A couple of Thursdays ago a friend called with 2 tickets to see DC professional sports entrepreneur Ted Leonsis speak on his book, The Business of Happiness, as part of The Smithsonian Associates speaker series. The book tells his story growing up a working class kid who became a 28-year-old multimillionaire leading an unhappy, unfulfilling life that was brought into prospective during an almost disastrous airplane ride that had passengers assuming the crash position.
For the most part, suffering wealthy people have the option of choosing comfortable surroundings in which to be miserable and have a leg up in trying to reverse their distress with highly trained professionals guiding them to a better place. This leads to the question of why am I cheering for this guy?
Ted’s the anomaly in the ranks of the sometimes vilified professional sports team owners because of the positive connection he has with his team’s fan base. His Washington Capitals went through a painful ground up, years long rebuilding process that he was honest and upfront about from the start. Imagine being in his shoes standing in front of your team’s most loyal fans, the financial bedrock of his business, and telling them we’re going to lose a big bunch of games before we win. He answered their emails, even from some of the most strident naysayers, and made himself accountable for the plan that eventually produced one of the most exciting teams in sports. The fans, me included, stick with this guy because we trust him.
Readers of his book are provided a dimension of Leonsis not usually found in the testosterone laden world of professional sports. He recounts his personal reckoning on that airplane that had him asking, if I die today, would I die happy? After realizing the answer was no he bargained with God resolving to give back more than he takes and find his true higher calling. Out of this experience came a new and happy approach to business and life that started with him developing a Life List of 101 goals and a plan to reach them.
His message is that business and personal success doesn’t drive happiness, happiness drives success and true happiness can be found in the act of giving your time and resources to a higher calling where empathy and gratitude are key ingredients.
The obvious separation between Ted and most people are mountains of money and heightened personal success but his willingness to share the evolution of his life experience goes a long ways towards leveling the playing field so more of us can say me too.
I’m cheering for Ted for using the pulpit built on his success to spread the word on happiness. Reading his book made me happy and was time well spent.
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