Don’t define success in one way. We all have our own preconceived ideas of what success, but success is a gradual process. Patience among that is what makes it possible. The idea of an ‘overnight success’ is just clever marketing — they’ve never actually popped up out of nowhere, there’s years of experience before that point.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Beau Kerouac. Beau is an artist, agency owner, and activist. His artwork, exhibitions, and installations have appeared around the world, and he has collaborated with globally renowned artists such as Ralph Steadman and Vivienne Westwood.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Imagination is the key to my childhood, without any shadow of a doubt! I would never be alone because I had a constant flow of creative ideas, whether that be making dens in the woods, or drawing on the pavements, or putting roller-skates on, and letting my dogs run me down the road. They were the aliens and I was in a spaceship. There was no part of my life that my imagination didn’t touch, and I’ve always believed that there is always someone out there whose weird brain understands your weird brain, which will make them feel less lonely.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I think it was when I realized that trying to do things to make people like what I was doing was the completely wrong angle. It was then that I realized that doing things for people, rather than craving their attention alone, made everything I did more fulfilling. I realized that it was my absolute calling: to be more creative, creating for everyone rather than just yourself for an ego boost.
There’s such beauty in simplicity. We seem to be raised to seek complexity, but actually there’s real joy and balance to be found in simple things. When I was able to work out the simple things that brought me joy, that was when I knew that if I could do those things every day, then I would have a very fulfilled life.
There is no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Listening and working with the right people. There’s no great, magical secret: it comes down to hard work and being humble enough to know that you cannot do everything.
I have had to learn how to delegate the things I know I need help with — and the things that actually I am good at, but I simply don’t have time for. It’s incredibly difficult to do at first, because you genuinely love what you do, but there’s a learning curve that comes with it. Being humble enough to listen and work with the people around you — the right people — will push you forward so much quicker.
You don’t know everything. Taking that step away from your ego and realizing that a business is made up of more than one person means you can start to trust them, and that is really fulfilling.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
99% of the time, that dream hasn’t move forward because of fear. Simplify why you’re scared and what you need to do to heal that, and then you’ll find out if it’s possible.
You’ve got to be fluid, not holding out for the big ticket money every day. Much of the free and charity projects I do actually fuels the interest for the paid stuff though the exposure of doing a good job, so it’s about having balance, it’s the fusion of soul food and good career decisions that equals progress. Financial security can be a barrier to creativity, and often holds people back. If you think you’ll suddenly wake up an overnight success, you’re joking — you have got to get out there and make your own opportunities.
It sounds a bit counterproductive, but you are not special! But you could be. What do I mean by that? I mean there’s absolutely no reason why you couldn’t be a success. Until you put yourself out there, you are just another person with a dream. We’re all dreamers. We’re not all doers.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
For my personality — school, work, wherever I was — I needed to be fulfilled on many levels. The way my brain works is that I can handle multiple problems and projects at the same time and I actually thrive off that complexity.
Of course, you then have to be patient, and learn to prioritize. If you keep joy at the center of what you do, even the frustrating days will have something of worth in them. Always be happy to listen and by grateful for everything, whatever it is. Being grateful keeps everything I do enjoyable.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
Why pain myself trying to be something I’m not? I’m not the sort of person that can simply do what I’m told, and people are bored of over prepared, over performance. I love the freedom of what I do. My office is in my garden, I’m close to the elements, and I get to work with some of the most creative, most vibrant people around the world, There are very few drawbacks.
It’s easy to feel insecure about what you’re doing, but that’s because we’ve listened to ‘the right way’ to do something and internalized it. Who gets to say?
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
It’s so much better than what I thought it would be — and I already thought it would be good! I Even with all the challenges and stress of figuring out solutions on a daily basis, this is nothing in comparison to not trying. The not trying is way more scary. Any stress I come across, even if I work throughout night talking to the States, it would be more upsetting not to be fulfilled and not trying.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
Sometimes, when you’re financially worrying about money, about the future, I’m sure I could apply my skills and get a well-paid job and pick up a paycheck.
But honestly? That plan wouldn’t be sustainable, because before long I’d be fired! I feel limited by other people’s ideas, and I would want to change things. I would lose my freedom, and no paycheck is worth that.
