“A master is someone who’s established a process or a way of operating and its connected to some level of deeper meaning in their life and they want to put something out there in the world.”
– Amena Lee Schlaikjer
As entrepreneurs, we often like to believe that our ideas, and of them, are the ideas. In the space that I operate in, that typically means that our ideas are ones that have the potential to change the world. To alleviate poverty, to end climate change, etc.
Through this interview though, my close friend Amena brings a bit of levity to this belief. She is someone who has some of the best ideas, and there are two that we cooked up early on that are now HUGE businesses… for other people. Yeah, we had the ideas, but as you will see in this interview, ideas can often delude individuals into thinking they are entrepreneurs.
When in fact they aren’t. And that’s ok.
It is a wide ranging interview that is really about personal growth, self-awareness, and creating personal processes and rituals.
I hope you enjoy the interview, and if you do, please remember to like, share, and comments!
HER JOURNEY IS ONE OF A BALANCING A CONSTANT FLOW OF IDEAS, SELF-AWARENESS, AND KNOWING THAT NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR
About The Entrepreneurs For Good Series
Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome. It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organziations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.
Amena is a wellness innovator, health coach and facilitator of ideas that create change, and she is passionate about how people thrive and where health and creativity come into play in that process.
Amena grew up as a world traveler from my diplomatic childhood, enjoying the multitude of diverse perspectives life has to offer. Amena started my career by combining my Asian Studies from Columbia University and Marketing from F.I.T. to help entrepreneurs build new businesses in New York and eventually Shanghai – learning the ins and outs of attracting new markets and thinking outside the box for solutions.
Following a desire to facilitate ideas that inspire others towards healthier choices in a more sustainable world, Amena started her own socially-minded enterprise called The Wellness Works; where she co-create with brands using innovation methodology and find ways to support the community.
Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.
FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
My name is Amena Lee Schlaijker and I have a little initiative called the Wellness Works. My mission is to basically come up with creative ideas with other partners in order to empower people to take control of their well being.
So it’s been now, the era of connecting dots. I think you are only as good as the dots you can connect, otherwise your life is just complete chaos.
So I think since like college burnout and like trying to learn the tools early on and how to manage my own personal wellbeing, I realize that people are really lacking these tools. I had to got through like ya know 20 years of a career in the lifestyle industry, a lot cosmetics and fashion, and that was very much the thing, the what. I was attracted to the packaging, the marketing industry, how to get really funky cool products out there and then I realized it was extremely one dimensional.
As I got deeper, and in search of a process which I think a lot of us look for later on in our career, I came across innovation.
I was asking what makes people tick? Why do people want to buy things, hat look really cool and pretty? And why would they want to buy something that’s, that’s harmful to them and their health?
Then I think it was the fusion of those things where I wanted to just innovate things that were healthy for people.
WHY DID YOU WANT TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR?
Since the age of 16, I surrounded myself with entrepreneurs, like you, and was very inspired by them.
I went to night school at one point so I could work all day and a full-time job, and I always picked entrepreneurs because I just found them to be fascinating risk takers who were really adaptable people. Something I understood as I had grown up really uprooted moving every 2 years in my life. So yeah, I was just attracted to these go-getters and people who are ahead of the curve a trying things in different countries, and so I just kind of followed them around like a puppy dog.
So I was around these entrepreneurs and I was like well I gotta be like them. I gotta be like them when I wasn’t recognizing that there was a place for what I was doing unconsciously.
NOT AN ENTREPRENEUR. ENTREPRENEURIAL
So, I wanted to qualify something and maybe this is a bounce because I don’t consider myself a pure entrepreneur.
I think there are grades of entrepreneurship, and while I think I’m very entrepreneurial, but I don’t own a company, a team or throwing a, a produce or service necessarily out into the world.
I work with clients as in independent and someone who gathers ad hoc people on a project as I figure out what their problem is and then I become their best supporter of that problem and I want to solve it with them.
I have this awesome toolkit of how of how to be adaptive and how to come up with ideas that you didn’t think you had and how to sense in areas that you forgot how to sense them so we can envision something really new for your company. I’ve gotten really realistic about that’s my sweet spot, at least for now. And um, and I think that’s an entrepreneurial.
IT’S OK TO BE #2 OR #3
Yeah, and I, ya know, I got comfortable with this when I went to a school of creative leadership called THNK (in Amsterdam). They have schools around the world that present themselves as a school of entrepreneurship, and they were punishing everybody to come up with their amazing world saving idea, and and it dawned on me like, actually, most entrepreneurs are delusional.
I think, I think when you can get really honest with yourself and understand what your scale and your scope is, that’s when you can start seeing real shifts happen with yourself and not set yourself up for failure or create a stretch that’s unrealistic only because it seems fashionable. … and you know very well as I do that we’re in a phase of entrepreneurship being fashionable.
Everybody and their grandmother is trying to be an entrepreneur, and I think that’s great. It’s a skill set that everyone should have, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be an entrepreneur. They can be in a corporation and be entrepreneurial, or they could be an innovator, startup catalyst of that kind or they could be someone who works for an entrepreneur and understand the culture of how to get things off the ground and add value.
