Losing My Identity

Originally published on Huffington Post.

In mid 2009, I left my position as CEO of a company that I had founded. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of an almost four-year process that I can only describe as losing my identity.

In this time frame I would go through heartbreak and homelessness and question every aspect of my life. I moved from Honolulu to San Francisco to New York City. The new company I started went through eight pivots, four co-founders, and near bankruptcy. I spent 11 months living in my car and incurred massive debt just to keep things going. After a challenging breakup, I didn’t go on a single date for 18 months. I decided to stop eating meat and lost 15 pounds of muscle mass. I sold almost everything I owned down to my car, ultimately living on the grace of good friends. I went through immense psychological stress and periods of time where I could see no light at the end of the tunnel.

All the things that had been important to me — a nice apartment, fashionable clothes, a fancy startup, my social life, financial stability, my diet and fitness, even my sexuality — dissolved. Spending nights alone in my car, staring at rain drops sliding down the window, there was nothing to distract me from me.

As I began to let go of all these things, I came to a very challenging psychological place: I had no idea who I was. With every core identity in question, I had a very hard time even socializing with other people. If I had no identity, on what basis could I connect with others?

Identity is that collection of attributes that defines how we see ourselves. It is the answer to the question: Who am I? Anyone who has ever seriously asked themselves that question may have found that the answer is not as obvious as one might think it should be.

I am Lorenz. But who is that? The relationship that I have with the people I know, the things I do, and the stuff I own paints a very inviting image of who I am. But what happens when I take those things away? Who am I then?

When the attributes of our identity are externalized, those attributes control us. Our sense of self worth becomes dependent on external considerations. We must have enough money, means, and status in order to consider ourselves happy. In pursuit of maintaining this false sense of happiness, we cling all the more strongly to external identifiers because so much self worth emanates from them. It can take losing these things, losing our identity, to see our true nature outside of them.

Each identity is a limited interpretation of who we are. The sum of our external identities is far less than the whole of our being. True freedom arises when we are not dependent on something outside ourselves for the way we feel about ourselves. The way we feel about ourselves starts with the relationship that we have with ourselves.

We choose the people we hang out with, the things we do, and the stuff we buy. That choice comes from somewhere. The source of that choice is much closer to our identity than the product. To understand our choices we must examine why we do the things that we do.

In experiencing my loss of identity, I could see that many of my actions were motivated by a desire for external recognition. I was either trying to impress others or worried about how they would judge me. However, any situation where my self expression is contingent upon the validation of others is bound to limit me from being myself. And if I’m not being myself, how can I possibly be happy?

True identity is being true to oneself. For me this is cultivating genuine self respect and a willingness to be vulnerable. This makes for a more flexible identity that is based on how I feel about my actions rather than the outcome of my actions. If I feel good then I know my behavior is aligned with values that bring me real happiness.

Since my car-living days, I’ve raised money for my company, moved into a beautiful apartment, and started dating an amazing woman. Am I attached to these things? Absolutely. But I try not to depend on them for how I feel about myself. Most importantly, I’m learning to see myself outside of my circumstances. This hasn’t happened overnight. It’s a process of making small choices that reinforce personal dignity day by day. When my self worth is decoupled from external considerations, I allow for genuine self expression to occur. In this sense, losing identity is really about finding ones true self.

In struggling to find my identity I realized that I create my own identity. This is the most valuable lesson that I have learned. When I let go of the need to define myself, I can choose any definition I want. By accepting that I am not limited by any notion of identity, I liberate myself to just be me. Right here, right now, I am choosing my identity by how I am choosing to spend my time. In this very moment I am creating myself and this is my identity.

The Time is Now

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr. Seuss

I regularly feel challenged by time. I want more time to do everything I want to do, learn the things I want to learn, be with my friends and family, and just relax once in a while. Yet time holds me prisoner in its unstoppable progression.

Ultimately, what is most stressful about life is our relationship with time.  Modern life is a multitasked existence. In our pursuit of productivity, we have perfected the art of constant partial attention such that our enjoyment of the things we do is equally fragmented. Spending time with friends, we think about work. Working, we wish we had more time to spend with friends. Though we may speak on the phone, read an email, and eat at the same time, we have not tripled our efficiency as much as diminished the quality of each experience.

If time holds us captive, it simultaneously offers the key to our liberation. Our shackles belong to the past and the future. In the present moment there is no past or future that is not contingent upon our attention to exist. Learning to manage our attention is the best way to manage our relationship with time.

