“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
60 countries, seven continents and 20 years shaped the very odd person that I am. I do not own a TV or a house. I do not like air conditioning or shopping malls. From the salt pans of Chile to the rice paddies of Bali, to the glaciers of Antarctica and the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, travel has taught me how to be a much better person — but also a more successful entrepreneur.
The top two questions I often would get as a solo woman traveler were “How did you live on $20 a day?” and “Weren’t you afraid?” Now, as an entrepreneur, I get a different version of the same question — “What if you fail?”
The stat is daunting — 85% of all small businesses fail within five years.
I remember reading this when I first set out on my trip, long before I decided to start my own company. I decided to not let it ignite my fear. Instead, I opened my heart to learn as I traveled around the world and came away with three lessons that are now igniting my business. They are:
Growing up, I was taught as an American to be independent. “Do it yourself girl! You don’t need anybody!” At 22, I was given Covey’s foundational book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and, after reading it, decided that my goal was interdependence. Traveling forced me to practice.
When I was standing in line at the border of Cambodia and Vietnam, I realized I didn’t have the right visa and the boat was getting ready to leave. This guy that I had met from Scotland on the van gave me all the cash he had in his pockets, which totaled to $200, in case I needed to bribe the border patrol. There was a good chance he wouldn’t see me again, since this was before the days of the internet. I hopped on a motorbike with a farmer and went back across the border with cash in hand.
Life and business are not about independence. They’re about equitable energy exchange.
I was accepted for Twin Cities StartUp week, but I needed a space to host my event. A space that would be fun, “startupy” and free. Craft beers were trending and there were dozens around the area. My friend referred me to a brewery she had partnered with before, and I contacted it about using its space for the event. We created an equitable energy exchange that would be a win-win. The “equity?” They got free press on the website of TC Startup and new people in their space. In addition, on my feedback form, I invited the visitors to tick if they wanted to join the brewery’s newsletter along with mine.
When I lean on others and they lean on me, we both stand stronger together as a result.
In my home country, we install fear along with burglar alarms, and all around the world we subscribe to media that chooses fear. Traveling through 60 countries as a single woman, I had to subscribe to good. I was living and working in Indonesia when the attacks on the Twin Towers happened in New York City on September 11th. I did not know what to expect as I walked the streets of the Muslim-dominated country I was calling home at the time. However, I did know how lovely the people had been to me as a newcomer. I was greeted in the malls, at the golf course and on the streets with deeply felt sympathy. Nothing but goodness.
In business, I continue to choose good and align it with my company’s values. Is it financially scary? Yes. Is it scary trusting others with your intellectual property? Yes. However, choosing good lets you sleep at night. It allows you to create a space that is welcoming, accessible and transformational. It’s about assuming good intentions, because even those who hurt me had good intentions when we joined in partnership.
Grieving, I told my friend about a partnership that turned bad, and he said, “So what? Are you going to let that stop you?” Nope! My business is built on partnerships and trusting good intentions. They are the reason I am able to make a deep impact. When I choose good, good chooses me.
Our world is numb with TV, alcohol, consumerism, drugs and earbuds. Being present feels invasive. Painful even. When traveling, being present is essential, not only for seeing that sloth in the tree or hearing the cicadas at sunset, but also for embracing opportunities. When standing in line for the Vatican in 1995, my friend and I talked to our neighbors to pass the time, and they told us about this cool place called Interlachen, where we could paraglide in the Alps. This sounded much better than the 16-hour train ride to Berlin, so we changed our plans right then and just went for it.
In business, being present is the differentiator — by listening deeply to what your customers need versus industry reports. One of my signature courses was inspired by the pain of a young woman who had graduated and accepted a job that didn’t match her skill set and didn’t provide enough compensation to pay her bills. She was a superstar who knew her potential and felt in her gut that something was “missing.” I listened to her. In all the women I coach, there always is that same something missing — themselves! Listening to that single woman’s pain that day has now morphed into other successful signature courses that help women in all types of business ventures. When I stop, take a breath and listen to those who need me, their insights always teach me something powerful.
So pack your bag with these three things tucked inside your money pouch — 1. Seek interdependence. 2. Choose good. 3. Be present. Not only will they get you through any situation you come up against in travel, they will make you a more connected human being and an effective purpose-driven entrepreneur.
Kristi Hemmer is a storyteller, sojourner, do-gooder and “moxie maker” with over 25 years of experience as a coach and counselor. Kristi founded AWE (Academy for Women’s Empowerment) in 2013, while traveling the globe to interview young people for her book on social entrepreneurship. Her high-energy, interactive approach to coaching helps her students (young and old) to reflect, build confidence, own their power and unleash their possibility.