Ali Jafarian

Finding Purpose Mountain with Mike Wagner

Episode Number 009
Duration 45 min

I’m very excited to share this special episode with my good friend and fellow Front Row Dad, Mr. Mike Wagner.  Mike and I have a shared philosophy on many things, so this was an opportunity to hit record and capture some of the dialog we normally have in private.

We focus this discussion on one of the almighty questions – finding our purpose.  Mike shares his unique perspective on vision based living and how he’s navigated his own purpose journey.  We use powerful analogies related to mountains, rivers and the paths we pursue.  We also discuss how we think about our children finding these paths.

This episode was a lot of fun to create.  I hope it inspires you in some way 🙂

“I was like, wait, I played the game… I followed the rules… I won the game… and this still doesn’t feel quite right. What am I missing here?”

Guest details
Mike Wagner - Family Man & Entrepreneur
Mike Wagner


[00:00:00] Ali: Welcome back folks, Ali here with the Pursuit of Something. I have a very special guest. Mr. Mike Wagner. He is a homie. He is a guy I met through F R D years ago. And life has just brought us together on lots of occasions, especially in the realm of Front Row Dads. And, we have had amongst other experiences, a lot of 5:00 AM chats early morning into the purpose of life, fatherhood, all these amazing convos.

And so today I am privileged to have him on to record an episode. Mike, welcome. How would you like to introduce yourself?

[00:00:44] Mike: Ali. Thank you, man. I appreciate the opportunity to be here. Any chance to have a conversation, even if it's not at 5:00 AM with you. I am game to do it. And so, uh, glad to be here. As far as introducing myself goes, first and foremost, I'm a husband and father. Melanie, my wife of jeez 13 years now we've been together for 23 years. More than half of both our lives. She is my soulmate and the reason I wake up every day. She's gifted me with three incredible children. William is my oldest. He is eight. Lucy is six, and then we've got little Emma who's two. They are, as I said, the reason for everything I do.

And when I have a little extra spare time, I am also a self-storage investor. And more recently I've started a coaching company where I teach other people how to do the same, which is our tagline. And it's much more than a tagline. To me is that we use ordinary garages to create extraordinary lives, so that we can then use those extraordinary lives to spread awesomeness throughout the world.

And yeah, that sounds totally lofty given that we're talking about dingy garages and, and row buildings on the side of the street, but really the garages are just a vehicle to financial security and freedom so that we can spend time doing things that are far more important, like conversations with you and, and getaways to the wilderness of Colorado with you and all the other fun stuff we get to fill our time with.

[00:02:08] Ali: Indeed, well said. You know, one of the things that I've sort of felt from you, Mike, as it relates to storage rebellion and the coaching, the business that you run is that I've seen people and known people who just design such businesses for the financial gains, for the freedom, et cetera. But when we talk about this, and it's sparing, because we are intentional about when we integrate the business convo, I sense the conviction you have in really giving both yourself and the people that you teach and coach a greater vision.

Tell me a little bit more about that, because even that brief version you just gave, it feels different than a lot of people who invest in real estate or property or land-based assets. So I'm actually curious, I want to know a little bit about how this greater vision or purpose drives you.

[00:03:09] Mike: Yeah, absolutely. It's a great question and I'll do my best to offer some brevity to it, cause I could talk for hours about this subject alone. Long story short, I was like anybody else when I got, I think like anybody else when I got into real estate and I was chasing the dollar. I was chasing freedom as well.

I was sick and tired of someone else telling me where to be and when to be. You know, working a nine to five job and then some. Being told how much vacation I could have and all those sorts of things. And so I sought out real estate as what I thought would be my ticket to freedom. But it was all still based on the ability to buy freedom. Like I thought you had to earn enough money in order to be entitled to some sort of control over your time. And I think we live in a world where money is an energy source with a lot of power. And so yes, there is that reality to the world.

But, I was very fortunate when I found my initial kind of let's call it success, right? Financial success in the world of self storage. I was at that time, serendipitously also introduced to this concept of vision-based living, where this idea that unless you define success for yourself and pursue it intentionally you'll end up chasing someone else's version of success, right. Through cultural or societal influences, the stereotypical American dream with, you know, a house and an acre of land, a white picket fence, two cars and two and a half kids, a dog, whatever it might be. Right.

And looking backwards, what I recognize as having happened was I played the game the way everyone told me to. I went to school. I got good grades. I got a good job. And by all worldly measures, my wife and I at the time were successful. We had the American dream and yet something felt off to me. And I don't want to paint this picture that I was like, you know, riddled in the fetal position terribly unhappy or anything.

But I just knew there had to be something more. And so in many ways I'd probably describe myself as kind of disillusioned. I was like, wait, I played the game. I followed the rules. I won the game and this still doesn't feel quite right. What am I missing here? And that's where as I mentioned, that was kind of happening concurrently with my pursuit into storage and I found success as well. There was the same story played out where it's like, okay, well, I got the freedom. I no longer have a boss. I'm my own boss. Storage pays us really well. So I kept playing by the same rules and I got more quote, unquote successful and it felt good for a time being, and I'm not discounting the value in that progress or that achievement or status or whatever word you want to tie to it.

But again, I didn't feel complete. And so, that's where the vision based learning, to get directly toward your question, the vision-based living, I should say, comes in. I went through a series of exercises. I had a coach who walked me through, what would life look like if it didn't feel off, right?

Like if you could wave a magic wand, time and money are no object, what would your perfect day, week, month, year, and life look like? And I spent years working through that, those exercises and fine tuning and evolving them because of course it's a moving target. There is no finish line. Though we'd like there to be one.

And so, I'll be forever grateful for those lessons I learned. And I'm very grateful that it happened kind of around the time where I had achieved a level of success that, for me, looking back was very important. It was very important what I did with that success. Cause I could have spent it just as fast as I earned it.

And ended up kind of back into a corner where I didn't have the level of freedom that I now have today because we've based all the decisions that we've made between that first success and today on the vision that we've created for our life. And so it doesn't mean we don't have the temptations that everybody else has.

We just have a very powerful document, right? It's my written definition of success, where anytime there's a temptation to pursue a new shiny object, whether that's a business venture or a new car or whatever it might be, we can hold it up against our vision and say, Hey, does this bring us closer to not success, but fulfillment.

[00:07:42] Ali: I see.

That's huge. Okay. Is it fair to say you've been down this purpose journey for a while now?

[00:07:50] Mike: Yeah. I would say we're going on five, six years probably.

[00:07:52] Ali: Okay. Beautiful. Yeah. Attentional pursuit.

Right. It's a good distinction there because as you know, the theme of this show is what are you currently pursuing? And so if we start to answer that and focus in on today, are you still in an evolution of that, or that's just going to run its course and there's something else that might be pursuing at the moment.

[00:08:19] Mike: Yeah. It's a great question. You know, my belief is that there's always another level, right?

We're just this onion and there's this superficial level where it's all about status and your sneakers and your car or whatever. And as you pull back the layers of the onion, we get deeper and deeper. And I think there is no finish line on how deep we can go. I will say that it's been shifting for me.

At risk of going too deep, too fast, although I know with Ali, that's not a thing. Uh, I went from pursuing success to pursuing fulfillment and that fulfillment has for several years taken the form of helping other people kind of walk the path that I've been walking. If they so choose, not that they have to adopt all of my same thoughts or beliefs or have the same definition of success, but, essentially to help them find their own version of fulfillment.

And what I've recognized recently is that, as beautiful and grateful as I am to be in a position to help people like that, it's just a new iteration of a game that I've been playing my whole life. And that is how do I earn people's acceptance and impress them in such a way that it might make up for those self doubts and insecurities that I have of my own. Right?

So at first it was, well, if I play by the rules and achieve the world's definition of success, everybody will look at me and think I'm successful. Maybe that'll make me feel like a complete person. And then it became, well, all right that seems like a race I can't win. So I'll pursue A, B or C to try to achieve that. And fulfillment was the most recent one. Impact, I should say. If I can help other people so much, then all of these insecurities or self-doubts, or criticisms I have in my brain must not be true because look what I did for so-and-so. What I'm recognizing now and what I'm focusing on most recently at risk of turning into my therapist is understanding as beautiful as that impact is, it's not where my worth comes from.

