Book Review: Life Entrepreneur by Christopher Bergen & Gregg Vanourek

life-entrepreneurThere are books you read and you power through them while others you slug through. This is one of those I powered through. What attracted me to this book was the ‘entrepreneur’ in the title, and to be honest I didn’t expect much from it. But once I started reading it,  I couldn’t drop the book. This is not your typical entrepreneurial book as it’s not so much about ‘how to create a business’ or ‘the secret of startups’. Rather it is about seeing entrepreneurship as a way of thinking, an attitude, a mindset. In other words it is more about entrepreneurial leadership.

The authors use stories from interviews with 55 entrepreneurs and other thought leaders to discuss a view of entrepreneurship that is holistic. One that doesn’t just look at the business aspect, but also the social, relational and emotional aspect of a person’s life. Each of the short stories used are quite inspiring, but at the same time thought provoking and give a more balanced perspective on the entrepreneur, a word which has attained celebrity status in our days.

The book is divided into 3 parts, each consisting of 3 chapters, making it 9 chapters altogether. While the book has just 185 pages of reading content (you can read it in 3 days), it has 3 appendices. Following is a brief overview of each chapter.

Part One: Surviving the Landscape

  • Chapter One – Understanding Life Entrepreneurship: this chapter introduces us to what a life entrepreneur is and here is one of the definitions used for the term: one who creates a life of significance through opportunity, recognition, innovation and action. Rather than being driven by the opportunity to create an innovative enterprise, a life entrepreneur is driven by the chance to create a life of significance. In defining the term, the stories of Stacey Boyd, David Gray and Max Israel are used. An important part of this chapter are the four patterns of life entrepreneurship (seekers, passengers, captains and drifters) which explain four common patterns that most of us fall into and an introduction to the path of the entrepreneur which is really what this book is about covered in chapters 3 to 9 in great detail.
  • Chapter Two – Life Entrepreneurs in Action: this is a short chapter which looks at a couple of stories. Cory Booker who became the Mayor of Newark after a lot of struggle, Gary Erikson who almost gave up on the company he created and Linda Mason who launched Bright Horizons Family Solutions. What is unique to all these stories is that they show people who were willing to take chances and push beyond comfortable boundaries.
  • Chapter Three – Discovering Core Identity: here the authors write about our core identify which is composed of external and internal elements. External elements are, our history, circumstances and relationships, while internal elements are needs, strengths and passions. At the intersection of internal and external elements is where our core identity lies. It is also where we find our values and ultimately purpose. Gergen and Vanourek believe discovering our core identify is the first step on the path of life entrepreneurship.

Part Two: Preparing For The Journey

  • Chapter Four – Awakening To Opportunity: this is one of my favourite chapters in the book and I like the chapter’s opening statement: once we have a clearer sense of who we are and what we need and value, we become more awake to opportunities that may arise that resonate with what we want to do with our lives. A good illustration of this concept is the story of Warren Brown who trained as a lawyer and worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A job he struggled to be passionate about. He later left to start Cake Love Bakery, a venture that connects to his lifelong passion. Some key topics are discussed which include waking up to possibility, beginners mind which is common in children through their attitude of pure exploration and is a crucial mindset for discovering opportunities, and seeing our lives as art.
  • Chapter Five – Envisioning The Future: the focus of this chapter is us creating a vision for our lives and advice on how to do it. According to the authors, for life entrepreneurs, translating our core identity into a vision for our life points us in the direction that we aim to go in the future. They advice that our life’s vision should be vivid in it’s description, unbounded by the status quo, aligned with our core identity, distant enough that we have to work towards it, clear enough that we can measure our progress against it and broad enough to encompass all the major aspects of our lives. A vision should cover personal, professional and relational parts of our lives.
  • Chapter Six – Developing Goals And Strategies: while it’s great to have a vision and strategy we need a way to get there. In this chapter the subject of setting goals which are aligned to our future and purpose is discussed. The authors write that our goals should be clear and measurable and challenging but achievable. They also outline some reasons why our goal setting attempts may not work. These reasons include, setting wrong goals, having too many goals, lowering goal standards if we fail to achieve them, not letting our goals see the light of day and letting our goals master us. The authors also give some advice on how to achieve set goals. They suggest we master the context which is to understand what we are up against, test our assumptions, craft experiments, remain focused and flexible, deal with risk and identify the required resources.

Part Three – Blazing A Trail

  • Chapter Seven -Building Healthy Support Systems: an important aspect of the entrepreneurial path is having a good support system. As much as we love to idolise the lone entrepreneur, no true life entrepreneur succeeds alone. In fact it is necessary for entrepreneurs to have a support system. And those support systems according to the authors can come from family and friends, life partners, mentors, professional partnerships and extended support networks. There is a section worth reading on how to build a strong support network.
  • Chapter Eight – Taking Action and Making A Difference: three items appear on the first page of this chapter which serve to emphasize  the  message the authors are trying to get across. First is this equation: entrepreneur = the acting person. The second item is a statement: ultimately, the defining moment for a life entrepreneur is when she puts away her lingering doubts, rolls up her sleeves, and goes for it. The third item is a quote attributed to John McCain: courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity for action despite our fears. This chapter is about taking action when opportunity comes knocking.
  • Chapter Nine – Embracing Renewal and Reinvention: this is the final chapter in the book and it reminds us that no matter how driven or ambitious we are, there is a time for renewal. A time when we need to slow down or even stop for replenishing to avoid overload and possible burnout. An important aspect of this chapter is the section on cycles of renewal which explains stages people go through during their renewal process. These stages are: awakening, reflection, planning and action. Sometimes as the authors say, renewal is not enough and we may need reinvention instead. With some examples the authors explain this process.

Personal learning

For me this was a very inspiring book and the stories I found to be really encouraging. A goal I have recently set for myself is to take away one lesson from every book I go through that I can document and apply when necessary. It was difficult to chose a single lesson from this book as there were so many, but I decided to settle on a more practical lesson from chapter six, Developing goals and strategies. Three aspects of goals were discussed in the chapter which were:

  1. Setting goals: goals are the objectives we aim to achieve and well designed goals help us to be more focused, accountable and because of this achieve more. Effective goals have three key qualities, they are purposeful and prioritized, clear and measurable and challenging but achievable.
  2. Common stumbling blocks: the second aspect discussed are stumbling blocks that may stop people from achieving their goals. I listed a number of these barriers in my brief review of the chapter above.
  3. Developing a strategic plan: this is about devising a plan to achieve the goals we have set. I also listed the steps involved in devising such a plan in my review of the chapter above.

By focusing on this single lesson I hope to be able to write better goals and achieve them.

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