REALIZING BEING #2 WAS OK.
I think it was, I think it was a maturation of self and that I was just accepting that, this is a really good place to be. I don’t want to cut myself off from being an entrepreneur in the future.
That a may very well happen and I welcome it and embrace it, but I think I settled into like this is a horizon now that I need to pay attention to and be present to and be proud of and do really, really good work here. Instead of show up and do my consulting projects and all these amazing ideas in my computer you know?
There was a naivety about that and I know now that the way I came up with those ideas is what I had to offer.
MASTERS AND DABBLERS
So there’s a big difference in working with somebody who is dabbling.
I don’t know if they’re inexperienced or if they came into a ton of money, and they’re going to try something, or they’re new to an industry and think its trendy and it’s going to be a hot opportunity, but a master is someone who’s established a process or a way of operating and its connected to some level of deeper meaning in their life and they want to put something out there in the world.
There is so much clarity, in masters. They have a set of filters, a set of pillars and values that a dabbler couldn’t express s they’re just following whatever is hot, you know?
So I think there is a difference between like people who do a lot of stuff, like you and I. I think we are innovators, and I think we help other people also come up with ideas and be entrepreneurs.
We’re entrepreneurial. You’re much more of an entrepreneur than I am. But we get masterful at our process. You get so good at it, you can get in front of your class and teach it I a heartbeat. Right? Because it’s the way you attack the world.
I think dabblers don’t have that.
They just kind of drop whatever and move on to the next thing, and that distraction is the biggest inhibitor to success.
THE ART OF DABBLING
Yeah, ok, so I think there’s a necessity in dabbling in order to achieve levels of mastery because people who don’t experiment enough to land, to hone in on. Like this is the piece I want to start focusing on, and to understand if it gives (me) energy or does it zap (my) energy?
If they are honest about that, then they have kind of the cornerstone to which they can start building their mastery, right? Because you have to dabble in order to get there.
Then, I think once you get to this level of mastery, which I think you have arrived at, it is around the process. You’re a master at like how do I get the startup pieces, the chess pieces in play so that I can step back from the board and approach another board with these exact same process.
So again, I think maybe master dabbler is a great way to describe that because you have honed that skill.
WHEN SHOULD YOU STOP DABBLING?
This is where the lessons of deep practice come into play. Where you can start calibrating and you’re not like sort of pendulum swinging between different modes of operating, ideas, jobs, partners or whatever it might be.
So I learned this in the practice of iterating through the innovation process, which entrepreneurs do naturally because at some point you have to create enough constraints. While I spend 80% of my project setting up constraints in order to be creative, even though most people think that’s blue sky creativity blueish and stuff.
For me your idea is only as good as your constraints you set up and the more you do that, the more you go ok, exactly what is the challenge question? What am I articulating? Where the values we’re working by? What are the filters that I’m operating in? How am I scoping this? What are the high and lows of this project?
There are so many tools that I use to get like razor sharp, polishing down the challenge.
Then boom…something opens up to how you can create and then you have to decide how many times do I want to iterate this? Or how many ideas is enough? Because I could go forever.
Especially if you are with a creative being, you could just go non-stop. You just get better at making the call.
I think this comes into every field of any master of domain will do this.. in athletics, in entertainment, in politics, in business.
You get to a point where you know when to stop.
SUPPORT NETWORKS AND CONFIDENCE
If you look back on human history, we’ve had support systems that no longer exist in uprooted urban transient expat cities in particular.
That’s really the bulk of your audience, but in any sort metropolitan city where you don’t have elders anymore. We don’t have channels of wisdom and knowledge that come to us in a very practical sense.
We’re in highly competitive environments, so we don’t have sober neutral advice from others. There is always something. There is always a lens that people are talking to you with.
We don’t have religious people, gurus, priests, like this ilk of support that, that again give us kind of like the pillars of thinking even or kind of hone our value systems.
So without this some sort of, it’s not like a, it’s like an ethical support system and we’ve talked about sustainability, actually, frankly is just a like a new set of ethics, right? It’s not this new market or new horizon, it’s just the way should be operating. Uh, when you don’t have those things instilled as a value set, I think people can feel really lost and I think all of us as entrepreneurs feel extremely lost at times.
I also think that’s the reason why this whole coaching industry has taken off even though it has a lot of holes in it, but I think we are really lacking coaching, mentors, advisors, neutral opinions, hard constructive feedback as to why you are not doing things right.
AVOIDING (SURVIVING) BURNOUTS
So I am a long sufferer of burnout, depression in my early 20s and I think I had 3 bad burnouts in life where like, ya know at one point I didn’t sleep for 10 days straight.
I mean people die from stuff like that.
It was intense and just incredible lows, and I think this work that I am doing is just trying to figure out what are the tools we can hone to pull ourselves out of that… or catch ourselves before we fall into it.
That whole process is just kind of a self-discovery process. It’s just learning who you are and what makes you tick, and I just don’t think a lot of people have the patience, the time carved out, the focus to go there.