Quality of life is proportional to the quality of our attention. Presence is focused attention on the current moment. It’s a choice and a practice. We choose to be present with our work, our friends, and our families. Then we practice and practice and practice.

In my own experience, this practice has been training myself to give attention to one thing at a time and being fully attentive when I’m having a conversation. I try to catch myself and breathe deeply whenever I feel my mind wander. In the pursuit of building a better relationship with my mind, I’ve found meditation, exercise, and diet to be the three pillars of progress. The key ingredient, though, is a continuing commitment to myself to be present.

Presence doesn’t make our schedule any less hectic. It does, however, change our relationship with time. Each moment becomes more satisfying, less consumed with worrying about what’s next. Time begins to revolve around our attention, instead of our attention revolving around time. That shift is the difference between freedom and bondage. It is the freedom to live life on our own terms, taking the time to do what’s important to us. It is the freedom to experience each moment fully, our attention undiminished by thoughts of elsewhere.

There is no magic analgesic that will grant us presence and mental acuity. Building a relationship with the mind takes work. Being present is a commitment to our own humanity. We exist to participate in life, not stress it’s future nor lament it’s past. Time only gives us one chance to experience the beauty in each moment. Now.

The Human Spirit

“There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.” – Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States

This week I sat down to write about the human spirit. I wanted to understand how is it that something common to every human being is so difficult to grasp. No doubt this is the domain of religion, but my inquiry is more practical in nature – what does it mean to be human? Though my quest did not yield the articulate definition I was hoping for, it left me with a powerful thought: the human spirit offers us the capacity to persevere in pursuit of truth.

Our most rewarding endeavor is to build confidence in our beliefs and cultivate the wherewithal to actualize them. We are born to contribute by creating. From that intangible space between mind and heart emerges the palette of creativity. Our thoughts are manifest through action, each a stroke of the soul’s paintbrush. Life is the canvas upon which our spirit renders it’s masterpiece.

Each of us struggles with limitation in a very personal way. Without limitation we would have no individuation. Humanity would be a canvas of even monochromatic brushstrokes. Our perceived limitations offer the kaleidoscope of human experience. The apex of our potential is where we find the full expression of our being.

In striving to realize our full potential we encounter the source of our fulfillment and frustration. That which is most true to us, the deepest desire in our heart, is rarely a straight and easy path. In my own life, I’ve endured lots of failure and even spent a year living in my car. I’ve been in situations where I simply did not see a light at the end of the tunnel. Worse than failure, is ambiguity. Not knowing how to move forward, being stuck in limbo. It’s painful and can make the strongest person want to quit.

The alternative, however, is not being true to oneself. It is to diminish the human experience, settling for an easier life at the expense of our heart’s joy. We let ourselves down and sell others short the benefit of our full grace. Each of us is an example of what is possible and, by virtue of that, inspires greatness in others. Our greatest contribution to those around us is our own excellence.

When there’s a truth that we are aching for, when a person yearns to fathom the color of their own soul, the human spirit gives us the capacity to see it through. How ever many times we might fall, the human spirit gives us the strength to get back up and try again. Inevitably, persistence begets progress. One day, despite all odds, we accomplish what we set out to create.

We overcome limitation when we change our perspective. We tend to think of ourselves as existing in one time and place, but we don’t. The present moment is only the tip of the paintbrush. It takes time to create a work of art. Our journey begins with the first stroke and our spirit, that intangible essence which makes us human, sees us through to the last.

Free Your Mind

“Peace begins when expectation ends” – Sri Chinmoy, author, poet, artist, spiritual teacher

Sometimes I have long philosophical conversations with my mother. We talk about the nature of love and she often challenges my perspective. I’ve had similar conversations with other people debating the notion that love and acceptance mean giving people a license to walk all over you.

This is not what acceptance means.

Acceptance is how we free our mind. Through acceptance we find liberation. We are not captive to the past, to the future, or to anything that anyone has done. We free ourselves from all emotional shackles. That is acceptance.

From that place of freedom we find remarkable clarity.

Acceptance is the bedrock of inner strength. Whether it’s a challenging business predicament or a personal conflict, we can examine our expectations and accept the situation exactly as it is. From this position of clarity, we are free to engage fully in the constructive pursuit of change.

We spend so much of our energy caught up in expectations. We expect things from others, we expect things from ourselves. Frustration is a product of expectations not being met. It stems from our desire for things to be different than the way they are. We become emotionally bound by our circumstances. When we respond from this state, we do so from a position of weakness because we’re not operating at our full capacity.

