momentum

by Ted Gonder

Social entrepreneur on a mission to even the odds for future generations.

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Practical Gratitude

Life is hard. Sometimes circumstances get you into a rut. Earlier this year I was running on fumes, coming off of several failed deals and tough personal circumstances. In my sleep-deprived daze, as an attempt to get out of a funk, I pulled out a notebook and just started listing things I felt grateful for.

“Things i’m grateful for:

-in Moscow seeing the world (lots of fascinating travel)

-healthy body despite what I put it through with all this travel

-more principled and consistent than i’ve ever been (even though i still stumble into the occasional trap of self-loathing)

-my family loves me and I love my family

-great friends whom I can call and who call me when things are wonderful and/or terrible

-can read and have read lots of great books that have helped me put my life in perspective

-meaningful impact on many lives through my organization’s work

-less...

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How to Take an Emotional Vacation

Strain is a wonderful thing. When we work hard toward what we believe, we earn something that’s far more valuable than money: meaning.

But besides meaning, too much strain for too long with too little rest can lead to injury. In athletics, injury is usually visible - you feel pain and your coach or doctor tells you to ice it, stretch it, and take some time off. Outside of athletics–in the rest of life–injury is more often emotional than it is physical. And emotional injury isn’t so visible.

Emotional injury can happen in one traumatic instance or it can happen over time from the grinding of ungreased gears. In either case, there’s not a lot out there to prevent and treat emotional injury (unless of course you count the antidepressants being popped by one in four American adults). And living in a culture that equates rest to “playing hard,”...

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The Supernova Inside Us

The universe is an incredible thing. It’s huge, and growing, and we’re incapable of understanding almost any of it.

Part of why it’s incredible to us is because we’re responsible for it, at least in our own minds. We certainly didn’t create it, but we did invent our perception of it. We invented the word “universe” as well as the scientific tools to explore it.

The universe and space and nature fascinate us as humans because we like knowing how all of it relates to us. As individuals and as a species, we like interpreting nature to serve our discovery agendas.

Unlike most other earthly species, we can conceive of and interpret our place in nature to serve the ever-evolving views of the world that we use to govern our lives. We possess the conscious ability to view ourselves from outside of ourselves. And when we step up onto this mental...

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The Best Advice I’ve Gotten (and Why the Best Advice Isn’t Advice)

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” - Buddha

As a knucklehead teenager, I had lots of energy but little direction. Not until a math tutor offered guidance did the fog start to clear and the internal compass start to calibrate.

With goals and vision came clarity, curiosity, and ambition. I’d experienced the damning frustration of idleness already...

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On the Origins of Mentorship

Words only speak as loud as the actions behind them. And actions speak louder than words.

I’ve written before about what a huge impact mentors have had on my life. In fact, mentorship has been so meaningful to me that I decided to build an organization that spreads it. Mentors have given much of the advice, perspective, connections, inspiration, and ego-checking I’ve needed to excel. Which is why I felt compelled to write when I learned of the word’s origins.

The word “mentor” originates in Homer’s The Odyssey. In the story, Mentor is a wise character who stands up for his beliefs, imparts wisdom through his actions, and offers advice in times of trouble. When the bystanding majority fails to stand up for Odysseus’ family under attack, Mentor calls them out for their cowardice and omissive crimes. As Nassim Taleb wrote: “If you see fraud and...

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7 Reasons I’m Obsessed with Big Cats

In the past year, I’ve become fascinated with large cats (tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars, panthers, leopards, lynxes, cougars, mountain lions, ocelots, etc). At first, it was just basic admiration, but the more I learn, the more I am drawn to their way of being. Their grace, their focus, their resilience, their flexibility, their adaptability. The gazelle changes direction and the cheetah follows; prey rarely hears the leopard’s silent stalk; tigers are unassumingly beautiful until they unleash their fluid fury and deliver destiny to their dinner. This all sounds violent and constitutes the precise reason that my mother always hated the Discovery Channel. But something about it–the contradiction between violence and grace, the perfect alignment between intention and expression in the moment of truth–intrigues me.

tiger.jpg Photo credit: Suha Derbent:...

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Something to Lose

The moment we let ourselves believe we have something to lose is the moment we let paranoia invade.

Think of your nice home burning to ashes, your sexy car stolen and totaled, your exciting job offer evaporating, your partner leaving you, your best friend betraying you.

It’s easy to get lost in a fantasy of futuristic self-pity, anticipating how much worse life would be were you to lose your favorite things. But would life actually be worse? Is there not a silver lining to every loss? Does not the crumbling of every structure create space for new art and play? A crumbled home is an opportunity to enjoy smaller spaces; a totaled car is an opportunity to explore environments by foot and bicycle; a lost job is a chance to sharpen your instincts and consider better positioning; a failed relationship is a chance to look inward and cultivate self-love. Losing things builds character...

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Abandoning Mediocrity and Seizing Opportunity

This post was originally written for the White House Blog in March 2012 - it’s re-posted here as part of a personal effort to have all my public writing in one place: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/03/15/abandoning-mediocrity-and-seizing-opportunity.

I’m honored to have Moneythink recognized as one of the five Champions of Change in the White House Campus Challenge. It’s surreal: three years ago, when Moneythink was just an idea, we dreamed of taking our passion—financial education through peer mentorship—to a national stage. We didn’t realize just how much more relevant our mission would become in those short three years.

Financial illiteracy, economic immobility, and educational inequality are problems that continue to worsen in America’s urban centers as the global financial crisis unravels further. But as with any challenge, the outcome is in the response: we as...

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Why Entrepreneurs Should Join the Government

This post was originally written for McKinsey Voices - it’s re-posted here as part of a personal effort to have all my public writing in one place: http://voices.mckinseyonsociety.com/ted-gonder-government-entrepreneur-in-residence/

If you have a compelling start-up idea, the Chilean government will give you $40,000 to move there and build it. The Chilean embassy in your country will grant you a one-year visa within days. When you arrive in Chile, you’ll have free offices, fast Wi-Fi, unlimited coffee and croissants, and a community of intrepid friends. Not surprisingly, the Chilean program has received thousands of applications from entrepreneurs worldwide.

Chile’s start-up recruitment program was the brainchild of a serial entrepreneur whom the government recruited to help ignite a new wave of economic growth in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. When I reported on the...

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How to Make Good Decisions without Rational Thinking

“All successful people operate by principles that help them be successful. Without principles, you would be forced to react to circumstances that come at you without considering what you value most and how to make choices to get what you want. This would prevent you from making the most of your life.” - Ray Dalio

When I was younger, I was bad at math. Growing up in this Age of Economics with folks equating “smart” with “rational” often made me feel insecure as to whether I would have the mental horsepower to make good decisions in a complex world. If I couldn’t solve a basic Sudoku puzzle (still can’t, by the way) how could I possibly succeed in the 21st century? The answer so far: good advice, hard experience, deep reflection, reading, intuition, and principles.

The only way I’ve gotten anywhere in life so far is with this...

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