In this episode, Hugo and Seph talk about their entrepreneurial journey, their passion, and the tough decisions they’ve had to make in order to follow it.
Packed with a lot of practical and strategic tips, listening to this episode may inspire you to find and follow your own passion in a way that serves others and allows you to live a more authentic life.
Seph: Okay, welcome to the second episode of the PositivePsychology.com Podcast. Here I am again with Hugo Alberts, my friend and colleague. We were having a conversation this morning about our business, our platform the past five and a half years that we’ve been working together. Like 15 minutes into the conversation, I was thinking maybe it would be a good idea to actually start to record this so that we could share our story with you. Yeah, maybe there are some interesting insights along the way that are applicable to your life and your business as well. So welcome, Hugo. Welcome back to the podcast.
Hugo: Yeah, Seph. Hi, let’s do this.
Seph: Okay. Where do you want to start?
Hugo: Let’s start at the very beginning. Maybe we should start where we first met. I remember you came to university where I was working, and the good old days you told me that you were into positive psychology. What fascinated me back then is that I was teaching psychology to many students of course, many master’s students, and I always felt from the very beginning that although psychology wasn’t your background, you didn’t study psychology, you knew way more than most of my students. So for me, that very moment was a very, I would say typical starting point that was present during the rest of our collaboration. That very feeling of mutual interest, of love of learning and that kind of thing. I think this is what has connected us over the years.
Hugo: When you’re running a company together, I think you can be very different, but on a deeper level, I think it’s really important to share the same values and have a same philosophy about life in general, but also about running a company. I think this is also what makes it work. I think this is why our company is still working, because I think on a deeper level, we share the same view and have a similar philosophy. At least it’s my opinion of course.
Seph: Yeah, absolutely. Also, I think we discovered the same kind of problem at the beginning, that we both wanted to solve. The problem was that, this was like nine years ago. If you were to Google for positive psychology or any related terms, all you would find was a couple of boring university websites. Maybe the University of Pennsylvania, maybe a couple of other ones, but there wasn’t a lot back then, nine years ago. No valuable resources for practitioners, no valuable resources for just layman trying to learn more about positive psychology. So I remember having this problem myself as a student of positive psychology, someone very excited and wanting to learn more. Like, hey, it’s so hard to find any great resources on this. Of course, I was reading the books. I was reading Seligman, Peterson, some other books that were the big books in the field back then, but that was it.
Seph: Then I remember I spoke with you about this. We were speaking over the phone. I still remember where I was walking when we had this conversation. I was in the city center of Maastricht, walking right across the Café Falstaff. I think you were at the university or at home, and we said that we should build something. We should just go out and build this platform that we’re looking to find.
Hugo: That was your idea actually. You came with the idea of a website.
Seph: Yeah, and maybe that was the case because I was just getting into building a blog. Remember I had a blog about self-discipline that time?
Hugo: Yeah, sure I do.
Seph: That I was building, so I was just familiarizing myself with search engine optimization, how do you build a website, how do you go about all of that, which is why I think I got the idea of we can also build a website about positive psychology. I also remember that you said sometimes as a professor, I feel like I’m a monkey performing the same trick over and over again, because every year getting the same students. What was it, maybe you can explain some more about that?
Hugo: Actually the whole system that we’ve created, the university is pretty much like a treadmill. So what you do is you develop a teaching program, and then you deliver this program year after year, after year. What I’ve noticed is that there is so much pressure and so little time that many professors, they don’t have the time to innovate, to develop their programs. So you deliver virtually the same program every year. In the beginning that’s fine, but after a while it gets repetitive. When you’re talking, when you’re giving a lecture, it becomes like a monkey game. You perform again the same trick over and over again. I was in desperate need for some dynamic action, so I think this is what I love so much about what we’re doing at this moment. You can create something, you can record it and then you move on and then you can create something new, and develop while that the old is not gone.
Hugo: When you can deliver a lecture, it’s beautiful of course, but it vaporizes. The moment you speak those words, they’re gone. I think the beauty of today’s technical possibilities is that we can record things, that we can publish them and that a lot of people experience it. And not limited to just a handful of people that have enough money to pay the money that is necessary for visiting colleges.
Seph: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Remember back then you were still giving all of the mindfulness workshops yourself as well, and right now we have mindfulness X and people from all over the world, literally all over the world can follow this program and start to teach and implement mindfulness themselves. It’s like we’re getting emails on a daily basis from people, thank or are leaving comments of course in the community on the side that are profiting from this, even though you just recorded all of that once. That’s exactly the vision that we have for this.
Hugo: Exactly. I think this is a very cool way of approaching development. It’s not about doing the same trick, but it’s about moving with the technology that is offered in modern times. I think we live in a very exciting time, and what I’ve noticed is that the bigger companies get, like university or very big institutions, the more difficult it becomes to become dynamic, to become agile and to adapt to the changing circumstances. Now we’re living in a society that is changing so rapidly. So we were talking about this yesterday, and this is what I realized when we were talking about the current status of our company and so on. I thought I said like I hope that we can stay together and do it is with the two of us, and of course all the beautiful people that surround us that we can stay connected as we are at this moment.