I’m not saying it’s easy. Acceptance can feel impossible and downright unjust at times. But acceptance isn’t an ethical judgement. It’s the internal process of reclaiming our identity. When we don’t accept a situation, it owns us. Our energy is consumed by an external factor outside of our control.

Liberation happens when we identify the underlying expectation in each moment. Why does it exist and why is it not being met? Love offers the recognition that our energy and peace of mind are far more important than any external circumstance. It is through acceptance that we find the fruition of our full potential as human beings. The hardest part might be accepting ourselves.

The Virtue of Vulnerability

“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.”
― Criss Jami, author, poet, songwriter

I love personal development literature. I’ve got a library full of books from Tony Robbins to Eckhart Tolle and dozens of other authors. I’ve spent a good portion of my life striving to be the kind of person I want to be. Yet as I lay in bed the other night, I had an epiphany. What if being better is less about chasing some ideal version of me and more about just being myself?

Human beings are by nature very different from one another. Each person strong and weak in their own unique way. Though we may aspire to some popular notion of perfection, it is through our weaknesses that we build character and craft personality. By embracing our weaknesses we fully harness our strengths.

Our willingness to be vulnerable conveys the greatest respect for ourselves and others. It is through that fullness of personality that we truly connect with another. Authenticity happens when we are unapologetic about who we are while being open and receptive at the same time. This allows us to see ourselves through the eyes of others and grow from that insight.

Vulnerability makes us coachable. A coach can be a specific person or it can be every person we meet. Each interaction offers the potential to learn something new. But that growth is only available when we are open to it and notice the opportunity to do so.

If I could send one message back to myself in the past, it would be this: open up, get to know my strengths, be comfortable with my weaknesses, and just be me. Throughout my personal friendships, my family, and my business, a willingness to be vulnerable has provided me with more meaningful relationships and deeper personal growth.

Being the best we can be doesn’t happen in the future, it happens right now. Truly opening ourselves up to the people we engage with is a choice we can make at any moment. Start with someone you love and then maybe try it in a business meeting or two. Who knows, you might even end up crying on stage as you conclude a TED talk.

The Power of Choice

Over the last two years I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand what I want out of my life. I’ve been doing startups since 2004. It’s been a tough road, both insanely challenging and deeply fulfilling. As I’ve grown, my values have evolved. I went from “I want to build a company so I can sell it for a lot of money” to “I want to help people live healthier lives” to “I want to live in a peaceful world.” That’s a big shift.

Consequently, I’ve come to realize that everyday I have a choice. I can choose to be guided by fear or I can choose to be guided by love. Fear is when I don’t do stuff that I want to because I’m afraid of how people might respond or that it won’t be good enough. Love is when I’m true to myself and follow my heart.

Fear creeps into our lives in small ways and limits our choices. It keeps us from connecting with other people. It prevents us from having freedom. We’re all familiar with fear of failure or rejection, but what about fear of success? As long as we’re not successful, there’s a lot less expectation and judgement, a lot less pressure. Fear comes in many shapes and sizes.

There’s nothing wrong with fear. Fear helps us see ourselves. The important thing is to not let ourselves be guided by fear. To love ourselves so much that we’re not willing to let fear hold us back from being the best that we can be. In that sense, fear is actually doing us a favor. When we can identify where fear is holding us back, we know exactly what we need to do to overcome fear: engage with it.

As a business owner, I encounter this all the time in the form of things that I should be doing but never get around to. Sure, I’m busy. But the truth is there’s a lot of stuff I could be doing to put myself out there. Like writing a newsletter. What I want most out of life is to help others be the best they can be. Of course, what that means is that I have to be the best that I can be. And in order to do that I need to be willing to confront my fears and overcome them.

That’s the power of choice that all of us have everyday. We have the power to choose to do what we want to do despite our fears. We have the power to choose to be who we want to be despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The greatest gift we have is the power of choice. I’m not saying it’s easy. In fact, it can be really hard to acknowledge fear and then actually overcome it. But it’s possible. And it’s not as hard as you might think. Most importantly, it’s the only way to be the best that you can be.

Today, as you come face to face with the incredible power of your choice, what will you choose to do?

The Wisdom of Love


The Wisdom of Love is a five part series exploring the practical side of love as a philosophy for happy and peaceful living.

There is a philosophy which needs no scripture and no handbook. It does not require an expert’s opinion nor a guru’s teaching. It is a philosophy so basic that it is embedded in the heart of every human being. Its practice has the power to change the relationship we have with ourselves, each other, and the planet. This philosophy is called love.

