Whole Foods Co-Founder John Mackey's Career Advice to Entrepreneurs

Last month, I interviewed Whole Foods Market  (NASDAQ: WFM  ) co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey in front of a live studio audience at Motley Fool headquarters. Mackey just published Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business with co-author Raj Sisodia, and stopped by our Alexandria, Va., offices on his book tour.

Mackey and Sisodia make a compelling case for moving away from so-called shareholder capitalism, which posits that the one and only aim of a business is to create value for its investors, toward a multi-stakeholder model in which a business should serve customers, employees, suppliers, local communities, the world, and, yes, shareholders.

Toward the end of our talk, Fool co-founder Tom Gardner asked Mackey to share some career advice. See his answer in the clip below. (The run time is 3:00; there's also a lightly edited transcript below.)

Tom Gardner: What career advice would you have here in terms of the journey of self-discovery, finding your strengths, your unique strengths, your weaknesses? You said you feel that you've been pretty self-aware in your life and your professional life -- just provide any guidance for us in how to find that, and deploy our unique talents to the greatest effect in the organization that we work.

John Mackey: What I usually tell people -- particularly young people -- I really think that this is the secret to life, so I'm gonna let you in on it. You should follow your heart in life. It sounds very simple, but it's very difficult to do, because most people are too afraid to do so. Most people want to play it safe in life, and I'll tell you an anecdotal story. When I began to follow my own heart, I was 19 years old, and I was at the University of Texas, and I was studying philosophy, and I was reading Being and Nothingness by John-Paul Sartre, the French existential philosopher.

That was a very boring book to read, and I will just say it outright for the record. I'm trying to make heads or tails of what this guy's talking about, and I just didn't like it. And I remember, I threw the book down on the ground, and I said I'm never ever, going to read another book in my life that I don't want to read. That was the first step.

The next day, I dropped the course, and I said I'm never ever going to take another course that I don't want to take, which led to having 120 hours of electives, and no college degree; but I had a very interesting college experience, anyway. Then that led to, you know what, I'm just not going to do things anymore that I don't want to do, because life is just too short. It's too short to do anything but what you really care about, what you're really passionate about, and that was when I had latched basically onto following my heart wherever it led me -- and not to do things because I was afraid. If I was afraid of something, then that was a challenge to try to master the fear, and not let that fear hold me back.

And that's very good career advice if you're an entrepreneur in particular, because that led me -- you know, I was a shy guy in my 20s -- to start Whole Foods Market, which seemed an improbable thing; but I had a passion for it and, even though I had a lot of self-doubt and not enough self-confidence, I just went ahead and went for it anyway. So my career advice to you, and my life advice, is find what your passions are, things that you most care about, and do it and follow it, because it's going to lead you to this amazing adventure. Your own inner guides are your best guides you'll have in life, and if you listen to it -- you have to be self-aware to listen to it -- you will find that there's a tremendous amount of wisdom within your own being. And once you can tap into that, you're, you're there launched, and it's gonna be fun and scary sometimes, but a great deal of fun.

For more from my interview with John Mackey, see:


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