Mel Abraham has coached a generation of “thoughtpreneurs.”
Mel Abraham could be called the influencer’s influencer. A quick scroll through Abraham’s website brings up dozens of photos of smiling thought leaders and entrepreneurs, or “thoughtpreneurs” (a term he coined), with their arms around him. The No. 1 best-selling author of “The Entrepreneur’s Solution” (Morgan James Publishing, 2015) and creator of one of Social Entrepreneur’s top-ranked business podcasts, Abraham has worked with and shared the stages with a long list of Fortune 500 Companies as well as beacons in the personal development industry, from Arianna Huffington and Chalene Johnson to Brendon Burchard and Tony Robbins.
Abraham also creates and leads hugely popular training programs for business growth and success, and applies the same principles and mechanics of mindset and thought leadership to the individuals he mentors. And although he has stunt work and a black belt in multiple martial arts to his credit, don’t be fooled into thinking he’s a thrill-seeking businessman. Abraham’s brand of entrepreneurism is far from the high-stakes, egocentric stereotype, and it was sharpened by his youthful, astute observation, quick calculation, and fast action.
Calculating risk and opportunity
A CPA by education, Abraham was five years into his career with a large consulting firm when he saw his boss in a different light one night. They were working late at the office, and the young accountant realized the overweight, stressed-out partner was a vision of Abraham’s future. He realized that this was not the life he intended to lead. “I know this isn’t probably the best way to do things, but I literally walked into his office and said, ‘I’ve got to quit,’” Abraham recalls.
Surprised, the partner reminded Abraham he was on a fast track to partnership. But Abraham explained, “I want to have a bigger impact. I want do things that are more meaningful and more energizing for me.” The partner asked when he was going to quit, and Abraham responded, “Tonight. I’m not coming in tomorrow.”
Looking back on his decision to quit the firm, Abraham acknowledges that “a lot of people may say it’s either reckless or risky to do something like that. And it can be, depending on where you’re at. I realized that what could happen at the time was far greater for me. In fact, when the partner asked me why I would do this, I said, ‘Because I need to make the shifts and changes in my life now when I’m young enough, that if I screw it up, I can come back and change it.’” Abraham understood that waiting until he had a family and bills would have made those decisions more challenging.
That night at the office was a turning point, but Abraham’s journey toward a new kind of entrepreneurism probably began much earlier with his discovery that he could make money (at age 11) doing what he loved (performing magic tricks), earning $75 to entertain guests at kids’ birthday parties.
He’s given that moment a lot of thought. “You hear all the time, ‘Just follow your passion and money will follow.’ It’s an absolute fallacy, because I love eating chocolate, and I could sit there and eat chocolate all day long. I’m not going to get money from eating chocolate.”
Abraham came to realize the right question to ask is, How do we use our passion to improve someone else’s life? “Then the money will follow,” he says. “It’s really how do you create value with your passion. And I think that’s really what happens in an entrepreneur’s world, and that’s what I learned at 11.”
The perspective he gained as a child and as a young accountant is something that Abraham champions in his book, his podcasts and his workshops. When a fellow traveler learned that he was an entrepreneur, Abraham says, “[The person] gave me this look like, ‘Oh, my God, is it contagious?’” He’s bent on dispelling conventional wisdom that entrepreneurism is all guts and glory. “I’ve often said that entrepreneurs are not risk-takers, they’re actually risk-mitigators. They’re people who look at something and say, ‘I want to serve this problem. I want to help people either solve a problem or get to their aspiration.’”
Then, Abraham says, “They analyze it enough to be able to say there are risks and there are opportunities, and here’s what can be done to avoid the risks.”
A dot on a line
Abraham is a fan of worst-case planning. “Let’s look at everything that can go wrong and then look at two or three alternatives on how to solve them before they ever go wrong,” he explains. “This allows me to find the solutions for those problems before I ever even start on the journey. Is it really that risky? I’d say no because I’ve already thought out the process.” And when it comes to reaching a goal, he says, “The planets don’t have to line up. I have three or four paths” to get there.
From Abraham’s perspective, many people are afraid to make the wrong decision. ”We believe [a single decision] sets a path in motion, but a decision is a dot on the line, and it isn’t till we make a bunch of decisions that we actually draw the line,” he observes. Instead, Abraham frames each choice as a necessary step toward making a better decision after that. “I made a choice to leave,” he says. “Was it a good decision? There’s plenty of people who would say it was a bad decision. Looking backwards, it was the best decision of my life, because we wouldn’t be having this conversation if I didn’t make that decision.”
After quitting his CPA job, Abraham went to Japan to study martial arts more deeply. “I spent four months training, thinking, reflecting on what I wanted to do with my life,” he explains. It’s no surprise what he did next: “Made a decision. Made another decision,” Abraham says. “So the decisions we make are just dots on a line, and it’s the series of those dots, those decisions we make, that set the path of our journey. And yet we get spooked by a single decision, a single dot, which in most cases is actually not terminal.”
Along with his redefinition of entrepreneurism in terms of value to others’ lives, and decisions as steps toward more informed choices in the future, Abraham also has turned the notion of legacy on its head. His epiphany came with a picture his 6-year-old son drew of him. “I was a single father, and I did what entrepreneurs do. I dug in and built my business,” he says. Then his son came home from school one day, excited to show his daddy what he’d made.
Abraham saw a blue felt-tip portrait of himself, standing behind a desk with two computer screens and a phone in each ear and the one on the desk ringing. In that moment, Abraham says, “I realized that I really was screwing this up. Where I was screwing up was not how to do business. It was why to do business. And that’s the place where meaning is made. That’s the place where you’re creating legacy.”
Abraham puts it even more plainly now: “There is no work/life balance. There’s just life. Every choice we make, whether it’s in the context of business or personal choices or fitness or nutrition, every choice we make affects lives, whether it’s just ours or those around us.”
He continues, “We say, ‘Legacy is what you leave behind.’ Do I really want to have an impact [only] when I’m dead? How I define legacy is about impacting people’s lives.” And Abraham doesn’t limit that definition to grand action. “It’s something that we create right here and now every time we have an interaction,” he explains. “We shift and change the way we show up.”
From Abraham’s perspective, “I don’t need some monument. I just need to know that someone is better because of the moment we shared together.”
Mel Abraham invites 24Life readers to visit www.thoughtpreneur.com/24 for more insights.
Photo credit: Todd Domenic Cribari, inspirostudio.com
Grooming: Mariah Nicole, mariahnicole.com