Hugo: That we can have these talks and have these informal meetings, and that we’re not spending 40 hours a week in meetings and managing other people because then we become what I’ve never wanted to become in the first place. You see what I mean? Like this non-dynamic hierarchy thing that I’m so happy that I left in the first place.
Seph: Yeah, yeah exactly. It’s like then we become prisoners of our self-built prison, which was definitely not the idea behind all of this. It was more about creating the freedom to create what we want to share with people, and to solve problems that real people are really having in this world. Even if it’s practitioners experiencing the problem of like hey, I want to give this presentation but I don’t have the resources for it. I don’t have these beautifully designed slides. It’s like, okay we’ve got that problem solved. You can take our materials, and you can just learn more about teaching this workshop, and all of the materials are there for you to do that. Like it’s not a problem of someone not having food to eat. Of course, it’s maybe not that high-level problem, but it’s a problem nonetheless. The way you build a business, I think it’s by looking for problems, preferably problems that you’ve experienced yourself, because you know what it’s like.
Seph: You can identify and empathize with that. Then you go out and solve them, not just for yourself, but you solve them for other people as well. That is where the unique value is created. You’re helping society if you will, or people in a certain target market and marketing terms to solve a certain problem. In the end if you do that well, value will be created and money will flow out of that. That’s why I think both of us, we always see any finances that come out of it always as ensuing of solving a certain problem. It’s not like, hey, let’s go out and earn a bunch of money. It’s like, no, let’s solve problems. Let’s try to do our best possible work of solving this problem, and then there will an end result, but that’s not the direct goal.
Hugo: No, absolutely. So if people tell me I want to run my own company, or I want to start my own company, the first thing I ask them is why do you want this? What is it? When people say I want to be financially independent or all these kind of extrinsic reasons, I always tell them well personally I would think twice, because if you’re not really loving what you’re doing, it’s going to be tough journey. I think over the years we’ve experienced so many beautiful things, but also quite a few struggles. Many of them are at a personal level, at least for me. I had to deal with insecurity, that constant feeling that it was not good enough that we were delivering. Although people are passionate and they give you positive feedback, deep down inside you there is this pervasive idea that it’s not enough.
Hugo: It’s just something I learned from working with you is that you said it’s more than good enough, and you don’t always please people by giving them more and more. I always wanted to make sure that people got enough, and so you over-deliver and over-deliver. I came to realize, and this is quite personal of course, but I think for me, that was a way to at least make sure that I wasn’t failing. If you give so much that it’s obviously way too much, at least you can never say you failed because you minimized that chance that it wasn’t good enough, and at a deeper level of course has to do with being okay yourself. Accepting yourself regardless of what, so there’s this deep fear I think that was present and is still present with me that it’s not enough. This is what I learned of running a company, it’s you’re in charge and you have to carry the burden of responsibility as well.
Hugo: So if you do this for the money only, it’s a really tough journey, but if there is something underneath that, there is something deeper, helping people, contributing to wellbeing. If there’s something you strongly believe in that you’re establishing through your work, I think that is so important, because that makes your daily work worth it. For me, that makes the pain and the insecurity and the critical feedback, and everything that you received that you have to swallow bearable in my humble opinion.
Seph: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. This reminds me of the whole strength-based approach that’s foundational to our business and through the people we work with, it’s like we only want to work with people, including ourselves, that have responsibilities that come natural to them. That perform work that comes natural to them, because what I’m doing, yeah of course there are some tasks that are like the whole accounting and bookkeeping. Luckily we have a good accountant for, but still sometimes I have to do a little bit of that. Okay, that’s tedious, but other than that, at least 80% of the stuff that I do come so natural to me. I would want to do that anyway even better, I was already doing that before we registered as a business. I’d been doing that for two years without getting paid a dime. Literally nothing, but I was only investing time and money in it, because it came so natural to me.
Seph: What you’re doing, creating the products, working with people to build out a toolkit, build these amazing information products and masterclasses. It’s something that comes natural to you, but for other people like Craig for instance, running customer support. He is one of the kindest, most patient, most lovable people that I know. So doing the customer support, even though it may not be his hobby, at least it’s something that comes so natural to him. I don’t want someone to just reply to emails and to help people along. No, I want this person to give the people, our customers, our clients, the feeling that they matter, that there is someone there who really listens and really cares about their success. For all of the other roles, I think right now we’ve found people for most of the other roles that do something that comes natural to them. That it’s not just a strength, it’s more than a strength. It’s like they would be doing this in one form or another, even if they weren’t getting paid for this. You know what I mean?
Hugo: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s also the success behind companies that work well. I think it’s all about the people, the company doesn’t exist. This is something I realized when I was working at university. A university is nothing more than the people that work there. For many people outside university or outside a company, whatever, the brand is like very abstract concept, right?
Seph: Like an entity in itself, yeah.
Hugo: Exactly like an entity in itself, but ultimately it’s just the people working there. Those are the ones that make the company. In the same way, I think when you look at your own company, I think the question is always do I work with the people that I would love to work with? I remember that we once decided to create this document. It has become our, how do we call it? It’s the-
Seph: Our constitution.