[00:10:28] Ali: I see. So even though it's hard to summarize that because that's fairly deep, and we're going to get into philosophy here regardless, right? Is that you are pursuing an evolution of purpose driven work. And it's a nice time to introduce a very recent topic that we had on a trip where we were talking about different mountains, right?

And just to give the audience some context. We were on this amazing hut trip, which I did a small recording on to kind of describe that experience. And one of the more memorable conversations we had with a couple of other brothers was this definition of mountains. Or well, using mountains as a metaphor of things that humans climb and pursue, and to some degree want to conquer.

And so you've got this one mountain, let's just call it the status mountain where you were describing earlier. Like, ah, this is the one that you climb for fame, for money, for status, for things that society assigns value to, or will praise us for. It's generally accepted.

And then you've got this other mountain, which you and I are talking about, and we spend a lot of time geeking out about. Let's just call it the purpose mountain. This is the mountain that some people never go over to. Other people find their way and start climbing it. Some people in their own version conquered that mountain. I can't say I felt that nor do I think yet at this time that it is a mountain to be conquered per se, but I'm definitely walking around that thing. Right.

I've made the transition over. This is where, yeah, we're both smiling cause we've had like ninja convos around this and it's like, that mountain is tricky because that mountain doesn't have as many formulas or predefined systems or templates on how to climb it, where to start, what the top even looks like.

I was talking about this with my coach the other day, and she's like, you might not ever see what the top looks like. Whereas that other first mountain, it's actually quite clear. There's all these prescriptions and formulas to get up to that thing and then come down it.

So what do you think about that mountain? Do you even think it's a mountain? I'm gonna throw a combo question at you. Do you even think it's a mountain and then, what you just shared in terms of your current evolution of purpose-driven work, how does that resonate with this mountain that we've talked about?

[00:12:54] Mike: Yeah. No, and I love this analogy if you will, because it, you know, and there's no such thing as a perfect analogy. We talk about this long enough, we're going to poke holes and go, eh, maybe it's not a mountain, maybe it's a hill instead, or, you know. But I appreciate the analogy for several reasons. One of them is, the first mountain, I think most people can wrap their head around pretty easily because it's the world, it's American culture, right?

And there are some folks that might be listening and they go, well, I'm not into status. I don't care. I don't need a Ferrari, I don't need a Mercedes or whatever the case may be. And you know, The person who buys a Honda civic, because they've never bought a Ferrari is doing that to protect their status.

Their status is they are not a Ferrari driver. And there's nothing right or wrong with a civic versus a Ferrari. There's no judgment in it. It's just a recognition that human beings are inherently status driven creatures and rejecting status is a status in and of itself. Right. So, that's a mountain that all of us play on, whether we admit it or not, I would argue anyways.

And, the most interesting part when we bring in the second, the purpose driven mountain, what I've been wrestling with lately, and I'll probably have more questions than answers around this at this point. But what worked to get me up to the first mountain, whether I made it to the top or not. Right. Everybody decides how high they quote unquote need to climb on that mountain.

And that's an interesting side conversation, right? The question, how much is enough. And a lot of people, if they answered the how much is enough with the response just a little bit more, they're at risk of spending their entire life on that first mountain. Which to me it's not better or worse. It would just be sad because I like to think I've transitioned to spending some of my time on the mountain number two, the purpose mountain.

The joy and love and connection and all of those things, self-acceptance, are in such greater abundance on that mountain that I would hate to see anybody, not at least experience it and try it out. Right. If they don't like it, they could go back to the first one that's out of them.

But I think that one of the big thing that struck me recently is what works on the first mountain is in many ways what doesn't work, or the opposite of what might work on the second purpose mountain. And so, that's that old cliche, what got you here won't get you there. Right?

And that's what I've been spending a lot of time trying to figure out. Cause it can be scary, and if you think about it, Ali, I don't know if we mentioned this when we were in the hut. When you go up a mountain and you summit it, maybe you're at the tippy top, or maybe you just get as high as you want to go. Well, to get over to the next mountain to climb, you usually have to climb all the way back down into a valley. Yep.

And you know, the valleys don't feel as sexy as the summit did. And so then there's this whole psychological exploration that needs to happen maybe in order to prepare you for what's to come on mountain number two. I guess the point I'm making is it's not an easy transition, or at least I can only speak for myself. It hasn't been an easy transition for me.

[00:16:14] Ali: Just to be clear, has it been easy transitioning over to the second mountain?

[00:16:18] Mike: Correct. Moving from the first to the next one. Because what worked on the first mountain was hard charging, like laser focus, grabbed the bull by the horns, wrestle it till it's dead and come out on top. Now you slayed the dragon. Congratulations, Mike, here's your status, whatever that might be. Behind some of that type A entrepreneurial hard charging spirit was a, I'm only as good as my last achievement. That's part of the fuel that I personally use to climb mountain number one.

Then I got introduced to the idea that, well maybe your worth isn't dependent on your worldly achievements, and what you did in that marathon or iron man or professionally or whatever. And it's like, well, that's interesting. And I actually liked that idea. I'd love to not have to worry about impressing the world all the time. That would take a weight off my shoulders.

But then the pendulum swings far enough where you go, well, crap. If I accept that I'm worthy without all the achievement what's to stop me from being a slug on the couch, drinking margarita is watching Oprah Winfrey or whatever, right. Your identity becomes wrapped up in who you've been leading up to that moment.

So, there was definitely some soul searching that had to happen as I made my way from mountain one to mountain two. And that's not to say that you live on only one mountain at any given time. For me, I look at it it is am I dedicating the right amount of energy to each of the two mountains?

Because it's not to say that if you spend time on your status mountain, that that's bad. It's not. It should be an intentional decision. And I'm making the choice currently to spend more energy on the purpose mountain than the status mountain. And moving from one to the other was indeed, uh, I'll call it a transition that required some intentional energy. How's that?

[00:18:16] Ali: I think that's a extremely generous way to describe it. Because if I describe it, it was a deep, shitty valley with overwhelming stress, suffering, emptiness. And not to say that I was like in physical ailment or that I was at risk of anything other than my mind being quite in turmoil, like confusion. But I will say that, I think that's a generous way to describe it. Because when you've played on the first mountain for a while, especially when you start to like have all the gear and then you got the buddies that are on the mountain with you. And now this is where we get to really play with the analogy. Right.

And you're like, oh cool I get this mountain. To your point, you start to assume an identity of a climber of that mountain. And like you said, everyone's got their own interpretation of where they are, but that mountain is a lot easier to see, to visualize, to represent, to understand how to hike it. Different ways to hike it, whether it's professional or in other status environments.

So, as we talk about this in real time, Mike, I'm not even sure the second one is a mountain. Because that would mean that there is a purpose for me to find and like summit and conquer. And then, if I were to do that, what I got to come down this and I'll find a third mountain, which is bigger than purpose, right? So there is some risk in this mental model of saying that that second thing is a mountain, whereas it could be a river, right.

And this is where we were nerding out the other day. And I want to make a side note that I really enjoy these discussions with you, not just because of who you are and the way that we think at certain parallels together, but that we are able to bring these into context of nature, mountains, rivers, et cetera.

And a river is a beautiful thing that we can play on now. Because like we were talking about the other day, a river you get in, you can float, you can choose a raft, you can go fast, you can go slow. There's even a piece of surrendering to a river and letting it guide you that can become really interesting to play with.

So what do you think about that? Like if we were to transition and say there isn't a purpose of mountain, but there's actually a purpose of river. What might that look like?

[00:20:48] Mike: Yeah, I love that we can jump from analogy to analogy and it seems so normal to us. I hope your listeners can jump along with us. I love the idea of the river because what it does is it takes the analogy to a new level where I started to say before the first mountain is wrestled a bull and, you know, strive and achieve and work hard laser focus to get where you're going. What I've found is that, what would have been a purpose mountain, none of that striving works. Like you can't force yourself to meditate better, right? Like you can't wrestle yourself into a more relaxed state. Instead of a narrowing of your focus and focusing your energy on a pursuit or a goal, there's this letting go that happens.

And so, what I realized is my transition from mountain one to mountain two, I tried to take the same rules and apply them to mountain one, and it didn't work. And I couldn't make sense of it until we were talking about this river analogy. And it was like, oh, I see, in some ways I'm trying to swim upstream.