So I really believe entrepreneurs need to have a dedicated practice of some kind. Somehow meditative or mindful, even though they don’t have to do formal meditation. But it needs to be a checking back in so that you’re able to calibrate before you totally burnout or pass out
If you have that self-awareness, and it’s all about a practice of self-awareness to just check back in on a daily basis (because that is how frequent it needs to be for you to get good at this), then you won’t fall to such lows.
So much of it is energetic. It’s in the body. We get so used to relying on the cerebral body because we let the rest of our body be transportation systems for this is it, this who I am? If we don’t tap into a deeper intelligence and I think every person let alone entrepreneur, needs that as a practice.
You also need support so you need camaraderie so you feel like you’re not alone in that situation.
I think isolation is probably the worst aspect of anybody who deals with depression or deals with hard times. Making sure that you have great friendships and cultivating great friendships that aren’t just acquaintances that show up to your parties or your events, but people who you can call on and they can hear it in your voice that something is going on.
I think it’s those two.
Have a practice and have a support system and as you have those two modes of feedback, your internal and external, you start developing what the meaning is that you want to make in this world.
FINDING SHELTER IN THE STORM
It’s just the simple things in life. It’s so simple.
I’m sure it’s like waking up and seeing your kid..or I know very well now the things that make me happy. Whether it’s as simple like my favorite desert or my favorite thing to do on a Sunday. Or a book that I want to reread and just this practice of constantly getting present.
Ya know, a lot of people think this idea of mindfulness practices or meditation is about getting calm or being existential in some way, but actually it’s honing your ability to focus and be self aware so that you can start from zero again and you can look at the world like a kid.
If I could talk to my 20 yo self, I’d say, honey, what’s the practice you want to try? Right? that really connects your mind and body and allows you to kind of calibrate your self-awareness. What’s the meaning you’re searching for and who are you going to talk to, to develop that meaning? And then who’s out there that actually has a great process?
Like the way they approach stuff just seems super ninja like and anytime they attach anything, they use the same process because there is a lot of wisdom behind that.
CAN’T HACK SELF-AWARENESS
I don’t believe in hacking. I don’t think hacking works. I don’t think it does.
I think it works in sort of many steps when you’re solving tangible problems in a business because you can kind of jump ahead, but I also think that it doesn’t work in the long game and it absolutely doesn’t work when it comes to self-awareness practices or getting to know yourself.
Because again, that just takes experience and maturity and time.
But I think if there were a way to sort of hack it in a sense, it is just understanding that failure is part of the process and all entrepreneurs say this and theorize this but, you almost need to practice it.
So I have this self-practice of 80/20. I can only control 20% of my life, and I look at it like if you were to look on it at in terms of time management and draw yourself a wheel and you know you’re going to try to carve out 6-8 hours for sleep.
How would you carve up, that’s maybe a good 30-40% of your day, how would you carve up another 30% of your day on stuff you are just like hardline focused on…you’re always going to show up to that on a daily basis whether it’s creation or connection or something very specific in work.
The rest of it you just let fall away.
You don’t know who you are going to meet, know what crisis is going to come into your board, you don’t know what economic down turn that’s going to throw you off your game.
You just need to have kind of control on that 20% and be okay with failure as an option and practice it.
Actually go, I’m going to do this project for the purpose of failing and see if something else comes out of it. If I can detach enough from my ego to go there is something else in this that’s not this thing that I’m going to learn from, that is a great exercise to take on.
Do these mini projects for myself. Not start-up companies, but mini initiatives where you learn little bits and you get feedback and I think if you get good at throwing things out there and reading the feedback.
Then you start to get elegant as an entrepreneur, as leader, as a parent, whatever it might be.
CHINA AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP
I think the big things that pop up for me and keep me here is one is the dynamism.
So, things keep reinventing themselves and I’m constantly surprised. There is never a point that I get to where I am an expert in this area, I know better than someone else so it challenges me in its dynamism.
Another one is you’re constantly surrounded by smart people so it’s a place that attracts interesting talent, even if they are coming in and going back about. You have access to these people to have great conversations.
Another one is it’s pretty easy to set up a business in a sense and to experiment that business. So you can get your hands on pretty inexpensive resources to trial stuff quickly. Now it might take a lot longer to get to success here, but the experimentation phase is really easy. And I love, like there are a lot of things about China that drive me crazy, but I love the optimism and sort of the beautiful nativity sometimes of Chinese people.
They’re just always ready for something new, something positive, something interesting, and I think in a lot of sophisticated markets you deal with cynicism. You deal with bogged down thinking or a lot of competitive attitudes and sarcasm.
Where as here, it’s like..yeah, cool, let’s do it!!!
And you’re like right on, lets go for this and it’s not easy.
It’s definitely not an easy place and it’s getting harder as it gets saturated with everyone and their grandmother and every wealthy parent telling their child to go be an entrepreneur, but I think for those who are dedicated to it, it gives them the playing ground to sort of witness and be aware of who is really good at the game and who’s work listening to and then being really careful with your time and not wasting it with random people and random shit.
Shit full circle!
For more interviews from the “Entrepreneurs for Good” series, check out the playlist here.
Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.