Hugo: The constitution, yeah. It’s the PPP, or PP.com constitution. It’s basically everything we learned from our mistakes, from the things that went well, we put it in there. I think one of the first things that is in there, we work with people that we love working with. Of course, they have to be capable, they have to be trustworthy, they have to be have all these other qualities, but in the first place we have to feel connected and love working with them. Otherwise, we’re wasting so much time. In the end, life is about your day to day experience. That’s what life is. Now many people talk about life as if it’s something bigger, like an abstract thing, but basically live is this very moment. It’s me, you here sitting, talking. If you don’t like working with the people that surround you, it means that on a daily basis, your experience will be less than it could be, I think.
Hugo: This is why I think it’s so important to choose wisely, and choose people that you feel connected to, that you feel loved with, accepted with and build from there rather than just looking for competence only. That’s rationally again, that makes sense, but I think in terms of daily experiences, it’s not the wisest choice to make, I believe at least.
Seph: Yeah, exactly. That’s why I think for practitioner with a client to just look at a client’s weekly schedule and just tell me what does your day look like? What does your week look like? That may be one of the most important things to do, because it gives you most of the answers. I see this as so much more relevant than digging into someone’s past. It’s like, no, what are you doing on a day to day basis? It’s so simple, but that’s where all the leverage is. Unless I’m wrong and I’m missing something, but it’s like that’s where it is, right?
Hugo: Well I think the past can be interesting of course, because it can help you to see through certain patterns, and why you’re doing things. So it can help to increase awareness, right? You can notice certain patterns that are not helpful in the present and analyze the past, and maybe have an idea where they come from. So that awareness can help you to break that pattern in the present. I agree, I think ultimately life is this day to day experienced that is unfolding, and I think the best we can do is to make sure that we create a life that is worth living. I was just having a cup of coffee outside and I was asking myself like, is my life worth living? Do I consider my life worth living? I think that is the question that matters the most. If you answer this question when it comes to your own company, like is this company worth investing in? Is it worth spending time at a daily basis? If the answer is yes, I think you’re at the right track.
Hugo: If you feel it’s meaningful, then you should continue I think. If it’s only for the money, I think it’s a useless game. I think you will get disappointed very, very soon because what I’ve noticed myself, even though we may have enjoyed some financial success, I think the real beauty for me from running the company doesn’t come from the financial matters. It comes from the feedback from people. Reading an email of somebody who tells you it has profoundly changed the way I relate to myself, or it has helped me to deal with this. This is what, for me at least, gives me a true sense of satisfaction.
Seph: Yeah, exactly. If you look at the comments of our first podcast episode that we launched last Tuesday, that’s more where I draw a lot of energy from as well. The finances, it was after maybe our first successful product launch or whatever, it just stopped mattering. I was like, okay, yeah, now it’s just a number and it doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s like still, even now it’s just numbers. It’s just accounting is what it feels like, and of course it has to make-
Hugo: Then make sense.
Hugo: Again, what do the numbers do? They don’t add anything to your daily existence. That’s I think the whole point with money. Money will make some things easier, and of course, having too little money is likely to result in lower wellbeing. I think we all agree with that, but money will not change the smell of a rose, or increase the love you feel for a friend. It will not help you to be missed by others when you’re no longer here. I think that’s the whole point here. I think when it comes to money, my relationship that I try to have with money is to make it a tool to facilitate the person I want to be, and to use money in a way that will help me to express the love and appreciation for life more easily. So you can say I’m trying to use money at the service of my heart. I call this heart money.
Hugo: So it’s different kind of money. So it’s then money shifts from being a goal to a facilitator, I think to realize something that matters. You remember that during our masterclass when got financial advice from somebody, and he said money is important. He said not for the sake of it, but for creating what you deeply feel is necessary at a larger scale. That’s what he said. Then for me, it slowly started to dawn on me. I think it’s about the function that it has.
Seph: For the facilitation I could say, facilitation tool. We’ve also called it not to get too woo-woo, but we’ve called it energy and I think it is energy in a sense. I know some people who got rich over a really short period of time. Some of them were in cryptocurrencies or day trading, and they became millionaires pretty much within the span off about one year. It’s so interesting to see the relationship that they have with their money. I’ve heard them make remarks like it doesn’t feel like I’ve earned it. It feels like it’s not mine. It wouldn’t matter if it all disappeared again. I’ve heard them say all these things and I was like, wow, that’s such a different relationship than I have with the money that we’ve made with our business, because it’s all about the energy that’s connected with the money. About the story that’s connected with this money, like have you worked hard for it?
Hugo: I fully hear you. So you see what I’ve learned because I’ve been delivering trainings to helping professionals for many years. What I’ve noticed is that some of them, they were having a really problematic relationship with money, because on the one hand, they know they need it, but on the other hand, they feel almost like forced to be very … How shall I put it? It’s like they feel that that money is dirty or something that you shouldn’t ask too much for your services, because that would make your services not okay enough, or like-
Seph: You’d be cheating people.
