Pursuing Passions and Chasing Dreams

In 1995, Angie Hicks was a twenty-two year old recent college graduate living and working in Columbus, Ohio. Her boss asked her to find a reliable construction contractor for work he needed done on his house. She couldn’t find any good resources, so she decided to start a business that published a printed directory of contractors and other home repair vendors.

She began going door-to-door selling subscriptions to her directory to her neighbors. She sold all day, and answered phone calls in a 200 square foot office all evening. Today, Angie’s List is a public company and the largest home vendor referral network in the world.

50 years ago, Yvon Chouinard was a young surfer and mountain climber living with his family in southern California. Climbing mountains was not a popular activity at that time – only a few hundred mountain climbers lived in the United States. And so there were few companies, most of them from Europe, manufacturing and selling mountain climbing equipment. Dissatisfied with their quality and selection, Chouinard taught himself blacksmithing and began making pitons and carabiners that he sold to other mountain climbers out of an old chicken coop on his family’s property.

His company, Patagonia, started from these humble beginnings, and is now one of the largest, most successful and respected outdoor outfitters in the world.

In 1984, Jim Koch was a young, successful and unhappy consultant at prestigious Boston Consulting Group. His friends and family thought he was crazy when he told them he was going to quit his job and start brewing beer. At the time, the three domestic mega-brewers – Anheuser Busch, Miller and Coors – dominated the market. Undeterred, Koch dusted off an old family lager recipe, and started brewing beer on his kitchen stovetop.

None of Boston’s distributors would carry his beer, so he began visiting every bar he could in Boston with a six-pack of his beer in his briefcase. Slowly but surely he generated sales. Boston Beer Company, maker of Sam Adams Boston Lager, now produces 1% of all beer in America and is the dominant brand in the craft-beer market.

I could go on and on. Almost every successful business is built this way. They start small, make incremental improvements, and grow. Over time, a series of small wins become big wins. Most are led by passionate entrepreneurs motivated primarily by desires other than money. Financial success is a byproduct, not a catalyst.

The fact is, for most entrepreneurship is not a path to riches. The examples of Hicks, Chouinard and Koch are outliers. So if starting a business is not likely to make someone rich, what’s the point?

To Koch, the beauty of entrepreneurship is its potential to enhance happiness.

According to Koch, “A lot of people, particularly in business, they think, ‘Well, I’m only successful if I start a business and it makes me really rich.’ And the reality is, most people – that’s not going to happen. It happens to one in a few thousand people. But, if you reframe that and say, ‘What if I start a business that’s going to make me really happy.’ That’s success.”

Koch continued, “I tell everyone, getting rich is life’s biggest booby trap. It comes down to what would you rather be, happy or rich? I say do what’s gonna make you happy.”

Can a Business Make You Happy?

Heather and I – both together and individually – have started several businesses. While all have been “successful” (defined as generating sufficient profits to allow us to live comfortably), none have made us particularly happy.

I’ll admit, I’m skeptical when billionaires like Jim Koch tell people to start businesses that make them happy. Happy doesn’t pay the bills. But at the same time, I hold out hope that it’s possible to achieve both financial security and happiness in an entrepreneurial venture.

Hope, however, is a dangerous word. We can hope all we want, but that doesn’t mean something is going to happen. Action is required. Time is finite, and the window to pursue dreams gets smaller every day. {tweet that}

With this in mind, in 2017 Heather and I are embarking on a new adventure. We’re going to be launching a new business, through Life and Whim, that, for the first time, will be a reflection of what we love, and not simply what we think is a good idea. We had no inkling that this would be our path 11 months ago when we launched Life and Whim, but that’s the beauty of it – we began this platform with no intentions other than to explore and document our passions in a place we love.

And it is through that experience – sharing content, planning events, and meeting amazing people in our community – that the seed of an idea for our future plans formed. What lies ahead is an extension of Life and Whim which will build upon the foundation that has been laid. Despite upcoming changes, the core of what we do and why we do it – to encourage and empower people to live bold, courageous and adventurous lives – will always remain the same.

We can’t wait to reveal our vision and venture to you. We’re neck deep in the process of planning a launch set for late spring 2017. At times it feels rushed and chaotic, and we’re definitely stepping out of our comfort zones, but history has taught us that when we stretch is when we do our best work. So there’s no point in waiting.

The best time to start a new business in pursuit of a dream was yesterday. The next best time is today. We’re starting up.

An Exciting Year Ahead 

Henry David Thoreau spent two years at Walden Pond in a simple cabin. He explained that, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

We’ve written before about our motivation to move our family to Traverse City. A big part of that motivation was to use the move as a catalyst to pursue new entrepreneurial ventures. Given that we work from home, we’ve always blurred the lines between business and life to some extent. Like Thoreau, we didn’t want life to pass us by and discover that we had not lived, at least in terms of the work we do.

We’re excited to share our journey with you. Here’s what you can expect over the next several months:

  • First, we’re going offline in a couple of weeks for a short break. We will publish a post next week, but then won’t post again until the week of January 9, 2017. The holidays are a time for family and friends, and we intend to indulge in festive fun and spend as little time as possible behind computers. We wish you all a very happy holiday season!
  • We’ll also be working hard offline during this period to get our new venture going. One of the most exciting aspects of our new business is the prospect of sharing our startup story with our readers. We plan on being as open and transparent as possible about our process and progress over the next several months. That means that, along with our normal content, we’ll be documenting our journey in blog and social media posts in order to give you a look behind the curtain.
  • And we’ll be asking for your help along the way. Since day one we’ve tried to make Life and Whim a collaborative, community-oriented brand. Throughout our upcoming startup phase, we’ll be soliciting feedback from our readers that will help us build something that reflects not just our vision, but yours as well.

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard once said, “To do good, you actually have to do something.”

Well, for the first time in our lives we’re ready to do something professionally that we really love. Stay tuned. This is going to be fun.

LifeJay Harrington