How to ‘do life’ and find magic in the mundane
Interview with Anthea Stratigos,
Co-founder and CEO of Outsell, inc.
by Randi Morse
Anthea Stratigos is a Silicon Valley CEO and the Co-founder of Outsell, Inc., a research and advisory firm focused on data, information, and analytics economy. She has a Bachelor’s in Communication from Stanford University and is a graduate of Harvard’s Executive Program in Marketing. In addition to being a CEO, she is a wife, mother, writer, public speaker, and designer. Anthea is also the author of the new book Magic in the Mundane, Making Life’s Ordinary Extraordinary, in which she uses her experience to share a recipe for success, happiness, and how to ‘do life’.
You come from a humble upbringing. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
My dad didn’t go to college and while my mom did, we were raised in a simple middle-class environment in the San Francisco Bay Area, with her [as] a stay-at-home mom and my dad the breadwinner for the family. We did not have monetary wealth and I remember my dad doing odd jobs to keep income coming in. He owned a liquor store with his brother, sold his half to his brother, and then went into wholesale liquor sales and various entrepreneurial pursuits, most of which didn’t succeed. My parents were churchgoers. We went to local schools. The kids all started working at 16 in and around high-school. You could say our life was simple and mundane.
What led you from co-founding your company Outsell, Inc., to writing a book on how to “do life”?
In 2001 during the dot.com bust I sent a note to members of our team about ‘thriving tips’ during a recession where technology was also taking off and making lives more complicated. The message resonated. When I turned 50, and my youngest went to college, I decided it was time to give back. I’d been keeping notes over the years and felt like I wanted to take lessons from my own life, that added up to a pretty magical life, and share them, in essence building on those thriving tips. I raised four kids from a blended family, nurtured a lasting marriage, ran a company that I co-founded with my husband, and lack for nothing. I built an extraordinary life from ordinary means and found magic in the everyday despite hardship, loss, and things that so many of us face. It was time to pay it forward.
Your book gives 10 guiding principles. When did you realise you had found a recipe for success in life?
It wasn’t until my 50s that I realised when I looked back and added it all together [that] life was pretty magical. I had raised four beautiful kids with my husband and our ex-spouses. Our business was thriving. We were healthy and well. We travelled all over the world to amazing places. We were blessed with close friends and amazing homes. As I sent my youngest off to college, and buried my mother-in-law, the last of our elders, who I miss dearly, I realised, “ I’m the elder in our family now and it’s time for me to pass these principles on.”
What is the first step that we should take on the path to improving our lives?
Recognise that everything is a choice. Every behaviour of ours is a choice whether we think so or not, or are conscious to it or not. Choices are the alchemy to creating a well-lived life. They are ours to make and that is a very powerful concept. It’s empowering!
Can you give us an example of making the ordinary in life extraordinary?
There are 70 examples in the book. One most recently, not in the book, happened in the midst of COVID-19 and sheltering on place at home. My shoe closet lay dormant. I love shoes. I have too many pairs! I found myself indoors 90% of the time and when I did go out, it was to take the dogs for a walk. It meant I wore slippers, walking shoes, or Hawaianas, on most days. All of my expensive shoes lying idle. Not really necessary after all. I’m also a fan of de-cluttering and we used sheltering in place to edit our home again. Most of us have more than we need and my home is pretty streamlined as it is. My essay in the book on gifting experiences which we did way ahead of our time is probably my favourite example. That and sitting down to dinner every night.
In your experience of supporting others to “live lives that work”, what has been your favourite success story?
I get a lot of feedback from people that something I said or did stuck with them and resonated years later with me having no idea I’d made an impact. Just recently a young CEO told me his company is weathering COVID-19 because I taught him the importance of keeping cash on hand in an organically funded business. “I learned that from you.” Another person told me that years ago I’d mentioned de-cluttering and he said it made an enormous difference in his life. I didn’t recall the moment but for him it was life shaping. Another young woman told me she’d learned a lot by working at my company and gained confidence from having to sell to CEOs. So it’s the little things that add up.
You have many creative outlets between cooking, crocheting, writing, and designing. Why is this so important to you?
The left and right brain both need exercise. My work is analytical and the industry my business serves is complex. I have to keep the balance because otherwise I’d have my head in front of a screen all day. These activities let me quiet the brain, and are ‘colour’ in my life. It’s really about integrating the analytic and creative side so work can be play and play can be my work.
The world is in uncharted territory with coronavirus. How has this impacted you and as a result have you gained any additional insight for how to “do life” that you would like to leave our readers with?
I was saying to someone the other day that I wish it didn’t take a crisis for people on planet earth to be nice to each other. COVID-19 has brought out the best in people, from the selflessness of our committed front-line caregivers to people volunteering to feed elders who are at risk and sheltering in place. People are on their porches meeting neighbours for the first time, having cocktails by video, or in our case a virtual surprise party for my son’s 30th birthday. We are improvising and being ingenious. From hairdressers bringing colour formulas to their clients front porches or dog walking services springing up.
It’s gift has been that we can be nicer, live more simply, and be nice to the environment. The biggest gift is for so many people to realise they don’t have to live soul-crushing lives wasting times in long-commutes or being away from their family so they can go sit in cubicles. We are stopping to say thank you to the food delivery lady or FedEx man who are out and about. Many are realising they can clean their own homes, do their own laundry, and mow their own lawns. We have multiple generations living under one roof serving one another which is more the natural order of things. We are buying less, consuming less, travelling less. It is reminding us that less is really more and that there is indeed ‘Magic in the Mundane’.