Hugo: Exactly, because you’re asking money, but I think for me, money is nothing more than a way of exchanging things. What we often forget is that money is I think a very beautiful tool to also express that you value something. I think we all can relate to this. Sometimes you do, somebody does something for you, right? He helps you tremendously and you want to give him something back, right? You want to give them a present or just-
Hugo: Reciprocity, exactly. So when this person says no, I don’t want money, I don’t want anything in return, what you’re actually doing you’re preventing the other person from thanking you. Often this has to do with this idea that we have, that some of us have about money. That money is something that is associated with greed and that kind of stuff. I think if you look at it from a more abstract perspective, and you see it more as a way of energy flow, of an exchange that is going on, I think you’ll also see that it’s okay. There is nothing wrong with money in itself. You see what I mean?
Seph: Yeah, absolutely. To be honest, the people that have this relationship with money that regard it as someone who is rich or that’s the result of greed, or that’s the result of force or of privilege, or of dirty capitalism, or of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. These are often people, at least in my experience, that are not creating a lot of value for other people. This may just be my personal experience, but it’s almost again like it’s some kind of cognitive dissonance reduction for them where it’s like maybe they get money from the government, or they work for the government, or they perform some kind of job where they’re not really creating a lot of unique value. Then you look at other people who are and who are getting more financial means out of that. Yeah, it’s easy to start bashing them, but look at the value they create, because unless they’re day traders or like Wall Street brokers, there’s a good chance they’re creating a lot of value in the world. Then I think it’s no more than fair that they get rewarded for that. So yeah.
Hugo: Yeah, I think so. So money can also follow naturally from the thing you create. As I said, just like on an energetic level. I think if you create something of value that people are really willing to pay for, and inevitable consequences that people will pay. I think this is why it’s so important to I think address this whole link between running a company and money. I think ultimately when we decide to start on our own and run our own company, money is always an issue. It is always, at least it was for me. Honestly, when you asked me like, “Man, I really would love for you to go all in and work full time for the company.” At that time it meant that I had to quit my professorship. I had to quit being a professor at university at a fixed position. I had to leave so much behind. What did I get in return? Financial insecurity, because now I had a fixed salary, I wasn’t too bad. I was providing, I had enough money for my family and so on.
Hugo: Suddenly you come with his idea of doing something you truly love, but you have to let go of the security that you have. I think for many people, that is a situation where they’re in. At least many people that I coach, I’ve noticed that they know that their job is not their dream job. They want to do something differently. They want to do something different. They want to have a different job, but the first reason they always mentioned to me at least is, but I have to be realistic because I also have to pay the rent and so on and so on. So the money comes up very early as a reason to not follow their heart. For me, I’ve been there as well. I’ve been so afraid to not make enough money, and that we would fail and that I gave up something that many people dreamt of. Having this fixed position and all the security, and whatever you want. Certainty, and trade it for something that is not certain. You know what helped me the most?
Seph: What’s that?
Hugo: My son. When my son was born, there were two things that I told him. I swear to God, like five minutes after he was born, I held him in my arms and I said two things in life. I hope that you will embrace first of all, accept yourself unconditionally. Love yourself for who you are. The second one is follow your heart. Make choices based on your heart, not your rational mind, but follow your true heart. When I was facing his difficult choice of leaving my fixed position and entering an unknown area, I was asking myself, if I stay here at university, what is the example that I’m setting here for my son? What am I doing? I can tell him that he should follow his heart, but actually I’m a hypocrite, because I’m not doing it. I’m staying somewhere where my heart is not. So when I was having my exit interview and I was sharing the news that I was leaving, I mentioned this story.
Hugo: I said, “I’m not being honest to myself and to my son if I stay here, I’m not setting an example. I’m not inspiring him to follow his heart. So I have to do it as myself as well.” For me, that was really helpful, because that made me … Actually, it pushed me over the boundary.
Seph: Gave you the necessary courage to make that decision. That’s beautiful.
Hugo: Yeah, exactly. So this is also what I often do with clients who have kids. I ask them like for instance, I once had a client who was really beating himself up, very low on self-compassion. I said, “Would you like your kids to be this way? What would you tell your kids if he was in your position?” Again, this person suddenly realized, I’m setting the wrong example here. If I want my kids to be forgiving and self-compassionate, I have to be so as well.
Seph: That’s very powerful intervention.
Hugo: Yeah, it is. It is. For me at least it was a wake-up call, and ever since I tried to live and I fail miserably of course, because I’m making a lot of mistakes, but I try as good as possible to set an example in the way I live my life. I swear to God, even if we would fail and we would go bankrupt tomorrow, I was so proud that we did it. Sometimes people ask me, “Are there things you’re proud of?” I’m not actually proud of anything in life except for this thing that I was talking about, that I had the courage to move beyond the fear, because the fear was tremendous I can tell you.
Seph: I remember.
Hugo: Yeah, you remember that took quite some time to get over it. I’ve got this really cool quote from a friend of mine. He said you know what it is when people want to jump off a cliff, metaphorically speaking of course, to make the transition to do something really you love, they want to get wings before they make the jump, right? They want to be in control of everything, but here’s the thing. You cannot be in control of everything, because you don’t know what it’s like when you make the jump. That’s the whole idea of making a choice that is different from what you always did. Like leaving your comfort zone. You will never know what’s out there. So you cannot create wings before you jump. You will get the wings as soon as you jump, and this is what I’ve noticed in my own life, but also in my work with clients who made that decision to follow their heart.
Hugo: As soon as you start, no matter how small, even if it’s just one day a week to follow your heart and create something you truly love in life, life will start to, I would say conspire almost to create that pathway for you. Suddenly you meet people that help you along the way, and this new pathway starts to emerge often automatically.
Seph: Yeah, I think it’s you who starts to adapt to the new circumstances. That’s the survival of the fittest kind of idea. We were talking about this yesterday as well, the environment may not change, but you as a person, I mean we’re very malleable to a certain degree at least as humans. I think in business it’s the same, the most able to adapt to circumstances and to changing dynamics are the ones that will survive. There was another thing that you said that I really like, it’s start small. What if you can start with one day a week, because people in their minds often when I hear this, and I’ve worked a lot with starting and struggling entrepreneurs. Of course, it’s the people who I wrote my first book for in Dutch. They always see it in a very dichotomous way. It’s like all in or all out. It’s like they have a daytime job, or they’re going to go all in on being an entrepreneur and starting this new venture.
Seph: It’s like okay that’s an interesting strategy, but why don’t you just start with two hours at night after your job. Maybe there is only one hour you can free up. Maybe you have kids, you have even more busy life. Maybe you can take a block of four hours on the weekends, and ask your partner to take care of kids for a while or whatever. Free up some time and start doing what it is that you really want to be doing, as something preferably that’s solving a problem or that’s valuable for other people. Something that’s not just about you. Try it, see how it goes and maybe you can slowly scale it up from there. Maybe at some points, some money will start to flow out of those efforts. I mean, look at how it went for us. Maybe we can take it back to where we started and when our platform, our website became a business. We had been building up this platform, PositivePsychologyProgram.com for two years before we ever made a dime.
Seph: That’s two years and that wasn’t full time. That was just, because I still had a full-time job. I was still employed as well here in Amsterdam, working in online marketing. When I came home, I would start to work on our website. I knew, intuitively I knew it’s all of these hours that I’m putting in right now and I’m not seeing anything in return, but I was seeing something in return actually except it wasn’t monetary. It was visitors on the websites, people sending me emails, people asking me on social media like, “Hey, can I contribute through this platform that you’re building?” Guest authors, stuff like that. So we’ve been building it out for two years before it ever started to “do anything for us.” I think that’s what made the transition so natural, because there was already something there. We already had traction. We already had people who were on our mailing lists. Then it was for me at least, because I started to go full time in 2017, start of the year.
Seph: It wasn’t an easy transition to say okay, I’m going to stop all of my other activities. I was running an agency of course at that point, I had already quit my job. I’m going to stop all that and just focus, go full time on Positive Psychology Program because there was already something there. So it wasn’t an all in all out kind of situation, it was a supernatural transition, and that’s an idea that I really want to share with people. It’s like maybe try to look at it that way. Maybe not all in all out.
Hugo: No, absolutely. Everything I think in general, many things that are big were not big in the beginning. Everything starts small. There’s this beautiful documentary I saw about popular musicians, and there is this very funny misconception that people say, “Wow, look at this new band.” So there is a band that breaks through with a hit song or whatever, with a great album. The funny thing is that band is not new. In many cases, they’ve been making music for 15 years. So the same applies to running a business. Often we see those big companies or we see successful people, but we only see them in their current form, but we forget that they started small, that they struggled, that they faced a lot of difficulty, that they went through so many things. So many fears and struggles, but that is not what we tend to see. I think for me, that was a big illusion always.
Hugo: I think when we started our own company, I noticed that the beauty of starting your own company is that you start building something, and it becomes bigger and bigger every day. It’s like playing with Lego, it’s like this huge building that tends to get bigger and bigger and-
Seph: It compounds as well.
Hugo: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Seph: It’s like every year you profit from what you’ve built the year before, and that’s how it’s different from exchanging your hours for money, which a lot of freelancers are doing. I also know a lot of practitioners and coaches are doing. Over the last year, I’ve been talking with a lot of either coaches or psychologists who tell me that the kind of thing that you’ve built, like this platform that allows you to stop exchanging your time for money, but that’s just like you’ve invested your time in it and now it’s working for you, that’s what I want as well. I’ve heard this so many times now and yeah, so I think that’s the limitation of for instance, doing especially one-on-one coaching, because your impacts, it’s not just about money, but the impact that you can make is fairly limited to demand of hours that you have and if you can possibly put into it.
Seph: As soon as you start doing workshops or seminars, okay the impact increases and you can also make more money of course, naturally. If you start building information products or you set it up in a scalable way, then it’s almost infinite. The rates of return on that, it’s exponentially different. It’s incomparable. So what do you think about this, because you’ve been a one on one coach as well? You still do it sometimes. What do you think about this as someone who has done one-on-one coaching and workshops?
