Doug Akin does not measure his personal success by the balance in his bank account. He values exploration and growth instead.
The born and bred New Yorker began his entrepreneurial career while studying at Boston University, where he threw hundreds of events at nightclubs and created his first targeted grassroots marketing campaigns for various dot coms and local businesses.
In 2002, Akin co-founded Mr. Youth (now MRY), a globally recognized social media and marketing agency, whose radical company culture won awards thanks to hands-on philanthropic campaigns (involving well and school building, for instance), morale boosting company events and benefits like unlimited vacation. During his tenor there, he developed a string of successful integrated marketing campaigns for Fortune 500 brands.
In 2008, after gaining recognition as an expert in connecting with the Millennial market, he embarked on yet another adventure and opened West Village eatery, Charles.
Three years later, Akin felt moved to explore to the world and left on a philanthropic global expedition, traveling through twenty countries across India, Africa, South East Asia and Central America. That experience, among others, inspired him and his twin brother to co-create The Base Project: a collaboration with artisans in Namibia on socially conscious products for the US fashion market.
This year, Akin also co-founded The Dreamery, a series of inspiration-based projects designed to help people clarify and achieve their dreams. The program has so far included an Asheville, North Carolina Dream Camp, a traveling Gratitude Bus and their Declare Your Dream Project.
Here, the world traveler describes when his definition of wellness shifted to include spiritual awareness and how—with the cultivation of emotional intelligence—happiness becomes a destination within oneself:
Live The Process: Have you always focused on wellness in your everyday life?
Doug Akin: My understanding of wellness has significantly increased over the past three years. In my previous incarnation as a New Yorker working in the marketing and advertising field, while moonlighting as a restaurateur, I had a good physical practice of going to the gym and mixing in yoga occasionally. But I didn't find a spiritual practice until embarking on my global travels.
LTP: How do you incorporate wellness into your life now?
DA: I start my mornings out with a ten-minute meditation practice, and often try to incorporate an intention for the day. Sometimes I think of a word I want to embody to help me achieve a deeper state of connectivity. If I am feeling stressed or heavy, I remind myself of the importance of feeling light, playful and joyful in my spirit.
I am very interested in the theory of emotional intelligence and make it a daily practice to better understand how certain triggers can create an emotional response. For example, we all have underlying fears that may pop up and cause us to react in certain ways. I try to stay aware of those reactions and attempt to work them out in my mind, so I don't allow myself to get too worked up.
I also love to ask people questions and try to understand and apply new perspectives to my thinking and belief system. I am a constant learner and explorer of life, so my definition of wellness increases each day.
From a dietary standpoint, I try to eat mainly gluten-free, organic foods that are predominantly vegan, although lately I have started to incorporate fish into my diet.
LTP: What advice would you offer on how to live a balanced life?
DA: Forget the past, pursue your dreams, surround yourself with people that inspire and bring out the best in you, always look for new opportunities, remain positive even in the toughest of times and don't make any excuses in the pursuit of you. Remember you can create whatever life you want; there is no one-size-fits-all method.
I hear so many New Yorkers complain about feeling terrible after partying, as if they were forced to do it. I think it takes work to be yourself in this city and to really stick to your ideals. I used to go out and socialize a lot for business and pleasure, yet I felt that it created some, mainly health-related imbalances in my life. That prompted me to want to break out and travel. I didn't have a ton of friends who had the desire to go to Africa and India at the time, so I just went on my own and had the adventure of my life. Find people who have similar interests to your own, even if that means that you may be spending less time with your core group of friends. They will understand and, if they don't, then they are not truly your friends.
There are so many people out there, so attract carefully and intentionally and explore readily. There is often a lot of emphasis placed on working hard and making money, and I think that can tend to create an over-caffeinated, well-liquored culture of workaholics in a city such as New York. I think it’s important to realize that success is much more than financial. You see many financially successful people that are void of deep relationships, health consciousness and time spent with family. To me, balance is success.
LTP: How does your new life compared to the old one?
