Thoughts and Stories
Interdependence, Independence and The Search For Our Freedom
1 year, 1 month ago Posted in: Thoughts and Stories 0

I’m starting a new blog to explore how people live in a 21st century world and build the lives they’ve always imagined; with insight gained from a trip around the world and a decade spent helping entrepreneurs turn their dreams and ideas into a reality. #NoBoundaries

Shigatse, Tibet (photo by Andy Stoll)

Shigatse, Tibet (photo by Andy Stoll)

Interdependence

Ten years ago this week, I quit my job, sold all of my things, and with a backpack, a virgin passport and a one way ticket to China, I set off on what seems like the ultimate dream, the ultimate badge of freedom: a 4-year solo trip around the world to better understand how people live. Over those four years, I got to see the world on-the-ground, unfiltered, and unvarnished in over 40 different countries. I dined with slum dwellers and movie stars, poets and entrepreneurs, holy men and engineers. Half-way through that journey (in 2008), the global economy melted down and, as I walked the dusty winding roads and forgotten corners of the planet, the world went through a fundamental economic shift not seen since the Great Depression.

The biggest lesson I learned from traveling around the world is that cultural and language differences aside, we’re all much more similar then we’re led to believe, and it’s the similarities that keep us connected and the differences that keep it interesting.

Learning how to farm maize near Kamume Village, Zambia

Learning how to farm maize near Kamume Village, Zambia

Independence

Five years ago today, on July 4th (US Independence Day), I co-founded a social good company obsessed with discovering what kind of places, cultures and communities give entrepreneurs and creatives the best possible chance to thrive. Our company, Seed Here Studio would focus its work in Iowa, a place not known for such activity, and our team worked to find ways to foster the “community and culture” in which people could more easily turn ideas in their head into reality. Our theory was that if we could figure this out in Iowa — far from the Silicon Valleys of the world — we might find ways to unlock latent entrepreneurial and creative talent everywhere. The work has grown from Iowa and eventually expanded across the country and around the world, taking us to nearly a hundred cities in pursuit of more perspective, from New Orleans to Santa Barbara from Charleston to Kiev. I’ve facilitated Startup Weekends in Bulgaria, spoke about entrepreneurship with Rotary Clubs in rural California, helped entrepreneurs from Africa, and had the opportunity to learn and work with some of the biggest names in entrepreneurship and innovation.

The biggest lesson I learned from my work with Seed Here, is as the world is undergoing a massive shift, there is now unprecedented opportunity for individuals to build the life they want, and in that work, find the freedom and meaning they seek. As the Industrial Age ends, we find that entrepreneurship — making ideas happen, in the broadest sense of the word — is now an open door for nearly everyone. Entrepreneurship and creativity have been democratized, and the individual has been globalized. So, if you have an idea in your head of something you want to create, whether it’s a book, a blog, a music video, an app, a medical innovation, a widget, a t-shirt or a revolutionary idea, the barriers to entry have collapsed, and you now have access to the tools to bring it to life and to reach a global audience. It’s still a long, difficult journey, but it’s never been easier to start.

 

The Seed Here Studio Team at EntreFEST 2015 with Seth Godin (Photo: Justin Torner)

The Seed Here Studio Team at EntreFEST 2015 with Seth Godin (Photo: Justin Torner)

 

Our Search For Freedom

In this “post-Industrial Age,” many of the rules of how we live are being reimagined. This new era is also upending the institutions that built, and were built, for the Industrial Age — think manufacturing, media, finance, economic development, education, government, healthcare…or just pick up a newspaper…er, I mean go to any newspaper app…

This shift has also brought about economic uncertainty, widespread political and social strife, and what feels, at times, like global chaos.

As refugees stream across European borders, driven I’d guess as much by chaos at home, as the vision of a better life gleaned from Facebook feeds and Snapchats— many of us in the more fortunate world, can come face-to-face with those seeking freedom and a better life, in a way not possible a decade ago. And we find, we’re not all that different — all in pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Dear World + We Are People inside of the Zataari Refugee Camp. (Syrian Refugee Crisis) from Dear World

Ironically, across the ocean in the United States, the world’s richest country, whose very name evokes the “freedom,” these refugees seek, we too struggle. Our national politics looks like a reality TV show farce; just a third of US workers are happy with their jobs (Gallup, 2016); first-world problems oddly exacerbate our anxiety about the future; and our monthly payments and “stuff” keep us from travel, leisure and freedom. All of it replaced by a race that isn’t so much against violence or the poverty of money, but, more often a poverty of time — all in harried pursue of “it all.” True freedom, it sometimes feels, has escaped us as well.

The border between these two worlds— though each side seeks similar ends— stands in sharp relief to how economically and technologically interconnected we’ve all become. Change and anxiety drive us to isolate ourselves, and draw lines and boundaries by income, race, political orientation and geography, when in fact, it is the opposite of what we need.

Since I set off with just a backpack and an open mind to see the world in 2006; after wandering across borders and boundaries, through skyscrapers and mud hut villages on five continents, and after more than a decade of helping entrepreneurs turn the dreams in their head into reality, I’ve become fascinated with how it all comes together: How we can build meaningful lives, and particularly how “The American Dream,” a perennial manifesto and map, pursued by centuries of immigrants and natives alike, seems to go on unquestioned — even as the world goes through fundamental economic, technical and cultural shifts.

As we enter into this new era, as old institutions die, I believe the “Connected Age” (as Seth Godin calls it) offers unparalleled opportunities for individuals everywhere to seek out possibility and freedom in new ways; to turn our ideas into a reality; to do meaningful work and raise a family; and to build lives that we have always imagined. It also allows us the chance to do it together, to help each other in our pursuits— in fact, ideas thrive, it turns out, in interconnected communities where a culture of diversity, trust, and togetherness reign.

So today — Independence Day 2016, I’m launching a new project, this blog, to share, explore and discuss some of what I’ve observed and learned about these themes, of course through the lens of my own experiences (and biases), as a middle class American. My hope is to examine it from a multitude of angles and through a few different lenses and connect with others who’d like to do the same.

Hope you will join me.

Happy Independence Day!

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Also published on Medium.

Andy Stoll is a social entrepreneur, producer and speaker, more at andystoll.net/about. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. 

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