks afterward.

While our clients do pick the country they’ll join us to discover, they otherwise are not given other logistical details until no earlier than 24 hours in advance. The trip itself, no matter the destination, is a simulated experience in operating in the unknown, as well as connecting in real time. Our coaches, as a rule, only lead trips in countries they’ve never been to, in order to set the example for what leading from the unknown can look like. We only hire coaches who have mastered this mindset.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Without a shadow of a doubt, my coach Alexandra Stockwell. I almost literally landed in her lap at a time of total chaos in my life. She immediately took on the role of spiritual doula for me. Then what has followed has been two years of nurturing presence, a sort of passing-on of essential tools for being a powerful woman in the world in this era, that have paired uniquely well with the fire in my belly to generate true and lasting change so desperately needed. This is a woman who has loved me No Matter What, who taught me to mother myself, and who has backed me in ways I never knew I needed until I got it.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My business’ success is 100% reliant on me actively bringing goodness into the world, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. What I do with Adventure Awake is give people access to presence, joy, empathy, and compassion. The world is really missing that right now. I feel so deeply purposeful knowing that my gift involves helping people reclaim those parts of themselves through accessing nature, service, cultural immersion, and community, and then having the space to debrief those experiences and integrate them into their daily lives.

I have felt a deep sense of responsibility to share these tools generously with anyone who wants them, since discovering them in myself. It’s almost as though Adventure Awake created itself effortlessly once I became clear that I had something to offer. It’s the vessel through which my calling gets to serve, and I can’t imagine dedicating my life to anything that didn’t have that sort of direct impact on the world. The ripple created through my clients is large: they finish programs with me and go out into the world as enormous influencers. They teach others how to design their lives according to their desire. They help people see the beauty available through photography. They are leading their organizations in large companies. They are loving their children and partners better. They are sharing what they have learned with the people in their lives. It’s both basic and simple, but also essential fuel for where we are headed as human beings.

Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

In 2014 during an existential crisis I was having in South America about life and all things in it, I read Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed (who also wrote Wild — one of my other favorite books). There was one line in that book that totally rocked my world for the months to come: “You don’t have to be broken for me.” The transmission packed in that single phrase was a total paradigm shift for me. Permission: I could be a big powerful woman and I could still receive love in all my bigness. It was a rocky transition in the coming years to really put that to action, to learn the necessary tools that made it true and possible for me, but those words are so deeply etched in my heart now that I will never, ever, forget them. You don’t have to be broken for me; we don’t have to diminish ourselves in order to belong.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Hire an assistant. I think I’m still learning this one because I definitely still don’t have an assistant. There are so many things I try to do myself that I should outsource to someone, so that my energy can be focused on other more creative pursuits. This is probably what’s next for me, so if you’re reading this and feel sure that you’d be a killer assistant for me, drop me an email!
  2. Founding a business is very similar to parenting. I think in the same way we sort of birth children expecting we get to control everything about how they grow up, we birth businesses with the same naive idea. As it turns out, there is a gestational period (where you get fat because literally everything about your life is your business in this stage), an infancy (where you have no idea what you’re doing, and you don’t sleep a lot), a toddler period (where you figure out how to business-proof your life), and then a complete relinquishing of control that is essential for any business to thrive, in the exact same way you have to let go of control in order for your child to become their own self. While I’m totally responsible for my business and the impact it has on the world, I have to foster it to become what I birthed it to become, which is way more out of my hands than I ever imagined.
  3. Don’t work from home. Having come out of a 12 year career where I was forced to wear stockings every day and commute to an office full of people, it was VERY compelling to work from my bed and stay in my pajamas all day long while having calls “business on top.” I cannot advise enough to not do this. Separate your personal life from your business life. Learn to be who you are in the world in a way that cherishes and nurtures you beyond your business, no matter how inspired you are about what you’re creating. Turn the computer off at a specific time every night no matter how much fun you’re having working on your website (I love my website and can easily spend hours in there tweaking little elements of it and staring at the images). Take at least one full day off a week where you don’t do anything related to your business. Block your calendar and be your own boss. If you must work from home, have a dedicated space for you to be in work mode that won’t be confused with leisure time in any way. Energetically, it has been huge to make this differentiation.
  4. Don’t eat in front of your computer. This pairs well with number 3. Boundaries are really important. If you’re in constant “do” mode you aren’t available to receive in ways that will keep your business growing. LET GO and chill the eff out, you guys. I’ve learned that the energetics of running a business matter. If I’m so scarce about time that I can’t give myself a lunch break, chances are that scarcity is showing up somewhere else and will impact my revenue, and also the type of clients I’m attracting.
  5. Find other people who are doing similar work in the world and connect with them. Being a founder and a solopreneur can feel a bit lonely. My work doesn’t fit perfectly in any precise industry because it’s a disruptive concept that bridges typical adventure travel with life-coaching. It’s easy to suffer from the illusion of separateness, unless I put myself out there and find ways to bridge what I do with what others do. I have 3–4 purely connection-oriented calls a week with people who do inspiring work in the world now, but I didn’t when I started. These conversations fuel me in important ways, but primarily to share space with someone else who struggles just like I do, who wants to change the world just like I do, and who probably has experienced something I can learn from, and vice versa. There is this tendency to feel competitive with people who do similar work as us, and to avoid connecting because of that, and the opposite is actually so powerful and nourishing. Come to think of it, this is also true for mothers of actual children.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

I would love to sit down and talk to Jason Silva for a few hours (or forever). His capacity to store profound information in his brain and fully understand and embody it is awe-inspiring to me. I love the ways he shares his brilliance with the world — this sort of “in case you’ve ever wondered about this, and even if you haven’t, here’s what you need to know about what’s out there” — it sparks so much for me. I feel like we could create some serious magic over lunch just jamming on what’s available in the here and now.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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