Hugo: Well, I think that for me is not so interesting. I think all that is I call this the form. We have the world beyond form, and that’s just like your values, what keeps you going, your interest that it’s not the world of the concrete form I would say. What you’re talking about is the specific form you’re doing something. You can run an online business, or you can coach people. I don’t think it matters so much how you ultimately do it. If you love coaching and you just want to spend 40 hours a week with a client, I think that’s your ultimate form in which you can do your job if that’s the way you feel happy that you should do that. I think there is no fixed formula for that. So I’m never interested, when I coach people as well in how they should do it. It never starts with how, it always starts with why, and what keeps you going, why do you want this? Then you focus on the how, how can we implement this?
Hugo: I think what we did here in our company, I think we found a way that matches our philosophy. I think what we did, we created something that allowed us to build and build something, because if I would do it as I did before, like giving workshop, trainings programs like eight-week programs to people, I couldn’t innovate anymore. I was repeating myself because basically, you spend all the time delivering the same program. You cannot use that time to create something new. One of my core strength, and the things that I love doing the most in life is creating. So for me, that was not the optimal form of delivering my, I would say my heart. My heart was manifested in a different way, in a more efficient way maybe than this, but that’s not for me to point. You should never start with asking yourself how can I reach as many people as possible, or how can I … I think that depends all on whatever you want to do. Maybe somebody who just wants to-
Seph: Yeah, so I will give you a concrete example. So someone that comes to mind, that’s like they want to create a location independence business. They want to create more freedom for themselves so that they can spend more time with kids, and they don’t have to get a nanny during the day, but they can spend time with kids themselves. So those are two reasons that came to mind. It’s okay, it’s about freedom.
Hugo: Beautiful. No, exactly, and here’s my point. So if people come to me, if I were to coach these people, I would ask them you’ve been talking about the form. It’s about the way you want to create life, right? You’re talking about I want more freedom, I want more this, I want more financial resources, independence, blah, blah, blah. All that kind of stuff, but that’s the result of something different. That’s the outcome, and that outcome can be manifested in many ways, but I’m not interested in that specific outcome. What happens if you start helping people to realize that form, that world of form we’re talking about, then you say okay, let’s start to look at business models that can help you realize this. Then we get back to … No, seriously, because then we get back to the very beginning of this talk. The point is what will your day to day experience be?
Hugo: Your day to day experience is that you still have to work, because there has to be some kind of income. Maybe you’ve created the ultimate way of making money with spending not so much time and scalability, blah, blah, blah, all that kind of stuff. If it doesn’t match your personal values and your unique way of expressing yourself, what you’re doing is you’re wasting your time again, because on a day to day basis, the work you’re doing, the very thing you are doing in the moment is not satisfying to you. So you see what I mean? Maybe that creates a certain kind of independence, but ultimately that’s not I think what you should strive for. I swear to God, I noticed many people that say yes, I want to do what you do, or I want to create also this kind of independence, but this is not how it works. I think this is a personal theory that I have, and it’s not scientifically proven. It’s far from it, but I believe that you cannot create what you are not.
Hugo: I think you can only create what you are. If you’re hateful, to give you an example, and you have these very strong negative emotions, I think out of that state you cannot produce anything that is even close to harmony or love, or whatever. This is why it is so important I think to start first by doing something you love, finding something that resonates with you and move on from there. Just move from this starting point rather than where you want to go to, because that’s basically is having, doing, being. They say if I have enough money, if I have the freedom. So let’s start with the money again, is a recurring theme in this podcast. So if I have enough money, having, then I can finally do, do what I want and I will be, be happy, right?
Seph: I know have to have, do, be. That is have, do, be, right?
Hugo: Have, do, be. I say do be, do have, be happy. Find something, find something that suits you. Do what you like doing, and then the money is probably to resolve whatever you’re looking for from that very beginning state, because the beginning state-
Seph: Very different order.
Hugo: It’s a very different order. It’s different, and this is what you see in research as well. If you take a look at people that are really successful at what they’re doing, many of them, they just love what they do. They would pay somebody to do what they do, and to me that is no coincidence. It’s because those people are not doing it for the outcome, they’re doing it for the process. They invest so much time, so much effort. It’s an ongoing process. They can keep going. Where somebody was doing it for the money only, when failure kicks in, I think they will fall easily and not get back up again. Somebody who’s doing it for the love in the first place, they will go on and go on and go on because they can’t help but doing so as if there wasn’t another choice.
Seph: Yeah, it’s really interesting because you approach it from a more psychological perspective of the individual. If I were to approach it from a business perspective, then it’s all about the problem you’re solving or the problem that you’re helping to solve for some people. A good question to ask yourself, so it’s more about the people that you’re helping than about the problem, because the problem may be at some point a solution comes along, and the problem just disappears, right? If your business disappears as a result of that, that’s bad. If you’re a serving a certain let’s say target market, and you can help them on an ongoing basis to solve the problems that they have, then new problems may come along and you’re just there for them to help them solve the problems, which is what we’re doing as well with our masterclasses, and with the toolkit of course.
