Why ‘Sky Diving’ Is The Best Career Advice I’ve Ever Received
Ever since I was a kid I’ve been interested in food. As a youngster I used to shadow my mum in the kitchen when she made the evening meal. By age 10 I’d taken over responsibility for cooking dinner at least a couple of times a week. I enjoyed cooking so much that one day I told mum I was going to become a chef. “A chef?” she said, “you know you’ll have to get up at 4am every day to go to work, right?”. ‘Screw that’ I thought to myself — I was going to need to find a job that let me sleep in. Back then I wasn’t much of a morning person.
As much as I love my mum, this was probably the worst career advice I’ve ever received.
I went on to study Engineering and ultimately work in Finance, but food and cooking is really the only thing that I’ve maintained an interest in for my entire life. I’ve travelled a lot over the years, and have sought out opportunities to learn from local chefs in places like Turkey, Thailand, Peru, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Italy and many others. While living in Toronto I studied a Certificate of Culinary Arts at George Brown College.
It was a couple of years ago now that I was heading up North on a camping trip with a friend. I was in the process of finding a new job in the finance industry at the time, but my friend — who happens to be an executive coach— could sense my lack of enthusiasm. A simple question soon prompted me to evaluate every career decision I’d ever made, leave a 9 year career in banking, and go back to school.
The question she asked was this: “Why?”. It was probably the best career advice I’ve ever received.
I’ve lost track now of where all the subsequent questions came from, but I spent the next 3–4 months thinking about things like “what is the purpose of my life?”, “what do I want to achieve in life?”, “what do I want to tell my kids and grandkids I did before they were born?” and my favorite: “when I do tell them what I’ve done with my life, will they be proud of me?”. I quickly realized several things: 1) these questions were all really important to me, 2) I didn’t have good answers to them, 3) I needed to find good answers, and 4) I was unlikely to find good answers if I stayed within the industry I was.
Initially the experience of leaping off my grassy knoll was terrifying. I went from having a comfortable six-figure salary and corporate job to not having a clue about what would happen next. How was I going to pay the rent? When will I find a job? Do I even want a job? Can I still afford to be in New York? I was sick with anxiety. At least for a while. After a couple of months of free fall my thoughts became much clearer. I was figuring things out. The process of free-falling actually became quite fun. As things became clearer and clearer my parachute began to open — and I have to say, that was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my entire life.
I realized I’d grown up in an environment where success was measured by the size of the organization you worked for, and the level of seniority you achieved. On these metrics most of my close friends are incredibly successful. But when I stopped to ask myself ‘Why?’ I realized that I simply don’t care about this definition of success. I supplemented my Engineering degree with Commerce (Business) during my undergrad, but looking back it now strikes me as odd that everything they taught us was about how to fit into, and succeed within, large organizations. I don’t recall a single class or elective on Entrepreneurship. It just wasn’t what people wanted to do back in Perth in the late 1990’s. As I wrote out (literally) a list of all the things I wanted to do in life — solve problems, be creative, have an impact, be a strategic thinker — I realized that it was starting to sound very much like what an Entrepreneur does. And so my Entrepreneurial journey began…
Food was of course the first thing that came to mind as I thought about what sort of business I wanted to start. Environment was a close second. As I’ve aged I’ve come to appreciate the outdoors more and more. A city has to be pretty mind-blowing these days to get me excited. I’ll take a weekend away in the country side camping, mountain biking or hiking any day. Recognizing the happiness and joy that the outdoors has brought me, I figured that the legacy I want leave for future generations should be something to do with the outdoors. I soon became fascinated with the relationship between what we eat, and the impact we have on the planet. I added ‘technology’ to my list of passions — mainly because I am an Engineer and geek at heart.
I’ve since founded a company called Ernt (for now, we’re working on a new name — any ideas??) which is exploring the role of technology in reducing the environmental impact of food. More specifically, we are developing products that facilitate food production in urban environments. My personal website contains a few other ramblings. If you think we might share similar interests, I’d welcome an opportunity to speak with you!