I'm doing all the things that aren't going to work in this new environment. What worked on the mountain, ain't going to work on the river. So let's see what could we do here? And, and for me it was like, all right, maybe I should stop swimming upstream. That would be a good start. Let's just go with the flow and see what happens.

Now, I wish I could say I got that right off the bat, but what happened was I was like, yeah, swimming upstream stupid. I'm going to swim downstream. And so I started swimming as fast as I could down the river. Right. And it's like, well, okay, that's cool I'm moving faster, but there was no enhanced state of being. There was no increased fulfillment. If there was a purpose calling me, I was moving too fast to see it. So in many ways, what I've learned is I needed to slow down. Like let's stop swimming and maybe we just go where the river takes us. Right.

And that has worked on so many levels, and it's actually now, after we had that discussion, something that I use as a meditative practice. Like I remember, okay, I don't need to do anything here. I just need to sit quietly. I don't need to force myself to feel enlightened or I don't need to make myself calmer or relaxed.

I just need to really picture myself floating and noticing what's around. Sometimes that's, I'm really envisioning I'm at a river and watching the trees overhead and the leaves fall and, you know, the banks of the river. And other times I'm parlaying that analogy into my mental space and it's noticing the thoughts and not picking them up and playing with them, but just watching them float by.

And that for me, has created more growth when it comes to finding a purpose than any of the prescriptions that I had previously tried in order to find that purpose.

[00:23:53] Ali: A hundred percent. Yeah. I agree with that 100%.

You know, as we play with this more, the river becomes very powerful for this aspect of surrender. So you can think about it in a way that if you're serious about purpose work, and both of us have experimented with that, you more than me, to really go on this intentional journey and find deep meaning and purpose in what we do. Not just work, but like, how do we show up and why? The big questions.

You could totally see it as the river is it, and you just have to get in. You have to stop thinking about which raft, which way, which people, which guide and say at some point, just fucking float. And like you said, pay attention to what's around. The strongest word for me in the last several years, hands down, has been awareness.

Just that word, just becoming aware, like you said, as if you're really paying attention. To really watch what's happening and observe it without judgment, without opinions, without all the things that our manipulative, little and speculative, little brains are going to do. Right. All the voices they're going to tell us, like that is hard to your point. You can't force your way into that.

There is this act of surrendering. And so getting into the river and floating to see where it takes you with complete awareness. I mean from my experience, that's about as close as you can get to realizing or having some self realization like, oh, this is what I could be doing.

Not should be doing. Cause this is what I should be doing implies a lot, but say, oh, this is what life's sending me. Because if we try going back to that second mountain, if we try to get all the gear and hike the mountain, the same way we did the first one, failure's almost inevitable.

So I really liked that. I liked the idea of, not just the awareness, but seeing that through our children, since we're both fathers. There's awareness of myself and the things going on, but what I've also paid a lot of attention to is kind of being aware of how they think about these things.

And you know, our kids aren't over here having convos about their purpose, right? Not quite yet. Maybe Everest and William will have those, those convos as teenagers, if we stay on this track. But dude this is where it can get fun.

They just want to jump in the river and play. They're not even thinking about where it's going. Right. They're just like, oh, there's a river. What's that? Whereas we can tend to approach the river with all this preconceived agenda.

So how do you think that shows up? Cause you've spent time studying awareness and we're talking about the model of surrender, how do you think our kids play into that? Like do you feel that you learn more about that from them or from your own introspection.

[00:26:59] Mike: Yeah. That's a great question, man. And I appreciate it. What's coming up in real time for me is when you talk about our kids just jumping in the river, going with the flow, they're not having purpose conversations yet.

In many ways I feel like it's so hard for us because it occurred to me that we're likely undoing 30 years of distraction by the mountain. The river's been here all along. We could have jumped in, but we saw the mountain and we're like, well, that shit looks sexier. So I'm going to climb that thing. So we've got 30 years of conditioning that climbing the mountain is cooler than floating in the river.

And this isn't true for everybody. I'm just suggesting, I know it's true for me. It feels like that's what happened. Whereas William being eight is just on the brink where he's starting to develop that self-awareness and emotions like embarrassment and those types of things are starting to come as an eight year old.

