Mark Tercek is the CEO of The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest environmental organization. He is a former Managing Director and Partner at Goldman Sachs and is the author of the bestselling book Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • We all have an inner environmentalist inside of us.
  • His executive coach taught him some valuable lessons early on including how to listen better and how to not sweat out the details.
  • In the nonprofit world, he had to learn how to understand employees’ psychic income and use that as motivation to drive behavior.
  • Saving nature isn’t just the morally right thing to do, it’s also the smartest investment we can make.
  • Learn how he pivoted his 4,000 employee organization from pure land conservation toward embracing climate change as a top priority.
  • “Excellence is matching ambition with a good dose of reality.”
  • We all have a tendency to overestimate risks in our lives. The returns are greater than perceived and the risks less that perceived.  More of us should just go for it.

Nik Wallenda is an acrobat, daredevil, high wire artist and author.  He is known for his high-wire performances without a safety net.  He holds nine Guinness World Records for various acrobatic feats but is probably best known for walking a tightrope stretched over Niagara Falls.  He is the author of a book entitled: Balance: A Story of Faith, Family and Life on the Line.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • “Life is on the wire and everything else is just waiting.”
  • “Fear is a choice and it’s up to us to decide whether we’re going to allow that fear to enter our mind or not.”
  • “I’d rather live free doing what I love and what I have passion for than to live in a bubble.”
  • “I consider a negative thought like a weed growing in the garden. If you don’t pull the weed out, it will eventually take over the garden.”
  • “Whatever you’re facing in life, whether physical, mental or emotional, anything is possible.”
  • “Every negative experience has led me to where I am today.”
  • “Excellence is the way we treat the everyday person, whether we like them or not.”

Seth Goldman is the Co-founder of Honest Tea, a company he started in 1998 and has grown to over $200 million in revenue.  Today, Honest Tea is the nation’s top selling ready-to-drink organic bottled tea. The Honest Tea brands are available in over 130,000 outlets across the United States.  The company was acquired by Coca Cola in 2011.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Learn how he reinvented the entire bottled tea industry.
  • Being a relentless optimist helped get him through the tough times.
  • The company wasn’t just about a better tasting drink but about an expression of his personal values (health, the environment, working conditions in developing countries).
  • To successfully launch a startup, start with a very strong vision of the brand and then everything else will fall into place.
  • The best way to learn is simply by doing. Market research will only get you so far and doing too much of it could become a hindrance.
  • Excellence is having a vision and being able to execute on that vision without compromise.

Raj Raghunathan is a Professor of Marketing at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas.  He has also become an expert in the field of happiness.  He is the author of the book If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy.  He teaches an MBA course on happiness as well as a class on the online learning platform Coursera entitled: A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment.  Over 170,000 students have taken the course and it’s consistently ranked as one of the top ten courses (amongst thousands of others).

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?
  • Why do we devalue happiness even though we know how important it is?
  • How fear of failure often prevents us from trying things we know would make us happier.
  • How having wealth and status and success can make us happy, yet the pursuit of those things can make us miserable.
  • Once you stop comparing yourself to others and just focus on immersing yourself in your work (or activity), you’ll actually increase your likelihood of success.
  • How we can rewire ourselves to increase our level of happiness.

 

If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?  This counterintuitive philosophical question is the aptly named title of Raj’s quintessential book on happiness.  Generally speaking, smart and successful people are pretty good at setting goals and achieving them.  So one would think that if they are able to set goals around wealth and success, they could just as easily set goals around happiness.  But more often than not, they don’t.

So why exactly do we devalue happiness?  Why is it that despite knowing intuitively how important happiness is, we rarely prioritize it?  One reason is what Raj refers to as “Medium Maximization”.  That is, we focus on the means to the end (i.e. money, status) and not the end itself (happiness).  Since we think the money and success will naturally lead to happiness, we end up concentrating all our efforts on the money and success while forgetting about the very reason we were wanting it to begin with.  While the money and success may boost happiness levels initially, those feelings quickly subside in which case we need even greater levels of wealth and power to maintain those levels.  It’s a vicious cycle that repeats itself over and over.