I’ve had jobs where I’ve had to ‘yes sir no sir’, and I’m not saying that I’m better than that, but I didn’t want to go through my life just fitting in.
Having said that, there’s a huge difference between being an anarchist for the slap on the back, or disrupting the narrative because you have other generations in mind. I want to give my daughter and her generation the strength to not just accept the way things are.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was absolutely desperate for money when I was about seventeen, I took a temp job with a carpenter as a laborer. He went out and said: “Beau, cut these pieces of wood to this size.”
Pretty simple instruction, right?
I didn’t listen at all — when he got back, they were all different sizes. I made it through the morning, and I was fired.
I had all these amazing ideas of how the wood could be, and I was more interested in my imagination than the instructions. Perhaps if I had listened, I would be a carpenter now!
That’s not to say I don’t listen to people now: it’s okay to listen, but make sure you’re in the right place, listening to the right people!
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
The people I love.
I time travel sometimes in my head, and I don’t want to have many regrets although I will have some. What pushes me forward is that I want to do the best I can to be a good example for people I love, and by proxy, maybe influence them. Knowing that we all have a natural influence on those around us makes me feel like I need to do my best to succeed.
Not because I am afraid of “letting them down”, but because I want to do my best with what I have in the time that I have.
50% of the time, when you do the wrong thing, if you can learn and be willing to evolve, that’s leadership. Admitting you sometimes make a wrong move makes you a leader who doesn’t let their insecurities get in the way. A 100% perfect leader is not realistic.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
What a question! Just listening to people who have different skill sets than me, and allowing them to be creative when they don’t think that they are, is in my opinion making the world a better place.
One of the things I love to do is collaborate with emerging artists who have the ideas, but no clue how to get there. Being able to listen to people and be humble enough to give advice models the sort of world I want to live in.
Let’s start finding our nourishment in trusting people: after all, I may have millions of ideas, but there may be something someone else says that can ignite another one I would never have thought about. How boring would it be if we all thought alike?
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It’s okay to fail. It sounds cheesy, but it is definitely how you get better.
- Be kind to people. You never know what kind of day they’ve had.
- Don’t define success in one way. We all have our own preconceived ideas of what success, but success is a gradual process. Patience among that is what makes it possible. The idea of an ‘overnight success’ is just clever marketing — they’ve never actually popped up out of nowhere, there’s years of experience before that point.
- Delegate with humility. Just don’t be arrogant. Don’t think you’re the final stop for everything, and the only person who could possibly do something.
- You’re only as good as the people surrounding you. This is true for family, friends, and business. After a turbulent time, I now feel worthy enough to have nice people in my life.
And if I can add ‘1 thing I wish I could tell everyone else’ — it’s to be conscious of imposter syndrome and how we can actually generate it for ourselves.
In social media feeds, you can appear to be anything — so people do! They live in an insular bubble, with a completely distorted view of themselves and reality. People become so protective of who they see themselves as, any attempt to reach them just becomes negative.
I’ve done that — I’ve been so many people throughout my life, and it’s such hard work to keep up a persona. You need to have authentic interactions with people, and stick with people who bring you joy. That’s hard if you have insecurities, but well worth it.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It may sound a little wishy-washy, but I would like to inspire change through togetherness.
Division holds us back. When you meet a new person, you can almost feel them fishing for your political views, social background, education.
Let’s not box people in, and instead focus on the moment. I think we would find more in common with each other and start to understand each other’s point of view. Not sure what that looks like, but if you can find a common interest through shared vulnerability, that’s a start. You can learn to do anything, but you can’t learn to drop your barriers down immediately.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There’s a Navajo remedy for a stitch which I love. It says to bend down and look under a stone, and then put it down again, and you’ll get rid of your stitch.
I love it! I love it because it’s a way to focus on something beyond yourself, to give yourself time to think about the here and now, focus on something other than you rather than the pain of existing — and then you can move past it.
That’s a beautiful thing. Things do hurt but they’re not forever. If you’re in pain, the natural instinct is to look for a solution, but that’s not always what you need. Sometimes you need to look beyond your own pain.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
It’s it funny how your mind jumps to political figures at the moment!
But, I think I’d have to go with my father, because I don’t get to see him as much as I would like. We live in different countries but distance is irrelevant, because connection is the important thing.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.