PART I: Loving Ourselves

Loving ourselves means cultivating consciousness around our actions, realizing that the most valuable asset we have is our time and energy. In order to become mindful of how we spend our time we must become conscious of what we do with it and why.

In our day to day life, we make small decisions that shape the life we lead in a big way. We make thousands of decisions without a second thought and if things don’t work out the way we planed, we wonder what happened. Whether we get in arguments with loved ones, wish we were healthier, feel unhappy with our job, want more time to do the things we enjoy, or just get frustrated with ourselves, we can begin to change our lives by cultivating more love around our decisions.

If we’re trying to lose weight, we might find that cultivating love towards ourselves offers the positive reinforcement we need to stick to our diet. If we’re working on something, love can mean valuing our time so much that we’re not willing to let ourselves get distracted or discouraged. It can also mean that when we do inevitably get distracted or discouraged, we accept that that’s a normal part of being human and keep going.

Our time is the most valuable thing we have. Loving ourselves means caring about how we spend it. Simply by asking, what would I do if I truly loved myself, we can begin to change our life. Would I eat this food? How would I treat my body? Would I buy these things? How would I spend my time? What career would I choose? How would I treat other people? How would I treat the planet?

It takes practice to start asking these questions and digging deep to explore the answers. The point is that love, although difficult to describe, offers a certain compass that is readily felt in the heart. We may not always have a perfectly clear answer, but life is rarely black and white like that. What love offers is the opportunity to explore how a decision we’re considering can serve the highest good for both ourselves and others.

Each of us is unique and worthy of dignity. No other person has gone through the same life experiences that brought us to where we are today. If we consider that out of over six billion people, we are the only person that has experienced life the way we have, we might appreciate how truly amazing we are. Our unique perspective is the incredible value that we deliver to any given moment. Love gives us the reason to be the best we can be. Conscious action gives us the means.

True Religion

Religion promises to give us a relationship with the divine. Yet all too often this relationship is underscored by the shadow of separation. By virtue of one’s definition of the divine, one loses their relationship with the divinity that is inherent in life itself – that of each human being.

Every religion finds love at it’s heart. Love knows no labels. It has no brand. Love is that force which brings us together, allowing us to accept each other and find compassion for every situation.

With love we can begin to realize that every human being is part of our family. We are all mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters. We are all connected through our humanity.

You don’t need to be a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist, or a Hindu to appreciate the value of love. You are human. It is inside you. You have the love of humanity in your heart.

What is Conscious Commerce?

Everyday we create the world we live in through our consumption. We may not realize it, but our daily purchasing decisions are some of the most important choices we make and have far reaching global impact. Commerce is the lifeblood of humanity. Since the dawn of civilization people have bartered with and bought goods from one another. Cultivating consciousness around consumption means developing awareness around our true impact on other people and this planet. By making an effort to be more conscious about how products are produced, sold and consumed, we can have far more enjoyable experiences and make the world a better place.

The things we consume have a life cycle that spans the global supply chain – from cotton plantations in the United States to electronics factories in China to banana farms in South America. Our consumption habits have significant downstream impact. It can be hard to see when we’re buying a t-shirt or a piece of jewelry, but the things we purchase either support a positive relationship with people and our planet or a negative one.

Consider the life cycle of food as it makes its way to the table. How was the food cultivated? Was it raised in a sustainable manner by farmers that really cared about you and the planet? How was it picked, processed and distributed? How were workers treated in the process? Finally, how was it prepared just before it came to your plate?

It’s a little easier to track the path of food from farm to table because food is so heavily regulated. With a little bit of effort we can choose to buy organic. But it’s harder to see the bigger picture. The fact is, a similar line of questioning can be applied to every product we purchase, from furniture to footwear.

The amount of effort it would take to track the entire supply chain is mind boggling and well beyond what even the most well-meaning person would ever want to do. It’s hard enough figuring out the source of the food on our table, much less all the clothes and electronics we buy.

One place to start is simple: reduce consumption. Stepping back from everything we own, we might realize that we don’t actually own anything – everything owns us. Every item we purchase, from our car to our shoes, is something we have to take care of and maintain.

Often we lose sight of all the things we own, and consumption becomes an opiate – the fleeting satisfaction of getting that shinny new thing. Inevitably, most of the things we buy end up as clutter in the closet or another reason to spend a hundred dollars a month for storage space. A person can’t avoid owning stuff – even a monk owns a mat. But we can become much more aware of what we bring into our lives.

