Leo Widrich is a CEO, leadership coach, and cofounder of Buffer. In this episode, Leo shares vulnerable stories as he and Adii discuss making human connections, Leo’s time living at a Buddhist monastery, and an anecdote about Burning Man.
“Labels can be helpful. I’m not really against them. But I think we certainly can fall prey to them. … Being ‘founder’ is just a made up word, but being human is real.”
Leo coaches leaders and CEOs seeking a new balance in life. While he is labeled as a “founder,” he is not entirely comfortable with the word.
He recalls a time in 2015 when there was a refugee crisis in Austria. At the time, he was searching for purpose in his work as founder at Buffer. In light of the situation in Austria, he decided to organize a career fair for refugees. Soon he was so immersed in his position as founder of this project, that he wasn’t able to really see the impact he was making. He was immersed in this toxic illusion of the non-stop, on-the-go position as founder--so much so that he was unable to stop, let people in, and allow himself to see how he had touched people’s lives.
The “founder” he says, is not him. It is an empty shell.
“I do believe that we can have distinct moments of meaning that come to us in our lives, and they require us in some way or another to be particularly quiet.”
Toward the end of his time at Buffer, Leo began to question meaning. Meaning of his product and meaning of his own personal development as a human being. He found himself realizing that while there was value in his product, he did not wish to be the one to continue to push that value.
When Leo dropped out of college to build Buffer, it was out of a belief that financial freedom was the only freedom he needed. After selling some of his stocks in the company, however, he found that he could easily live without working—and he began to question, what was the point?
Leo discusses how every culture seems to have a “coming of age moment” that sparks an individual’s connection with the world around them. Leo did not want his “moment” to be a wanting for financial freedom--he wanted, needed something more.
“Am I still worthy when I am just sitting here, not trying to get anywhere, not trying to make another buck or sign up another user…If I’m just sitting here, is that good enough?”
When he was attending the Burning Man Festival, Leo shares, he brought with him a Buffer t-shirt and a hair tie from his former partner. One morning he woke up early, before seemingly anyone else at the festival, and tied the t-shirt to the temple. And at the end of the festival, like the temple, the t-shirt would burn.
He found himself asking these questions about purpose, and found an answer seemingly from within himself and outside himself simultaneously: “Your purpose in life is to help people that are searching to find nothing.”
“It is only unconscious fear that is a problem.”
Stick through your fear, Leo advises, and soon it will stop feeling like fear. When you stop restricting it to a small place in your body, suppressing it, you will feel freed. Fear itself can promote true aliveness. Fear, shame, sadness, all of these emotions can be transformed, Leo explains. Let these tough emotions support you, give you energy, and make you feel alive.