But I'm encouraged by the idea that it's like, wow, this is a journey that I started when I was 35. Our kids are going to have such a headstart. Not to say that we're going to keep them off the mountain, forced them into a river, but I feel like one of the greatest gifts we can give them is to remind them, they don't have to climb a mountain. They don't have to float in the river. They have the choice, right. And to empower them, to make those choices from a place of authenticity before the world gets a hold of them, like it did me, and tells me what it means to be successful.

And I spend three decades with my ladder propped against the wrong wall as Steven Covey would say, I think it was Covey anyways. Like climbing that corporate success ladder only to realize I really wanted to just float in the river this whole damn time. And I could have, if I had only had to use your word, the awareness at an earlier age.

So, I think protecting that playfulness and that acceptance that our kids have, is huge. And I'll just use one example. It occurred to me that, if we're going to say that I've transitioned from climbing the mountain to spending more time floating in the river, it doesn't mean I was good at floating in the river right away as I already alluded to.

And there's these different levels of, acceptance. For example, I'm pretty good at tricking my brain into loving what is. To accepting the circumstances. But there's a, I think a difference that I want to touch on between unconditional acceptance of what is just legitimately accepting it.

And then what I've done more often than not is, justify acceptance. So some shit goes wrong that I genuinely don't like, rather than stepping into that unconditional love what is, I go well, yeah, this is shitty, but it's a perfect opportunity to X, right? And so there's like this psychological trick I play on myself to really get around true surrender.

I tricked myself out of needing to surrender because I found something, a silver lining to accept. And I'm not suggesting that's bad or terrible or anything, but it is absolutely in my eyes, a different level of surrender.

[00:30:26] Ali: Absolutely. No, that's a great point. You know, something you sparked right there at the end is that let's say that there's true surrender, and just accepting. And then there's let's say manipulation or tricking yourself into acceptance. There's also just honoring what you want and what you don't want. So in conscious leadership, we call this the whole body yes.

And I've been thinking about these in parallel recently because I'm like, well, living in alignment with your values, with what you stand for and what you want, that's the whole body yes framework. And then you just refine that and you get really good at saying no. And you commit to the things that really feel like, yes, this is me. I can do this. I can honor this.

But then you potentially miss the things that life is showing you, right. There is some value in this surrender model of being like, well, this person just keeps coming up or this thing at this time, at this place, like only life could've sent me that. I couldn't have designed that or thought my way through it. I couldn't have architected that. And so in current form, I'm testing both of these. I'm trying to hold space for both.

What I've come up with is that the whole body yes are for things I've already played with and I have some experience with. Because then I've learned something before, I failed somehow. Whereas the surrender, back to the river, this is like, oh, this is new. So like on this whole purpose journey, I'm really trying to surrender and not try to design it and think my way in and figure it out. Right.

Going back to the kids though, you made an awesome point that it's like, there's a part of us as parents and also as people who operate in society, there are going to naturally just like steer them to the mountain and show them our gear and teach them what we did. Tell them about the routes. We are going to do that most of the time. When in reality, there's this argument that like, they kind of just wanted to stay in the river. And if they ask about the mountain, then sure let's share what we know, because you asked. You intentionally wanted to know like, Hey dad, what was it like doing that? What do you think?

Okay, now there's the decision, responsibility, whatever is to share. But I think that in some ways, how I interpreted what you were sharing is like, we're almost doing them an injustice if we show them the mountain. And kind of force them in a way to hike it and push our shit on them and be like, yeah, that's the way you should go.

Because if they're happy in the river, dude, here's the beautiful part. Then look at what we're doing. We spent all this time on the mountain and we want to get back to. Right. Like we did this whole loop, it took us 30 years and some people stay or get lost on the mountain. Other people never even go to it. And let's just say they're blessed from the start to enjoy the river and be like, this is just how life feels for me.

But I think a lot of us do get distracted by the mountain, play on it, embrace it in our lives. And then we find our way back to the river, which is exactly where the kids start.

And that's why our children are such powerful examples. I say with conviction that I learned way more from them now than they learned from me. At least I feel that. And it's because of exactly that. In some ways I'm just trying to get back to where they are right now. You know what I'm saying?

Or does that resonate with you as well?