Our culture prizes getting the best deal on everything we buy. Supply always meets demand and our appetite for consumption is met with a flood of low cost, low quality products. Getting that shinny new thing has become a staple of the modern economy – one that churns up global resources much faster than we can replace them. There’s a lot to be said for spending more on a high quality product that will actually last. Well designed products are more enjoyable and more durable. In the long run, that means greater cost savings as the product won’t need to be replaced as soon. Spending more on a product also promotes good quality craftsmanship which supports merchants that actually care about the products that they sell.

When it comes to local merchants, one can actually talk to the owner and rely on their expertise. It starts with asking the right questions and making an effort. In a perfect world every human being would profoundly care about how their actions affect other human beings. We might not be there yet, but we can support the people who are making the effort, particularly independent merchants who love what they do.

As human beings, we each have the power to be the change we want to see in the world. Each of us can make the choice to care about what we consume. Conscious commerce really means finding love for ourselves. When we love ourselves, we care about the things we put into and onto our body. When we love the planet, we think about how the things we purchase affect the planet and the people on it.

The Heartbeat Philosophy

Every person is a monument to the human spirit.

I have always believed that if you pursue something whole heartedly everything will work out. Yet here I was in the middle of the desert overwhelmed by the weight of my credit card debt, reeling from a co-founder blow out, and feeling like I had put everything on the line and failed.

I was in Black Rock City having one of those moments that only Burning Man can provide – an absolute moment of truth. I was broke and living in my car on the streets of San Francisco. The start up which I had poured my heart into for the last three years was on thin ice and had one remaining employee – me. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got back to San Francisco.

The theme of Burning Man that year was Rites of Passage. In many ways 2011 had felt like a rite of passage. The year started with me feeling broken hearted from a break up, losing $40,000 through a unpaid loan to a friend, and moving into my car to save money. Here I was, eight months later, still hanging on to what life remained in Heartbeat by the edge of my fingertips.

In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Viktor Frankl posits that a person’s sense of purpose is more important than any quality of life they may or may not enjoy. The meaning that we feel in our lives is the true determinant of quality. I would go further to say that following one’s heart, that which is most important to us, is what gives our lives true meaning.

That year in the desert I was having a crisis of meaning when a profound epiphany crossed my mind. I envisioned a world where human beings lived in harmony with one another – with no war and no poverty. A world where we treasure each other and embrace our humanity. As I experienced this flash of insight into the future of our planet, I felt from the bottom of my heart that what I imagined was actually possible.

I had never given peace much thought before that moment, yet here I came to believe that world peace is absolutely possible and attainable within my lifetime. By the end of Burning Man, I had set my mind on moving to New York City and finding a way to work on making the world a more peaceful place.

Coming back to San Francisco, I had a very clear sense of purpose and absolutely no sense of direction. My credit cards were all getting maxed out, I had failed at raising money for Heartbeat, and I wasn’t sure if I could figure out a way to align my startup with my new found aspiration. I think most of my friends thought that I had fallen off the deep end at Burning Man.

I spent a lot of time contemplating the concept of peace. What would it take for humanity to co-exist peacefully on this planet? I felt certain this was something more basic than humanitarian work, economic policy, or government treaties.

The conclusion that came to me was simple yet felt the most true. World peace starts with people doing what they love. When we truly love ourselves, we value our energy, and our time becomes more valuable than money. When our time is more valuable than money we’re only willing to do things motivated by love. And when we’re motivated for the right reasons, all of a sudden the reasons for engaging in negative behaviors dissolve. If every person on the planet could feel this way, the world would be a much better place.

In a previous incarnation, Heartbeat had been focused on providing marketing services to fitness professionals. Having interviewed dozens of independent professionals over the previous year, I suddenly realized that they were all saying the same thing: making a living doing what you love can be really hard. The practical aspects of being a one person business can mean a person has to spend a lot of time struggling to do things that have nothing to do with their true passion. Wouldn’t it be amazing if a company took this idea to heart and focused on empowering people to be successful doing what they love?

Heartbeat is just getting started with a very small piece of the puzzle. We’ve built a strong team and managed to raise money from amazing investors. We’re working with independent merchants to help them connect with local customers and community. As consumers, when we do business with people that love what they do we support an economy based on a more conscious and sustainable way of life. The transaction takes on more meaning, and the experience becomes just as important as the product. All of a sudden we’re not just buying something, we’re supporting a human being.

Love is a deep concept with many interpretations. I’ve come to settle on the definition that love is whatever brings us closer to peace. It is my belief that when we do what we love, we are more likely to be at peace with ourselves. When we are at peace with ourselves, we can be agents for peace in the world at large. Together we can heal the world one human being at a time.

Thank you.