We also have a difficult time articulating what happiness means to us.  And if we can’t visualize the goal in concrete terms, we don’t prioritize it.  So we end up prioritizing those things which are easier to measure (and easier to control) such as money and accomplishments.

Raj also points out that as humans, it’s in our DNA to seek superiority.  In fact, studies show that higher status does indeed enhance the quality of our lives and our happiness levels.  Yet, paradoxically, the actual pursuit of that higher status can backfire and cause us misery.  Tethering your happiness on being superior to others is ill advised.  Instead, if you focus solely on immersing yourself in your work (or hobby or activity), you’re much more likely to enjoy yourself and actually end up being more successful as well.  This “immersion” is what’s commonly known in positive psychology circles as “flow”.

So while we may have a better understanding intellectually why happiness is so elusive, how do we reverse course and become happier people?  Raj offers a few action items:

  • Do the things on a day to day basis that are meaningful and enjoyable. It doesn’t have to be work-related (although that’s ideal).  It can be tennis or guitar or gardening.  Anything that brings you joy.
  • Spend more time on personal relationships. Don’t take your friends and family for granted.  Your interactions with the people you care about in your life are as important as anything else.
  • Build habits that give an internal sense of wellness (i.e. exercise, meditation). Being physically and mentally healthy are essential ingredients to happiness.

As Raj reminds us of the cliché we all know too well, days and weeks will become months and years and next thing you know, you’ll be 70 and regretting your life.  So don’t wait another year or even another day.  Start today.  Take baby steps if you need to.  But take action.  Do something.  Anything.  After all, this is your life.  You deserve to be happy.

Andrew Skurka is an accomplished adventure athlete, known for his solo ultra-long-distance backpacking trips.  In total he has traveled by foot, ski and raft over 30,000 miles.  He has been named “Adventurer of the year” by Outside Magazine and National Geographic Adventure and “Person of the year” by Backpacker magazine.  And he’s also an ultra-runner with top 3 finishes in a couple of the big 100 mile races.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Learn about his Alaska/Yukon hike which covered over 4,700 miles in the frigid temps of the Alaskan backcountry without using any trails or guidebooks.
  • How he learned to follow his heart and pursue happiness despite all the pressure from family and friends.
  • “Fun” is when you’re pushing yourself to the limit, both physically and mentally.
  • It’s not just about the destination but the journey that matters.
  • The key to accomplishing something incredibly challenging is to simply start small and figure things out one step at a time.
  • How he feels so strongly about his expeditions that he’s willing to risk his life.
  • The steps he took to turn his passion into a full time career.

 

You’ve likely heard of the Appalachian Trail (commonly called the A.T.), a 2,200 mile trail stretching from Georgia to Maine.  It’s considered the granddaddy of long distance trails and quite an impressive feat if you can hike the entire thing.  Andrew knocked that one off just for fun one summer during college.  And he loved it.  It was at that moment that he knew he was hooked.

But always seeking a greater challenge to push the envelope, he later hiked a 7,800 mile Sea to Sea trail connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans across the northern United States.  That’s the equivalent of doing the entire A.T. three times over and then throwing on another 1,200 miles for good measure.  What’s even more amazing is that this incredible accomplishment wasn’t the culmination of a long hiking career, but rather, just the beginning of it.

Never wanting to stay too long in his comfort zone, he would continue to discover and conquer even bigger challenges. When marked trails became too boring, he bushwhacked his way in the untouched backcountry.  When the weather became too comfortable, he moved his expeditions to regions with sub-zero temperatures.  And when hiking wasn’t enough, he added skiing and rafting to the mix.