[00:33:50] Mike: It does a hundred percent. And we see it all the time in our culture, to your question about, should we be showing our kids the mountain? I don't think we should be hiding it from them per se. And I can say beyond with as much conviction as exists in the world, that they're going to find the mountain themselves just by living in the world, right?

Like it's there, they've got enough cultural and social pressures pushing them toward the mountain. They don't need that from their mom or dad. And sadly, I would suggest that moms and dads are the ones that often maybe over identify with their kids' pursuits. We see it a lot in sports, right? My kids aren't old enough to be in competitive sports yet, but, we've all can picture the parent on the sideline who is treating little league like the Olympics for their eight or 10 year old. And there's obviously a level of overidentification and whatnot that's happening there.

That being said, I don't think the mountain is inherently a bad thing either. To your point, you and I have chosen to find our way back to the river. I think that's a sign of a balance, tying in the nature theme more. Nature always seeks a balance. And we spent so long on the mountain that it's justified that maybe we need to swing the pendulum further and walk three miles into an off-grid hut and spend five days together, away from it, ironically on a literal mountain.

But talking about all of the things, as they pertain to the river and very little of what pertains to that first mountain. Right? We didn't talk about how to 10 X our business or afford a new truck or any of that stuff. Like we were living on a mountain, but talking about the river.

The ironic thing to me, and this is what I believe to be true is. There's a couple of things going on. One, our kids could just stay off the mountain forever. I don't know how likely that is, but we could certainly support their awareness of the river throughout their life. I think that would be very beneficial.

The other thing is, some people think the river is kind of like retirement. Like that's the, well, I've got to earn that. So if I survive till 65 and save enough pennies, maybe I could get back there someday. What I'm starting to learn, just because I've been fortunate enough to start this transition early enough, and we're in a financial situation that through happenstance just kind of allowed it. What I recognize is that the more I surrender to the river, acceleration on the mountain happens.

But I'm no longer forcing it. And the example I'll use is I chased money forever. That was me swimming upstream in the river. Even after I moved off the mountain in the river, I was swimming upstream going against what I believe God would have me do. And that was idolizing the money thinking it was the almighty dollar.

When I stopped swimming upstream and started coming downstream no longer chasing money, I've made more money in the last three to four years than I ever did when I was striving full with the goal in mind of, I want to make more money. So there's that irony, right? In many ways what you feel like you might lose if you're on the mountain and you're like, well, I don't want to give up whatever the status is, whatever my financial standing is or whatever. I don't want to give that up by surrendering.

The truth is I think it's a false choice. We don't actually have to choose between the two. If we choose the route of surrender, both become available to us, the purpose and the quote unquote status. But not superficial status.

For me, this comes down to energetic stewardship. When we're treating the gifts that we have, time, energy being the most, I don't know, precious gifts I would argue. When we treat those well, the other forms of energy that are still powerful, but maybe more replenishable than time per se, like money just flows to us naturally.

[00:38:04] Ali: Yeah, I dig that. I really dig that. You're not the first person I've heard that from. And I've been hearing that message from people in some of my inner circles that I really respect. And they're saying it in a way where you just said it where they're not trying to like trick you into thinking this is some formula or some game.

It's a way of embracing nature, right? It's just letting things flow. Not being so adamant about spending all your time on the mountain or all your time in the river. I think there's a balance to honor the word that you said. There's a balance, there's harmony there.

Cause yeah, dude, it's like, I really want to float in the river right now. And enjoy it and surrender and see what comes. I've created space. I've gotten off the mountain to do this. That doesn't mean I'm not going to go hike a mountain and play and do some things and run a trail. I think that there absolutely is this balance because if you were to just stay in the river all day, this has its own path. It's only its own journey to complete peace. And for some people, that's exactly what they want, whether they become a monk or they isolate themselves.

But it's beautifully said, and there's a balance to it. There's harmony. A lot of it has to do with nature. And when you respect this energy that you've described, things tend to just fall into place.

Why don't we wrap on some fun questions? I think we've hiked and swam enough. Would you agree?

[00:39:41] Mike: Yes. I'm willing to be there.

[00:39:42] Ali: Because if we don't stop, if we keep going, then this is going to be a three hour episode, and we're going to start, we're going to start compounding models. So this was beautiful as it always is. When we talk at this level, there's a part of it that feels like sport to me, even like mental chess, but not where we're trying to beat each other. It's where we're trying to like, support and raise the game. So thank you for that.

