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A Successful Entrepreneur's Thoughts On Happiness in Work and Life

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Gordon Wright, founder of OutsidePR, has competed for the USA in a world championship triathlon, though his humility leads him to qualify that achievement by saying, "I made it just by showing up and being reasonably fit." He surfs avidly; plays baseball and rugby; has raced his mountain bike and won prize money in Ride and Tie; and has done open water swims and multi-day adventure races. And he's loved every single one.

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"There are activities out there for absolutely everyone," Gordon told me. "You just have to try everything that sounds appealing." The by-product is fitness. The goal is fun.

Given his great passion for athleticism and exercise, it seems obvious that Gordon would have founded and be leading a highly successful fitness-related company. But it took a while for him to find his way onto his heart path.

After graduating from UCLA in six years (Gordon explains he spent most of that time "playing rugby and drinking beer"), the young man became an ambitious, suit-wearing junior PR guy whose great goal in life was to be a vice president by the time he was 30. He did just that, but found the high-end corporate pool to be "rancid and not representative of any actual professional merit."

So in 1995, Gordon stepped out on his own to create a small PR consultancy working for law firms, insurance companies, and the typical sort of businesses he was accustomed to serving. It took him another four years to realize (in his words), "Hey, dummy. You own your own business. You can do anything you want to do." Flash forward a few more years and Gordon had achieved his ultimate goal: pretty much his entire practice was outdoor and fitness-related.

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Gordon states emphatically that the single most important decision in his life other than asking his wife to marry him was starting his own business. "Here's the simple fact: Why should you allow others any say in your professional future? What if your boss is an idiot or incompetent? Having your own business gives you all the power. On the flip side, you don't have anyone to blame if you fail, but I think of it as the ultimate professional security. You are answerable only to yourself."

The biggest reward in Gordon's PR work is getting publicity for his clients. He says that each media hit "gives a juicy jolt of vindication and excitement to my day. That ability to tie daily practice with rewards, a 1:1 relationship, is a recipe for professional happiness."

The biggest challenge Gordon faces in a career field that is frequently rated as the most stressful white collar job around is managing growth. Sometimes, it means investing in people or taking a risk. Other times, it means saying "no," something he struggles with to this day.

I asked Gordon why he felt working for himself was only the second-most important decision in his life, after choosing his spouse. He replied, "I married up and am amazed pretty much every day by my wife. You spend a lot of time with your spouse. We're at over 20 years with two teenagers and still going strong so as inane as it sounds, getting the right person to marry you is the key to happiness."

In response to my request that Gordon share some of his wisdom with aspiring entrepreneurs and change makers, he poetically replied, "The older I get (I'm 49 now), the more uncertain things appear. As you age and have kids, you gain more wisdom, yet you also have more questions. I think I'm ready to ponder life a little more deeply now. But I do miss the days when I was young and I knew with bone-deep certainty that the future was as bright as it was unwritten."

Photo credits: Austin Brewin, Ginny Graves