Seph: Then you can, I don’t want to say guarantee your continuity, but at least the chance is bigger that you’re going to survive as a business, because look at the how fast everything is changing. Do you just want to pick one static problem and hope for that to remain a problem so that you can stay around as a business? It’s like maybe bad idea in a world where everything is changing so fast. So the question then becomes this, who do you love? Who do you want to serve? That’s the most important thing. For us, we have chosen to serve people that you are also a part of that’s like helping professionals, practitioners, psychologists, coaches, therapists. Those are the people that we love so to speak, and that we’re helping with any kind of problems or challenges that come along. That’s why we always keep communication channels open. We’re always trying to find out okay, what kind of other things can we help you with?
Seph: So I think that’s a beautiful way to approach it as well for people who are thinking like, yeah, who starts by thinking what they want. They want financial means, location independence. They want all of these results like you said, right?
Hugo: Mm-hmm (affirmative), exactly.
Seph: Maybe start with the people you’re helping. That’s I think a helpful paradigm shift.
Hugo: Yeah. I think it’s two-fold. I think it’s what is the problem that I can contribute to in a positive way, and this may involve helping people or serving them in another way. I think what is also important is to find your own unique way of doing that. I think you can say, I want to become a coach. Yes, of course and there are so many coaches, but the question that you really have to ask yourself is what makes me unique? What makes me different from all the other coaches? Why would somebody choose me over somebody else? What is it that, what I do or what I have or my philosophy, whatever it is that characterizes me, that makes me unique in my approach. This is why I think it’s so important to be authentic and be true to yourself, and not copy people. If you copy them, you try to become something else and you lose your unique value.
Hugo: In the world of business, it’s all about value. The core word for me is always about value. Valuing yourself, valuing what you do, considering important what you do, but also being valued by others. People have to really see the value of what you’re doing. If this is not the case, this is I think the classical example. If you love what you do, but nobody’s waiting for this, you will not make any money. It’s good you know, maybe you should pursue it as a hobby, whatever. There is always I’m not sure how you pronounce it, but I believe it’s a Japanese concept, ikigai or ikigai. I’m not sure how you pronounce it, but it says there is four key ingredients of successful work. It’s connection to your strength, to what you do well, to what you consider to be important in life, your values. It has to do with the money you can make.
Hugo: Is it something that people are willing to pay for, and are you skilled enough? You can love what you do, you can find it important, but if you’re not skilled enough, you will not be of any service because you’re simply not delivering any good results. If you combine those four, I think it’s a very powerful framework to look at yourself. I think if those four are in the balanced state, I think you can truly become a very successful entrepreneur.
Seph: That’s also a cool exercise for people to do. It’s like draw four circles on a piece of paper and see where they overlap, then see what opportunities there are there.
Hugo: Yeah, absolutely. I think when it comes to coaching people, what I often do is to explore those domains and see what is missing. Maybe I don’t think that being self-employed is something that is perfect for everybody. I think for some people, it’s just not the perfect solution. I think what you were talking about, there is this idea that once you’re self-employed there is this freedom and all that kind of stuff, but that’s not the reason why you should do it. You see what I mean? It’s just, it’s all a means to an end.
Seph: Yeah. I shared this quote with you yesterday. It says you can’t be normal and expect abnormal results, and I feel like that really applies to us and our business as well. I mean in a lot of senses, we’re not normal at all. Very, very abnormal maybe even. I think for a normal person, and that’s I don’t think entrepreneurs are necessarily normal people. I think they’re abnormal compared to the rest. So maybe you have to be a little bit crazy in that sense to be able to bear the responsibility of running your own business, and deal with the insecurity that’s involved as well. I mean, ever since we started it, I can’t remember. It’s like always somewhere in the back of my mind. It’s like our business, our website.
Seph: I’m not saying like always, always, but during waking life, it’s mostly there and most of my efforts are aimed towards that as well. You could almost call that pathological, and maybe that’s why the results are abnormal as well. But I think that that’s something too that people who just want the end result can underestimate. It’s like yeah, but it goes as a sacrifice and not just one sacrifice. Not just quitting your job, but continued sacrifice.
Hugo: Absolutely, and this is why it’s so important to truly love what you do. If you’re not passionate about something, truly passionate, I wouldn’t be so sure to start your own company. What I’ve noticed and I think many listeners will agree with me, if somebody is really passionate, if somebody is really into something, it’s contagious. This cannot be faked. You cannot fake passion. You can pretend, but you will fail eventually because people will see through the illusion. I think somebody that’s truly passionate will create that pathway automatically through his or her passion. It’s inevitable. It will create itself if it’s genuine, I guess. For me, all that kind of stuff like I want to get financially independent or more, that’s all obscuring in the way the pathway that is driven by passion. Passion itself is not concerned with freedom. Passion itself is concerned with creating-
Hugo: Expression. That’s what passion is. Passion is expressing the self truthfully, the authentic self truthfully. You were referring to like maybe entrepreneurs are a bit crazy people, or standout from the rest or different from the rest, whatever you want to call it. I think maybe they’re more close or many of them are more close to their unique authentic being in their unique way of expressing it. This is why they are different from other people, because I think when you look at history. Let’s consider like big artists, and I wouldn’t consider myself an artist of course, but just to draw a similarity here. Many of them at the time when they were creating for instance paintings or whatever, they weren’t recognized as such. Many of them, they were made fun of and years after people started to realize, my God, he was so ahead of his time, or was doing something that was so different.
