Executive to Entrepreneur: An Interview with Devin Thorpe

I recently had the opportunity to interview Devin Thorpe who is a personal role model of mine, having successfully made the transition from C-suite executive to a value-driven entrepreneur.

In 2011, Devin was “let go” from the best job he’d ever had, as CFO for a multinational company. He and his wife spent the next year in China where he wrote Your Mark on the World, an insightful book that merges financial planning with social impact.

He has since embarked on the career he always wanted, yet hadn’t dared dream. As a self-described champion for social good, Devin writes, speaks, consults, and advocates for social good, mostly from his home office. He recently released his fourth book, Crowdfunding for Social Good, and produces consistently inspirational content through his blog and as a contributor for Forbes.

I interviewed Devin specifically to better understand how he made the leap to a lifestyle business after 25 years in the corporate world and he was graciously open in his responses:

Some of my favorite highlights from the interview (for those of you at work or in a rush):

At what point did you commit to this new career path?

The career has evolved and continues to evolve, but I knew immediately that I would not be seeking another job like the one I had. I sat down with my wife and we began to talk about what it is that we wanted to do. We began to look for opportunities to give back and do something interesting. We settled on the opportunity to go teach in China for a year…and the rest is history.

What does your life look like now?

Everything is different! In almost every way, it’s better. I work from home. I still have a traditional schedule. I get up in the morning and go to work down the hall. I “come home” at night. I get a nice early dinner with my wife nearly every night. It helps to manage that personal work/life balance in a way that is absolutely wonderful.

What I do every day is vastly different. Most of my time is spent writing or doing interviews. I’m excited about doing things like today: I got to train an organization on crowdfunding, which is one of my very favorite things to do in the whole world: helping organizations be empowered to do more. There’s a deep satisfaction that comes from my work. Life couldn’t be much better.

Do you wish you had left the corporate world sooner?

I was engaged and involved in my church and community organizations, but looking back I wish I had been even more engaged. So, I regret the good I didn’t do during my career more than I regret staying in it so long.

Whatever it is that you do in life, do it well, but make time for doing good alongside.”

There are so many different ways to get back, both in terms of time and money. Everyone has that opportunity and everyone should take that opportunity to try conscientiously to make a difference in the world.

It seems that there is nearly always a disruptive change prior to that ah-ha moment that allows us to make a drastic shift in our lives. If you hadn’t been laid off, where do you think you would be now?

I think I probably would have left eventually and ended up somewhere similar. But you never know. It’s difficult to walk away from a high salary and a job you love, no matter what you think might be on the other side.

I think there is a lot of truth to your observation that those changes that are forced upon us catalyze actions that turn out to be great benefits and blessings in our lives.”

How would you describe your personality?

I’ve always thought of myself as a type-A personality, although I’m certainly not an expert. I don’t have trouble finding things to do. My problem is the opposite. In the last 90 days I have been flat out, everyday…it’s kind of a 16 hour a day work environment. I find myself much more focused on untangling this mess that I’ve created because I am really kind of overwhelmed by it all.

I do think being an entrepreneur requires an element of that self-starterness. You have to be able to create your own to-do list, rather than have one handed to you to be successful.

Greatest asset?

My wife. I think a lot of entrepreneurs will tell you the same, that the number one most important asset is their spouse. It isn’t just emotional support or financial support. It’s everything. I don’t mean to suggest that single people can’t be entrepreneurs, but I do suggest it’s harder. That support you get from a spouse is really invaluable.

Biggest surprise?

The biggest surprise is not one specific thing so much as in general how much harder it is that we think it is. Entrepreneurs are optimists. I have never met a successful entrepreneur who wasn’t.

Entrepreneurs are not glass half-full people. They look at a glass that is approximately half full and they say “That sucker is ¾, maybe 80% full”. They just can’t fathom the idea that it isn’t almost a guaranteed shot.”

It’s crazy. We’re wrong so much of the time…but if we weren’t optimistic, if we weren’t willing to try the crazy things, the world would be much worse off. Of course, every business in the world came from an entrepreneur.

I knew it would be ‘hard’…I had no idea.”

If you could go back and do it all over, what would you do differently?

I can’t think of one thing I would do differently. It’s been such a wonderful journey. Maybe eat barbecue once or twice more than I did, but that’s it.

Advice for those contemplating a similar shift:

There is a host of people out there that will tell you just to chase your dream…I would suggest that you take a moment to get real clarity about what it’s going to take. We are such optimists as a rule that even presented with realistic data, we tend to ignore it. The impact on a family, personal life, finances can be so devastating when entrepreneurship doesn’t work out. You’ve got to have a 360 degree view of the plan.

Top 2 Books:

I am just starting Devin’s book, Your Mark on the World, and will be posting a review shortly. In the meantime, you can get free copies of BOTH Your Mark on the World and Crowdfunding for Social Good simply by signing up for Devin’s blog, which is filled with inspiring interviews and stories:

Get Devin’s Books FREE by subscribing here.

I recently became much more engaged in giving back to my community through my local Community Foundation, inspired to do more in part by Devin’s work. How do you engage in your community or find ways to give back that intersect with your career?

 

6 Comments
  1. I really enjoyed the interview, Emily. I love Devin’s balanced advice of really trying hard to understand what’s entailed in pursuing your passion before embarking on it. While it seems to be worth it almost all of the time, I suspect that I (and a lot of other would be passion-followers) completely underestimate the time and effort involved.

    1. Absolutely. I look back at how naive I was and it’s hilarious. I thought I would have a publishing contract within a year…as a no name author…with no tribe…right… It definitely takes an enormous investment and a whole lot of commitment to get results. Thank you for commenting!

  2. Really interesting interview, Emily. I like how he described himself after being laid off as a “free agent” – certainly a perspective that lends itself to opportunities and options rather than fear and narrow thinking.

    Your Mark on the World sounds like a good read – our conversion to financial health (paying off debt, saving, preparing for the worst) has always lended to spotting and taking advantage of opportunities to give back.

  3. Love the quote about entrepreneurs and optimism – fits so many people I know to a tee! Looking forward to more interviews!

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