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An Ancient Word That Sustains Me

I love my job. The truth is, most days it’s a lot closer to play than “work”. But in those times when deadlines won’t budge, when there’s far too much to do and nothing seems to be working as planned, I find strength in an ancient concept that is as relevant today at it was 2,000 years ago: Entelechy.

Aristotle coined the term by merging four concepts:

  • Enteles: complete, fully grown
  • Echein: the power of continued effort to sustain inherent qualitites
  • Endelecheia: persistence
  • Telos: completion

The resulting term, Entelechy, is loaded with power. My favorite definition of it is this one:

“…A particular type of motivation, need for self-determination, and inner strength directing life and growth to become all one is capable of being. It is the need to actualize one’s beliefs. It is having a personal vision and being able to actualize that vision from within…”

In fact that, this theme has been re-visited by many of my favorite philosophers and is very close to Abraham Maslow’s ideas about self actualization and the hierarchy of needs. (For more on that, see this video I did with Chip Conley regarding his book Peak.)

How To Practice Entelechy

Ok, so how do we convert potentiality into actuality? How do we take simple chemical reactions in the brain, and turn them into something tactile? How do we perform alchemy, i.e. turning lead into gold. Or, in other words, converting something common-place and mundane, into something valuable and rare.

Watching ideas turn into actual products or companies is pure magic. But ask anyone who’s done it, and no one will say this alchemy is easy. Still, it is possible. Very possible. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned over the years in the game of tea. By no means is this list complete, so post in the comments with your lessons in entelechy.

1. Sweat & Blood
“Entrepreneur” is one of the most common words in business today. It seems that virtually everybody is one. Perhaps it’s received so much attention because it represents going against the grain, striking out on your own terms, living life “your way,” and really creating something of value. The thing is, this word is so overused it’s become deceptive. Just because the word is everywhere, doesn’t mean it’s easy. The glory stories of startup billionaires are attractive and sexy, but so were the gold-rush ads of 1850. In order to get “there” from “here,” blood and sweat are requirements. You don’t hear those stories, but it’s the truth.

At Samovar we use the “duck on the pond” analogy. Beautiful feathers shining in the morning sun, the graceful duck glides effortlessly across the pond. Unseen by all are the little clawing legs, paddling frantically through muck and mud and slime to get it across the pond. Sweat and blood are requirements for creating something. Expect it. Taste the salt of the sweat and feel the flow of blood. And if you don’t experience sweat and blood, please write me and tell me how you did it. I want to know. Drink lots of water (and tea) because there will be plenty of sweat and blood.

2. Focus
Today more than ever, avoiding distraction is paramount. We are flooded with information and overwhelmed, distracted. How to discern and weed out what’s helpful from what’s not? Focus on the goal and let go of all else. Ruthlessly actually. Turn off every device. Tell everyone you know you’re going away, lockdown. Laser focus-focus-focus. A few great focus books I recommend are The Willpower Instinct, Thinking Fast and  Slow, and In Praise of Slowness. Also, I highly recommend you check out my buddy’s blog, Leo goes into great detail on how he’s achieved greater focus and through it tackles some pretty big game-changing habits.

3. Energy
Focus isn’t feasible without reserves. Simply put, in my experience the best energy comes when I:

  • Sleep 8-10 hours a night
  • Eat mostly organic plants and almost nothing that requires a package to store it
  • Drink a lot of tea (caffeine and antioxidants). I love oolong tea because it continues to release caffeine for many infusions.
  • Drink 1/2 my body weight in ounces of water every day
  • Exercise 3x/week for 1 hour
  • Meditate every day (even just for 2 minutes I find it helpful to begin the day)
  • Breathe. Consciously breathe. Here’s a great excerpt from my friend Dr. Andrew Weil on breathing.

4. Embody Openness
Everything changes. People, relationships, products, companies, ideas, everything. Sure we need focus, but at the same time we need to adapt to the changing environment and be able to embrace change. It’s a weird push-pull tension where ruthless focus and total flexibility are key to making things happen. You need the tunnel vision of laser-like focus, but also the absolute openness to new ideas and opportunities. It’s a dance. Two great books that have helped me with openness are: The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh, and, Uncertainty, from my friend Jonathan Fields.

Below are some photos of oolong tea being processed by my friends Eva And Chiu, on the Big Island of Hawaii. Entelechy in action as tea goes from “potential tea” as a green leaf on a bush, to the finished brew. A Hawaii-grown oolong with notes of caramelized raisins, and a mellow sour cherry astringency finish. Good for many delicate infusions. We let the leaves sit in the pot because this tea just doesn’t get bitter.



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