Hugo: That’s the very process we were talking about in the beginning, when I was talking about, I think we talked about this earlier. I was talking to you about mindfulness in my research, and the beginning when I was doing research at university on mindfulness, that was new as well. That was also like an entrepreneurship in university itself. I was the first one starting research on a topic like mindfulness, over whatever, like 13 years ago or something. Back then people were making fun of it. Seriously, they were making fun of me and they said, “Well, no, we have to all dress up in white and act like gurus, and go to work.” They were actually making fun of this research line. Of course, after the years progressed and many studies were done and we got cool results, then suddenly people started to adopt it and started to collaborate, but in the beginning, there is always this kind of resistance. So you have to be different.
Seph: Push back.
Hugo: Exactly. Push back, but you have to be different from the rest. Otherwise, you will become like the rest. That’s the inevitable consequence. If you want to be average, you have to act average. You have to follow the norm, you have to look at what other people are saying. You have to look at the media, you have to follow what everybody is doing to fit in the picture. So what helped me tremendously as well in leaving university and entering insecurity, and all that kind of stuff is picturing myself in the future. I remember you told me if you continue doing this, you know where you will end. Then I saw myself sitting in this little room, this ugly 80s building, and I was picturing myself there like 20 years later. I was like, “No man, it’s not going to happen.” This is because if you continue doing what you’re doing, you know where you will end.
Hugo: If you want to change your life, then you have to do things differently. That’s an inevitable consequence of wanting things to be different. You have to make that choice because otherwise, if you keep repeating yourself, you will end up with the very same results.
Seph: Yeah, and to me that’s the scariest thing in life. I literally get goosebumps as you said that to know where you’re going to end up, and to not like what you’re seeing at all in that vision. That’s the saddest thing to me, and that’s also why I made a drastic turn in my life back in 2015 remember when I quit my job. I broke off my relationship with my ex. I sold my house, I started traveling and working in a digital nomad kind of fashion. Just going to places close to the ocean and in the sun, working from there because that’s something I always wanted to do. Mostly because I didn’t like what I saw when I imagined myself five years down that road, 10 years down that road. The image I had of that was so clear. It’s like I know what that will be like. I could just picture it and I didn’t like that at all. To me, it’s super existential notion of course, but that’s so scary to be able to predict your life and to not like you’re here seeing. That’s when you really know that something drastic needs to happen.
Hugo: Yes, exactly. If I think back of my kids, I don’t want them to have such a life. I want them to have a life in which they’re brave enough to change their pathway if they feel they need to, and not stay connected to what they’re doing just because that’s what everybody’s doing.
Seph: Exactly. I mean look at it from a sailboat metaphor perspective, where it doesn’t need to be a complete 180 that you make in your life. It’s just changing by a couple of degrees. One year down the road you’re going to end up somewhere completely different by just changing a couple of degrees. So yeah, the question is maybe what kind of thing in your life do you know you have to, or want to change in which your future perspective of yourself will be so much better. Like what are you not changing, or hesitant to change right now that will prevent you from ending up in that destination where you really want to end up? Maybe it’s just that like I said, a couple of degrees that you have to change course.
Hugo: Yes, absolutely. The thing, I think what prevents us most is fear. It always comes down to fear. Fear that you may fail. Fear that you will not make enough money. Fear that you will be-
Seph: Disappoint people.
Hugo: Exactly. There’s always this fear, but I think the good news is that you can do it and have fear at the same time. So many people ask me how did you manage to overcome the fear? Then sometimes I reply to them, I say, “Well, I still am afraid. I still have fear.” No, seriously. Sometimes I tell them and I think, oh my God, I’m not sure how long we can keep this up and doing this and of course, because there is always insecurity. I think the good news is I am afraid and I’m running a company, so it’s not, I want to run a company, but I’m afraid. So I’m not doing it, but it’s I want to run a company and I am afraid. That for me summarizes the journey. Fear will travel along with you side by side, and you have to accept that because it’s part of the journey in my opinion.
Seph: Absolutely. I think that’s a beautiful place to leave this discussion for now. I see we’re over the one hour mark already. Yeah, I hope it really resonates with the person who’s listening right now. Is there any final note you want to leave this on?
Hugo: I seriously hope that the people are being honest with themselves, and live in line with their heart. The very thing I told my son when he was born, those are the two things I learned through my own struggles in life, and through the pain that I experienced. It’s so important to accept yourself unconditionally and to follow your heart in the hope that people can do that as well. Whether or not you’re starting a company, that doesn’t matter of course in the end. If you feel a very strong longing, if you really have a strong desire to start your own company, I think you should start at the very beginning. Find something you truly love, follow your passion, and consider a way to serve other people in whatever way. That would be my final message that I sincerely hope that will resonate with people.
Seph: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Thanks again for a great conversation, man. Yeah, I would love to do this again sometime soon.
Hugo: Okay, man. Thank you. Take care.
Seph: Take care. Bye.