09/24/2012 04:16 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Life Out Loud: Optimize for Joy

The amazing Mike Walsh somehow manages to be an entrepreneur, investor and advisor to startups, supporter of several charities, and devoted husband and father to two boys. Oh, and he's working on a film/book project on the side. How does he do it?


As Mike wrote in this blog, "I simply optimize for joy: the amount of joy that I experience, and the amount of joy that I can bring to others, including friends, family and often strangers.

"In his New York Times best seller Emotional Equations, my friend Chip Conley expresses joy in the following way: Joy = Love-Fear

"Being an engineer by training, that equation works for me. If you drive fear to a number approaching zero, then Joy = Love. The more love you experience and give, the more joy you have.

"Who doesn't want that? Why optimize for anything else? What else is there?"

Given that my personal mantra is "Fear Less, Love More," and I consider my role in the world to be a Promoter of Joy, I simply had to talk to Mike to explore further how he came to this life philosophy.

MeiMei: Tell me, Mike. How did you arrive at "optimize for joy" as your guiding principle?

Mike: It started when I was 13. I was hit by lightening coming home from a football game with my buddies. It should've killed me--I popped 10 feet in the air and landed on my elbow, breaking it. At that moment, I was like, "To hell with this. I'm just going to do whatever I want to do, and not be afraid to try new things." I immediately became more outgoing and adventurous.

Over the years, I've had a lot of luck in my career and my personal life. I married an amazing woman and we have two great kids. Professionally, I majored in engineering and business, and have worked for Raytheon building missile defense systems, for Kevin Costner creating an oil spill cleanup company, and founded and sold a software company. Eventually, I was able to invest in and advise several successful startups.

Then 18 months ago, my older brother died in a snow mobile accident. Even though we saw each other every year, I didn't know how much I looked up to him until he was gone. I was completely crushed. He taught me everything: how to ride motorcycles, build things, raise children. He was my hero. So then I felt like, "I'm not compromising anything in my life, even for a day."

As I was writing my brother's eulogy, I spoke with a lot of people who knew him, and they all talked about how generous he was. He would fix things for people, literally hundreds of people. He would do this after his four daughters went to sleep, from 9 pm til midnight, then get up at 5:30 am to go to work. As I talked with these people whose lives he had affected profoundly, I realized the impact of his generosity.

Just six months later, a good friend of mine committed suicide. This tragedy emphasized to me even more the idea that you can't waste a single day.

I now have no tolerance for wasting time. Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do. That's different. You do them to get to the end result--to help other people in your life, to bring them joy. But if it's not the right thing for anyone, I'm not going to let it slide.

I now make an intentional effort to devote 30-40% of my time directly to helping other people: advising companies, making introductions, and working for nonprofits like charity: water. I'll admit, helping others is definitely a selfish act in that it makes me feel happy. I would rather have someone say, "Wow, thank you so much for writing that letter that helped us get funding" than hand me a commission check. It's something deeper, which in the last two years I've really come to value.

I wasn't like that before. I was all about, "How can I build this, sell it, and make a shitload of money?" But I walked away from my brother's death and my friend's suicide with the realization that life is too short and the secret to happiness is to be generous. Who cares about X amount of bucks coming in, as long as we can get our kids a good education? We have a modest place in San Francisco. I don't need gobs of money. I'd rather spend my time and money helping others, and bringing joy to my own and other people's lives.


Mike is currently raising a fund to invest in early-stage startups, something that he's always wanted to do.

He is also working on a book/video series about generosity, for which he has interviewed Bill Gates, Tony Hsieh, Lauren Bush, Scott Harrison, Blake Mycoskie, Ted Leonsis, Chris Sacca, Ben Zander, teachers, healthcare workers, religious leaders, the head of UNICEF and a bunch of other people who are making a huge difference in the world.