DA: It’s radically different in some ways, yet the same in others. I have always been a fun-natured guy, but I didn't have as deep a perspective as I do now about the interconnectivity of everyone out there. I am a lot less judgmental these days. I smile a lot more. I really do see the light in everyone and want to see people live to their highest potential.
I was always compassionate to a degree in my limited surroundings, but after backpacking through twenty countries, I know I can get by with very little. I went from living in a magnificent West Village apartment with an ample collection of designer clothing to traveling with only a passport, a backpack, a spirited sense of adventure and a massive smile on my face. I saw that I didn't need any of the societal “things” I had accumulated to make me happy and that a job, social status and money never define who you are. When I was set free to travel, I was free to be me and to meet people along my journey that saw the true essence of my being. I carried that with me when I returned to New York.
LTP: How do you achieve happiness?
DA: Well, there are many books with a lot of statistics and studies around this topic. However, in my experience on this earth and in this body, I believe happiness is a mindset. It's a choice.
A dear friend and I spent a few months traveling in a vintage Airstream motor home called, The Gratitude Bus, earlier this year, asking people the question, "What’s your dream?" Some people would say to be rich or win the lottery, and my immediate response would be that I could almost guarantee that it would be fleeting sensation of happiness for them. Two people can walk down the same street, one can complain and see all the negatives—the crowded sidewalk, the bad smells, the rude people—and the other can have the completely opposite perspective. Therefore, it’s a choice to be happy. I talk a lot to cab drivers, doormen, deli workers and waiters. They’re often a lot happier and fulfilled than many of the CEOs with whom I have spent time.
I was traveling in Ghana to visit a witch camp, which is wild. Did you know witch camps still exist? Crazy, right? Anyway, I went on this journey to see them and wound up getting malaria en route. I had to take a 20-hour bus ride back to the capital city, Accra. I went immediately in search of a beachside hotel to breathe the clean air and heal by the ocean. I carried around a mid-sized boom box and played Bob Marley’s Legend on a cassette tape to keep me in positive spirits. As I was eating breakfast, the song “Sun Is Shining” was playing from the speakers and a Rastafarian man approached me with a gentle greeting. The first thing he said was, “Paradise is not a physical location; you can't find it on any maps." That really stuck with me. I think a lot of people feel the grass is always greener on the other side. It was really hard for me coming back to New York—the frantic pace, the energy and the blank expressions on people’s faces were not things I’d really noticed before. I am still learning to adapt and love it. You must learn to appreciate what you have and what’s in front of you before you can truly be happy.
A good start is by practicing gratitude. I would have thought this was a cheesy cliché years ago, but it’s the truth. If you think about what all of us have to be grateful for in our lives and operate from this place each day, then you will live in a kind of bliss. You know that Vivian Greene quote: “Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass...It's about learning to dance in the rain." You'll find happiness somewhere in there.
LTP: What does it meant to you to “Live The Process”?
DA: “Live The Process” means to create your foundation and stick to it. Everyone is going to have his or her own process. Some may want to do yoga, mediate, prepare themselves a beautiful cup of coffee each morning as a ritual. To find a process that works for you is to create a sense of harmony in your life. If you feel imbalanced, but choose to ignore this, then eventually it will lead to disease or affect your relationships and overall wellbeing. Why would you want to feel bad, if you have the choice?
So I think its important to write down what matters most to you and to create a process around that. For my father, going to the local coffee shop, reading yesterday’s New York Times and going bike riding is his process. For me, it’s a daily practice of yoga, gym workouts, meditation and being intentional about my presence, so I can share my light and love with the world. If I am true to my process, my spirit soars and I attract beauty around me. If I am not, the opposite happens.
The process you create should also be enjoyed. Even if it appears to be challenging, look at that challenge as a fun and exciting new opportunity. Let’s say, for example, you were fired from your job. You could be resentful and filled with anger or you could realize that it presents an opportunity for you to find what truly makes you come alive. The process of discovering this new passion should be enjoyed with immense satisfaction, even if others try to tell you otherwise.
The same principle applies in romantic relationships. It’s all a journey and an exploration. Nothing is permanent. So create, adapt and learn your process.