The fun rapid-fire questions. First, what is the best book you've read lately?

[00:40:14] Mike: Yeah, there's a lot of them. If I had to pick one, it's going back a little over a year now leading well from within, by Dr. Danny Friedland. Neuroscience plus mindfulness and where those two worlds intersect.

So it was fascinating to me. It definitely dove, like our conversations often do, into the kind of metaphysical spiritual realm. That is meditation and all of that stuff, but rooted in hardcore neuroscience, which I am just a geek over. And so that is the number one right now.

[00:40:49] Ali: I love that book. I actually read that book after hearing about it from you. It may have been when you shared it on one of the FRD podcasts you did with JV. But yes, I think that is a fabulous book.

Another quick question. What animal are you most scared of?

[00:41:07] Mike: Oh, sharks. Without a doubt. I have no idea why I have no reason.

Actually. I can think back when I was a young kid, I watched jaws the night before going to the ocean and I feel like I've been traumatized ever since. I can talk myself through the fear and go swimming in the ocean. But I can only get so far before I have that thought and it's like, shit, get me out of the ocean.

And I got to swim back to where I can touch her. I freak out a little bit. And then of course I recognize what an idiot I am and then I can swim back out further again, but I can't stay out there more than five or 10 minutes without it getting the best of me.

[00:41:41] Ali: I love it. Dude, jaws was scary growing up, right?

Yeah. As a little kid, dude . Well, I don't even think I was allowed to watch some of them cause they were rated R but then when I did as a kid, like you said, or at most a teenager, I remember thinking like these movies are scary. And sharks. Yeah, I think there's a great argument there that being one-on-one with a shark, especially one that's your size or greater, yeah, that would spark fear because you're in their territory. Right. We are nowhere near as good of a swimmer as a shark and they just have big teeth.

[00:42:21] Mike: You don't got it, you don't got a micro dissect that one. They're just going to eat you.

[00:42:26] Ali: Ah so the last one. Yeah, and your family are well traveled, especially within the states, but if you want it to blow the walls out and just truly design your life and live anywhere in the world, where would it be? And it can be where you live now. But I'm curious of how you answer this.

[00:42:44] Mike: Yeah, that's a good question. This is the genuine answer, but it might sound like a cop-out and the answer is everywhere. We are nomads and, currently we live on the road between five and seven months a year, depending on which family member you're talking about and whatnot. But as a family, we travel about six months a year all over, as you said, the US.

We'd like to explore more internationally as well in the future. We just love the excitement of exploration and experiencing new things, the adventure and all of that. So, where we currently live, this is our home base and probably will be forever. Cause I built this house a few years back, with that intention in mind.

Could change, but we're only here six months a year and the rest of the year where we're actually take off in a couple of days to head down south and get away from all the snow that I'm currently getting dumped upon with. (laugh)

[00:43:34] Ali: I love it, man. That is a beautiful answer. That's actually a whole different episode in itself.

The Wagner travel journey. I've told you this in person, and I'll honor you here on the show that, the Wagners are the definition of a family that's exploring. That's for sure. So, I love that answer. Thank you for sharing.

Thank you for being here, man. Anything left unsaid before we wrap up?

[00:43:58] Mike: I don't think so, man, other than thank you. I appreciate coming on and hopefully our analogies didn't, uh, didn't get too sideways for anybody. If they did I apologize. They sound awesome in our brains. Sometimes the words don't come out quite right, but my hope is there was some value for somebody somewhere in there.

[00:44:15] Ali: Dude, I'm with you. People are going to listen to this and they're either going to be hooked and be like, how can I talk more with Mike and Ali about this? Or they stopped at like three, four minutes and they're like, these guys are nuts.

[00:44:29] Mike: What are they on?

[00:44:31] Ali: At any rate, I appreciate you. Hope you know that brother. We'll talk again soon. Thank you for being here.

[00:44:37] Mike: Absolutely, man.

Ali Jafarian

Ali is a father, husband and serial entrepreneur with a deep drive to create. He writes, records, codes and builds things to inspire the artist in all of us.

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Mike Wagner - The Pursuit of Something
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