How Entrepreneurs Make Money and Lead Happy Lives

Q&A with Gregg Vanourek, coauthor of "Life Entrepreneurs."

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Greg Vanourek.
Greg Vanourek.

Entrepreneurship is often seen not just as an approach to business but as a way of life. In the process of writing Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives, Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek interviewed 55 successful entrepreneurs from a variety of industries, both for-profit and nonprofit.

U.S. News spoke with Vanourek, who has run a consulting firm and worked in the education sector, about how there's competitive—and personal—advantage to be gained from pursuing entrepreneurship as a way of life. Excerpts:

In your book, you define entrepreneurship as something more than just starting your own business.

I think a lot of people confuse owning a small business with entrepreneurship. They are closely related but not exactly the same thing. Most definitions of entrepreneurship include this notion of innovation. It's possible for a small-business owner to take the existing model and do the same thing. Innovation and entrepreneurship really go hand in hand. You can't be entrepreneurial without being innovative. We define the entrepreneurial way as opportunity recognition, innovation, and action. A lifelong entrepreneur is creating a life of significance through opportunity recognition, innovation, and action.

You don't have to be a business entrepreneur or social entrepreneur to be a life entrepreneur. You can live your life in an entrepreneurial way and work for corporate America, or be a small-business owner who we wouldn't think of as entrepreneurial in the pure sense.

How can someone be a "life entrepreneur"?

Part of that is just being innovative and recognizing opportunities in your whole life. There's a guy we interviewed named Max Israel. One of the things he builds into his professional life is his own "secret office." He builds [into his schedule] 25 work days out of the year to go out into the woods and go canoeing and adventure biking, that sort of thing. He has fun, but he also has his best ideas there. So he's building his quality of life into his annual professional calendar in a way that's restoring and renewing. Do people really want to incorporate entrepreneurship into their daily life? Many people prefer to keep work separate from the rest of their lives.

What we're not talking about is having your work life so pervasive that it consumes your whole life. We believe your professional life should be challenging and exciting, a dynamic part of your whole life, but it's only a part. The key is to integrate your personal and professional life. What we mean is being the same person in your personal life that you are at work. We [write in the book] about having a strong personal foundation and core identity—knowing what your values are, what your strengths and passions are, and bringing those to bear in your work, and your personal life, so that you're the same person across all of those different roles. A lot of people get caught in the trap that "I'm the CEO, or I'm the marketing professional, or I'm the HR person, and I bring this persona to work, but I leave it behind when I go home." They don't bring their sense of humor or values or personal characteristics to their work, and there's a real danger there.

What's the danger?

You become this self-important executive, and you feel that your whole identity is wrapped up in the success of the initiative. A lot of people end up cutting corners because their identity is so wrapped up in the bottom-line numbers. What's an example of someone integrating their work and personal life?

One of the best examples is Gary Erickson, the founder of Clif Bar. When he started Clif Bar, he was this young kid who was interested in three things: One was jazz, two was adventure sports, and three was organic, healthy food. He had the vision to start a company to make organic, healthy energy bars. He integrated those passions into his approach and the way the company is run. The company has a very exciting, dynamic culture—they have weekly jam sessions in a company theater to bring that jazz aspect forward. They have community service programs and company wellness programs where people get paid time off to use the company's personal trainers to exercise. They give back some of their profits to the community. He's created this company that reflects who he really is. He allows other people who share those values to have a fun, interesting job where they can also make a contribution.

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