Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Are You a Life Entrepreneur?

I love this new book: Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives. It’s written by Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek. Many of us in the education world know Chris for his vision and leadership in founding Smarthinking.com, the innovative online tutoring company.

In short, Life Entrepreneurs advances the idea that there is a new breed of entrepreneurs who buck the conventional wisdom of entrepreneurship. They are not enamored with killing themselves and sacrificing family time in the process of starting new ventures. Indeed, they are applying traditional entrepreneurial skills toward the end of creating a more balanced, integrated, and personally fulfilling life. The venture fits the life more so than the life fits the venture. Indeed, its ideal when they are a synergistic blend—i.e., you are doing your life’s work in a way that lets you live a great life.

Central to their premise is that often you can’t find this beautiful balance by working for someone else. You have to start your own thing. Courage, passion, and purpose are all a necessity here—as are mindfulness, effort, and insight. However daunting it may seem to leave the embrace of working for someone else, Gergen and Vanourek profile people from all walks of life who have taken this fulfilling plunge. Its inspiring stuff, made more so by the sense of personal exploration that is at this movement’s root.

The reactionary education question that jumps out for me after reading this book is whether or not students at all levels of education are actually learning the skills necessary to even test these waters, much less jump in. Because of the volatility in the job market, we now talk about preparing students for careers and not jobs. However progressive these statements sound, we have to ask ourselves, do our schools and colleges prepare our students more to fit in or find a fit? Are we consciously inspiring the creativity and introspection necessary to become authentic life entrepreneurs?

The good news is that America has one of the best and broadest education systems accessible to second-act students—those returning to pursue a life’s dream. So, even if you don’t get what you need on your first swirl through our education system, there is still hope. From community colleges to alternative-delivery-model universities to corporate training providers, we have one of the best on-demand learning systems in the world. You just have to be an entrepreneurial student and use it.

And so the final question: Are you a life entrepreneur?

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