You might be wondering how in the world someone can balance these multi-month expeditions with a career.  The answer is simple.  These adventures are his career.  He’s figured out how to monetize his passion and feels anyone can do the same if you’re entrepreneurial and resourceful enough.

It was in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains over the summer during college when he was first exposed to people who were living life much more spontaneously and pursuing happiness above everything else.  Life was about climbing mountains and running rapids, not about pursuing careers and accumulating wealth.  That was when he had his first aha moment.  That’s when the tired cliché “life is short” came into sharp focus.

So instead of caving into the peer pressure and following the herd, he decided to follow his heart.  And he’s been following it ever since.  Have you ever felt such joy and pleasure about something that you’d be willing to risk your life for it?  Very few of us have.  Andrew Skurka has.

Strauss Zelnick is the CEO of Take Two Interactive, a publicly held video game publisher which makes Grand Theft Auto amongst many other hit titles.  He is also the Founder and Managing Partner at ZMC, a several hundred million dollar private equity fund focused on media and communications.  He has also served as CEO of BMG Entertainment, one of the world’s largest music publishers at the time, and President of 20th Century Fox, one of the biggest movie studios.

 

Some interesting insights in this episode:

  • How Strauss successfully climbed the corporate ladder to become the President of 20th Century Fox by the time he was just 32.
  • His approach to turning around one of the largest interactive entertainment companies in the world.
  • Knowing what you want out of life and setting goals to achieve them is a big part of success.
  • To achieve great things, it’s sometime necessary to take calculated risks.
  • Being smart and ambitious is nice but being in the right place at the right time also helps.
  • Learn to put your ego aside, surround yourself with super ambitious and talented people and then step out of their way.
  • Motivation should be driven by the joy and fulfillment it brings, not by money or ego or power.
  • Leadership is about being your authentic self. It’s best to present yourself all the time as you truly are, not as you wish to be seen.
  • A consistent and strenuous physical fitness routine can have positive spillover effects in your working life.

 

Strauss Zelnick has had a remarkable career.  His ambition and passion for entertainment can be traced all the way back to his childhood when he declared that he would one day run a movie studio.  He graduated with double MBA/JD degrees from Harvard and less than a decade later at the young age of 32, he achieved his childhood dream by becoming the President of 20th Century Fox.  It was this amazing achievement that rightfully earned him the moniker wunderkind.

When he acquired Take Two Interactive, the company was a mess.  They had just lost over $200 million and the CEO had been fired for fraud. Less than a decade later, he’s still running the company which he completely turned around while creating billions of dollars of value in the process.

It helps when you can figure out where your passion and talents intersect.  He loves the entertainment business and is most effective and happy as a turnaround executive.  He’s also self-aware, knowing where his true strengths and weaknesses lie.  He has learned that being your authentic self and not hiding behind a façade is one of the keys to being an effective leader.

Recently Strauss has become as passionate about fitness as he is about buying and turning around companies.  He founded a daily fitness meetup group called The Program where he does rigorous high-intensity interval training alongside people less than half his age including professional athletes.  He not only appreciates the way it makes him look and feel but also the nice byproduct of enhanced productivity and happiness in the workplace.

Strauss is confident in his abilities but humble in his accomplishments.  He doesn’t downplay the fact that ambition, goal setting and risk taking are among the key ingredients to success but also acknowledges that serendipity has a vital role to play as well.  If you congratulate him on all his success, he’ll quickly point out how there are others a lot more successful.   I guess it’s a testament to how life is relative.

While early on his career moves might have been on autopilot, now in his late 50’s, he has become more reflective as a leader, as an individual.  He’s now at a point in his life where he knows what’s truly important to him.  And ultimately that’s about discovering happiness.  And from my brief hour-long conversation with him, I can see that he’s definitely found it.

 

Many moons ago I spent the summer working in Porto, Portugal.  At the time, the country was far less developed than the rest of Western Europe.  Portugal was lightyears behind the economies and hustle and…