A Conversation With Joel Solomon.
Hollyhock Board Chair Joel Solomon talks about living with a purpose and what that means to him, what he enjoys and what inspires him in life.
Guest Post by a Secret Change Hero, via The Change Heroes
For certain audiences there are some people who really need no introduction. In the hearts and minds of many social entrepreneurs, Joel Solomon’s name resonates with special meaning.
Scan some of our past People with Purpose conversations and his name often makes an appearance.
It’s the present of what he’s doing, his humble presence and generous being that evokes almost a sense of wonderment in those who know him or have heard of his work. Taking time out from responsibilities including his roles as Chairman of Renewal Funds (Canada’s largest social venture capital fund); founding member of Social Venture Network (SVN), Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), the Tides Canada Foundation and Board Chair of Hollyhock Foundation, to share some thoughts with us is meaningful. We’ll be forever grateful.
For a man who includes “Activating Money for Change” as a moniker, here’s our conversation that’s not really all that much about money.
What does living with purpose mean to you?
“One has to do the hard work of self-exploration and discover what you actually care about. For me, getting a health diagnosis telling me that I was going to die, is a reminder that we’re all going to die and there’s nothing we can do about it… so it’s wise as early in life as possible and throughout life to check in with the perspective of what life might look like from the death bed.”
“It’s important to guide one’s life from some sense of why… what is it that you want to leave as a legacy, and as your contribution to the world. I found that by exploring that question, it doesn’t end, you have to ask it over and over again. The clearer my choices and decisions are in personal relationships, professional relationships, and how I spend my time, it becomes a source of deep joy and nourishment. Purpose is a guiding light, an inner knowing of why, and it becomes a guidance tool for each little choice… what’s integrity, what’s authentic, why I’m doing each thing that I do? The clearer you get about your purpose, the more you know how to live your life.”
What inspires you to give?
“I feel that I’m among the most privileged people who have lived on the earth. Not suggesting there’s like only five of us, but rather we’re living in an era where many of us have access to food, shelter, wisdom, music, travel, goods and services from all over the world, and we can talk what we want to talk about.”
“It’s an incredible privilege to live in this time where human ingenuity has created so much , so many wonders, at the same time I’m less confident that wisdom has kept up with ingenuity. We’ve created the ability to harvest, exploit, manufacture and create… things like great cars and other great products; but if one is aware of how blessed and privileged we are to have so much, giving becomes a responsibility that is inherent with having. I think having and giving and generosity, is a philosophy of life that has to do with purpose and is why we’re here.”
“So the more that I’m given, and more access to all of these blessing that I have, it carries with it a component which requires that I have to take responsibility to also give. I believe there’s an energetic formula and an equation… the best way to receive is to give more. The more I do it, the more I see what I’ve gotten in return, in terms of love, caring, friendship. Giving is sharing of ourselves.”
What do you find most rewarding about what you are doing?
“It’s gives me access to some of the very best of what people have to offer. As an investor, it means some people have entrusted some of their money with me (people are pretty attached to their money) so that is a great privilege. This also means I can, from time to time, write a cheque to support someone…I get people’s best intention to put their ideas out, and be as effective as they can and really share of themselves.I actually get a fantastic human experience from this very transactional world that I live in.”
“I also spend as much time as I can meeting with people who are career changing, or meeting with young people asking about direction in life, or giving a certain amount of my time to people who believe there’s something I can share with them… because hearing other peoples experience — what matters to them, what they’ve seen, how they think about things — there’s no better learning school for me.”
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your young self?
“I would be sure to devote a significant priority of life to understanding the emotional, spiritual, psychological, relational connections… appreciating this will get you through everything.”
“Money, business, accomplishment, ego, fame, they won’t get you through the things that really matter, and so I would make it a part of my daily life, my weekly life, my monthly life, my annual life to use inquiry and self-exploration, and mutual exploration, to understand life better, to understand myself better, to understand how better to relate to others, and relate better to the deeper questions.”
Who/what is the coolest person/brand making a positive difference in the world?
“My wife Dana (CEO of Hollyhock), how she cares for that place, and oversees it’s impossible business model.”
“Vancouver Mayor, Gregor Robertson for going from a caring and successful entrepreneur into one of the least popular pursuits these days… politics. I’m inspired that he’s willing to go into the trench warfare that politics tends to be and keeps his centre, his purpose, and his values intact. He’s smart on a pragmatic level and is also carrying a vision for what matters in the future, and doing his very best to deliver that to all of us.”
What could you talk about all night?
“Pretty much all of what we’ve been talking about. I like hanging out with people who are questioning , doing honest inquiry, and loving inquiry. I like kicking back and talking about big philosophical questions, and esoteric things like the future of humankind. It’s about bringing it down to a practical and personal level. I feel like people have gotten distracted from having a grounded understanding of the meaning of life. We’re very, very smart and quite effective at a lot of things, but I think the kind conversation we can’t get enough of —what matters — is missing in our broader social discourse.
Do you have a motto or quote that inspires you?
“What a long strange trip it’s been…” Jerry Garcia (The Grateful Dead)
Random fact about you?
“In my mid-twenties (early ‘80’s) I was the caretaker of the Pacific Killer Whale Foundation on a remote island at the northern tip of Vancouver Island and given three basic instructions… feed the dogs, turn on the tape recorder when the Orcas come, and don’t burn down the house. I spent 3 years living most of the time alone, appreciating the deep silence, voraciously reading and connecting with nature, it was a real hunting, foraging, and gathering experience. When I arrived I didn’t know how to run a motor boat, or use a chainsaw.”
He shared a great parting message… “it’s all about love. I’d like to be a billionaire of love.”
There’s no doubt our communities, and our planet will be a lot healthier if more of us aspired to be billionaires of love.
Watch Joel Solomon’s TEDx Talk: