Interview with a Sharer

Hey y’all, I was interviewed not too long ago, and the interview makes a nice “Share my Ryde” report.  -Neal

Question: You have an impressive bio, and you mention that you’re “perhaps an unlikely voice for sharing.” What inspired you to leave the corporate world behind?

Answer: Well, the short story is that I was not enjoying myself! I was not doing the work I was meant to do. And I noticed that the corporate lifestyle undermined my relationship to myself, to the people I loved most, and to a sense of place. I saw this happening to others as well.

After a year of travel, long hours and a lot of pointless work, I had a spiritual breakdown and breakthrough that reminded me how important relationships are to a good life.

My breakthrough happened in the most mundane of places: a parking lot.

My home for about six months in 2004.

I was staying the weekend in an airport hotel outside of Brussels on an extended business trip. I went for a jog in a nearby industrial park on a sunny summer day. I stopped in the empty parking lot of a warehouse. I was totally alone at one of the most important crossroads of the global economy — Brussels, home of the European Union — and I began to cry.

I realized that this was not the life I wanted, and also — and this made me really bawl — that millions of people are probably not digging it either. I had grokked the global economy, really felt it in my bones actually, and just felt a big NO. No bad relationships, overwork, purposelessness, and destruction of nature and community.

What was weird to me — the corporate strategist — was that this was not an intellectual decision. In the back of my mind, I knew these things already. I just hadn’t felt them in my bones until then. I had connected to something bigger than myself. And it became crystal clear what I had to do.

Q: OK, you said no to the corporate life. What did you say yes to?

A: I made a vow — right then and there in that parking lot — to do whatever I could to create a life of purpose, great relationships and real community. And to help others do the same.

Immediately after this, I went to my office, submitted my resignation and re-booked my reservations for the next flight home. I started working on sharing projects within days of touching down. I had no plan. I had something much more powerful: total commitment. I just dove in. I had absolutely no reservations about this decision at the time or to this day. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

Q: What does sharing have to do with relationships?

A: Everything! It’s impossible to have good relationships unless you have an economic system that supports them. The economy, in fact, shapes the types of relationships we have with one another.

And sharing creates great relationships. When you share, you simultaneously affirm a bond with another person, the larger community and with the earth. I say “with the earth” because sharing is good stewardship of resources.

In contrast, a wasteful, stress-filled, work-and-spend McLifestyle works against good relationships. And you can’t thrive without good relationships. Good relationships are a key ingredient to happiness. We should put them first in our lives, but also create public policy that supports healthy relationships.

Q: What’s the connection between simplicity, sharing and social change?

A: Through simpler living, you can cut your costs, work less and spend your time on those things that give you the most satisfaction. Simpler living makes a better life possible.

But there’s only so far you can go by yourself. If you want to take simpler living to the next level, you have to work with others.

One of the many social innovation salons I organized in San Francisco after I returned home.

Q: Can you give some examples?

A: There’s two related paths. First, you can simplify your life even more by sharing. For instance, you can dramatically reduce the number of things you need to own by sharing. Shared housing, transportation, workspace, meals and food production can dramatically lower your costs while building community — the ultimate form of social security.

And it’s possible to create a whole lifestyle based on sharing without joining a commune. Car sharing, co-housing, co-working, yard sharing, bike sharing, tool sharing and other innovations are growing in popularity. And they do not require you to give up your privacy, individuality or even ownership of your stuff. New websites like NeighborGoods can help you and your neighbors share in a way that protects your privacy and stuff.

And second, the time you free up by sharing and living more simply can be used to get engaged in issues that affect your lifestyle. For instance, going car-free is a lot easier if there’s plenty of bike lanes and good public transportation. These are community issues that you can’t work toward alone. You have to get involved in your community to make sure your tax dollars are spent in ways that make simpler living possible.

Neal Gorenflo is the publisher of Shareable, an online magazine that promotes sharing as an empowering lifestyle choice and offers how-to tips. Thanks, Neal, for a fantastic interview.

Human relationship and the economy

It’s impossible to have good relationships unless you have an economic system that supports them. The economy, in fact, shapes the types of relationships we have with one another.”

I could not agree more. And your story is indeed a great “share your ryde”! I, however, have a question: how important was your old job in empowering you to make your move? Did you need to live on savings for some time, for example? How would you envision the trajectory of a young person that decides to become a sharer just out of college?

Of course you can share as a cost-cutting strategy, but it seems so much more attractive to find a space to make a living in the sharing economy! Do you think that is something that can be accessible to everyone, or to most people, or is it only for the educated, resourceful élites?

Is the path open?

Hello Neal,

in this week’s Edgeryders team meeting we mentioned your story told here. Our boss, an economist who cares deeply about the theme of the transition of youth, was deeply impressed. At the same time, she wondered: what were the conditions for this to happen? You must have needed some resources to make that shift. Are these relatively common or peculiar to you? How hard was this?

What are your opinions on the matter? I would be curious…

I don’t know

It’s complicated.  When I quit, I had savings but even more debt. The debt was from school loans and an investment that went horribly wrong a few years before. Still, I managed because my expenses were low. I was also sharing a modest apartment with my girlfriend (now wife) at the time

I’ve always kept my expenses low. I’ve never bought a TV, a stereo, or a new car. We have a mix of new and used furniture at home. I buy a lot used clothes because I like them better than new, but they also happen to be cheaper. I’ve only bought one new bike. I still have it 20 years later. It’s even cooler now than when I bought it! I’m just not that into stuff. Relationships, learning, experiences, and creating give me the most pleasure.

My strategy has been to live well below my means and save money. My savings enable me to take time off work to reorganize my life.  This was my second career change.  The first one was very difficult. Each change took about a year.  And each year was focused on refection, exploration, meeting new people, joining new communities, and some travel.

I found ways to do this cheaply. For instance, I volunteered at conferences on topics that interested me. If I wanted to learn about an industry, I’d get a temp job in the industry. Volunteering is an amazing way to access opportunities. I couldn’t have made either transition without volunteering.  Volunteering played a big role in helping me get at least three jobs. My second career change was much easier because of what I learned in the first one. I recognized a process:

-commit to change

-reflect to uncover interests

-explore interests through reading, events, talking to people

-decide on a focus (can be fairly fuzzing to start)

-pursue the interest with gusto. Volunteer with organizations or start a project in the field.  Help people in the field succeed. Contribute, support, and generally become invaluable.

-create work.  New work emerges from a new community which you join or create. You create or get the work because you’re already a trusted and valuable contributor.

This is a process of creating a new story for yourself and also a new constellation of relationships. It’s not a path. I don’t know how widely applicable this process is. It’ll likely work in many developed nations. Not sure how helpful it would be in a favela.

Tthen what about my actual path? Is it open to others? Or is it a product of my class? And what should we make of the opportunities available to people of my class?

I come from a white, middle class background in the United States, so have some of the advantages that come with that.  I say some of the advantages because my family effectively collapsed at age 11. I didn’t have a parental mentor. I was forced to begin making decisions for myself then. And they were mostly bad decisions. This made for a turbulent young adulthood marked by bouts of depression, school suspensions, loneliness, binge drinking, car crashes, and more.  I’m lucky to be alive.

I don’t know if this path is open to others. And I don’t know if anyone would want to take it. My feelings about it are mixed at best. On the one hand, I know intellectually that I have more opportunity in the global economy than the majority of people on the planet. On the other hand, I doubt I have more happiness than most people. Plus, most of the economic opportunity available is unhealthy for workers, society, and the environment. What good is any privilege I have if it simply gives me more power to destroy? What good is any wealth without the security of a stable society and environment? And because I experienced intense emotional pain growing up, I don’t feel privileged. I feel like I escaped an psychological ghetto. I feel like I made it out of my young adulthood by the skin of my teeth.

And as I finish I this comment, I realize I don’t want this path for young adults. It’s too hard, too uncertain. It shouldn’t be this hard to grow up.  And I don’t want them take jobs in an economy that will destroy them and the planet. I hope they make an entirely different economy, one that reverses this disaster we call civilization.

What is happiness?

Neal, a couple of things you said strike me: “I experienced intense emotional pain growing up. I don’t want this path for young adults” and “I doubt I have more happiness than most people.”

Life in general is not really what can be called easy. We are all unique: the difficulties do not happen to us all in the same way, or at the same time of our existence. Yet, we all seem to pass the tests, at one time or another.

Difficulties help individuals to grow. Disappointments and adversity are normal and natural parts of life. Those who roll in the batting learn less, they tend to live less rewarding life.

Of course, we hope that all will be happy and live a fulfilled life. I believe that attitude toward adversity is very important. Unfortunately, these things are not taught in schools. Many young people are struggling to absorb disappointments.

I too, “shared” in recent years. I also lived on my savings and a combination of various strategies, to keep my expenses low.

The time spent doing things I like, time devoted to thinkink, to just BEING myself, has been extremely beneficial in my case. It has made me deeply happy. My only regret is that I have not yet been able to improve the world, I would like to be able to make large portions of the population happier. But I managed to generate happiness for myself and for my son. A few days ago, his teacher told me:He is a ray of sunshine. He seems to be happy. He has a gift for happiness.”

This encourages me a lot. At least, I succeeded at that! But it has been an extremely painful journey. I thought I would die, burning from an excruating pain. Since I seem to have found the key to happiness, and have transmitted to another human being, I tell myself that perhaps I shall succeed — eventually — to share it with others.

I have difficulty understanding how is it that you feel no increased sense of well-being, when you listened to your heart, and did the things in which you believe?


Hi Lyne, wow, that’s amazing about your son.  I have 23 month old that also seems to have a gift for happiness.  He has so much fun.  And this is a great source of happiness for us.  I’m definitely much, much happier than I used to be.  I just hold out the possibility that there are many people with far less than me are happier than I.  A recent conversation with an acquaintance who traveled through Africa prompted that thought.  She said that the people seemed so happy yet were quite poor.  I’ve heard this from other people too.

Regarding the pain and struggle I wrote about.  I want to make clear that my unstable family situation created handicaps. The  point I was trying to make was that while by purely class standards I was privileged being a white, middle class kid in America, the underlying reality was that I faced a lot of obstacles and I struggled desperately to make a life.  My family situation was unusually bad compared to my peers.  And there were times where I felt so hopeless that I wondered about the value of being alive.

I say this not to evoke pity, but to point out that things are more complicated than the level of dialog about race and class in the United States reflects.  And that I don’t feel privileged though by the typical standards I am.  For most of my young adulthood I doubted I would ever find good work, form a healthy relationship with a partner, or find a cool group of friends to hang out with.  But by being lost, I learned how to navigate uncertainty  and start things up from scratch.  I also learned to not take anything for granted.  I’m grateful.

Thanks for sharing your story! You gave such a beautiful testimony. You are already inspiring many people. I received good comments on Twitter (!/Roublier/statuses/138999298678460416). I am glad to find out that you are ‘much happier than I used to be’. I would have scratched my head out of concern if it would have been otherwise.

Poor people seem indeed to be happier, perhaps because they are not attached as much as others to material goods. I noticed that when I detached myself from what I like most, I made quantum leaps of happiness. It’s hard to get to do that, but it made ​​me grow.

I absolutely love this: ‘But by being lost, I learned how to NAVIGATE uncertainty and start things up from scratch.’


(I’ve also been called a ‘navigator’.)

I am sure that many people may find themselves in your description: My family situation was unusually bad compared to my peers.’ I could say the same.

That’s incredible! I had not associated thenavigation’ skills to my rough childhood. I thought it was something related to my propensity for intuition. Does that mean that adversity at a young age tend to produce individuals with increased ‘navigation’ capability? I believe that it must result from a combination of various factors, and that the ‘navigation’ can be expressed in different forms.

What happens when you throw a bunch of ‘navigators’ in a team? For instance, there are variations of ‘iconoclasts’. The truly-successful iconoclast has the ability to come up with an innovative idea, overcome fear of social rejection and sell the idea to other people. It is a rare person who can do all three of these things, which is why genuine iconoclasts are so unusual.

Living small = freedom?

Wow, Neal. There are a lot of important things here. My life has been less eventful than yours (though I did reboot the whole system twice - my story is also on Edgeryders, here), but one thing we have in common is this idea of living below your means. This is actually one of very few lessons that I took from my father - we are very different, we love each other but disagree a lot and I did not try to model my life on his, though he is quite a successful man: live below your means, and you will be free to slam the door and move on. Which he never actually did, but the freedom was there. To this day I don’t own a car, I do own an apartment (bought when I was already over 40) but I have very mixed feelings about it, and I try to stay deliberately a little above the waterline. This comes with a value system which kind of downplays consumption - and that, in turn, means you have to insulate yourself from the constant pressure to buying stuff. Build, as it were, some sort of ideological bulwark, where the highest good is not consumption, but knowledge. Or, in your case, sharing.

Coming to the final part of your comment, I am not sure whether it makes much difference what we wish for our fellow humans. We do what we can: wishful thinking has little part in Edgeryders, where we engage in discovering what is it that people actually do, where they invest their energies. Your path is no doubt hard, but it spells hope and freedom. It’s good that it’s there. It may not even be the hardest: for example, take a look at Rossella’s experience as she tries to reinvent itself. Then, if people feel they have better alternatives, more power to them!

Living small and the art of living.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments and provocations Alberto.  I agree with the sentiment of living small equals freedom but I phrase it differently for myself.  I think of it living artfully.  Art is about essence.  I try to live in a way that expresses essence and has the most meaning for me.  And then try to edit out the rest.   The more rigorous editor I am, the better  I feel.

The opposite of essence is excess.  And excess is ugly.  Consumer culture is not only a social and environmental disaster, it’s also an aesthetic disaster. It’s all about excess. And it’s super ugly in many of its most important individual artifacts (SUVs and McMansions here in the US) but also in its totality.

When it comes to leading my life, it helps for me to think like a craftsperson, artist or designer.  I like the idea that leading your life is a craft.  This comes with a lot of intention and critical thinking as well as dedication to improving skills and outcomes.

There’s a word in German, lebenskunst, that means life as art.  There’s also the phrase Ars Vivendi in Latin (I think), which is the art of living.  I don’t hear this type of thinking much in the US, certainly not in popular media or discourse.

Pure delight


Long live the aesthetes!

Let’s everyone tap into their feminine power (creative spirit, process, endeavor) - the power within oneself to create what lies in one heart. What can provide a true source of happiness and fulfillment.

To Neal

Hy Neal. Reading some missions, i was touched by yours, because i have a friend named Maria that made a choice similar at 40 years old. After a life spended working for big companies, making business all around the world for the companies she’s working for, she sayd Stop! in a while. She changed completely and now she founded a school in which people of every part of the world can go to learn english by playing, in Barcellona. Fantastic! But the thing i don’t understand in your story is if you took a decision to be alone too. Because if you take the decisions you made, i think, it’s difficult to think in the same moment to share your life with someone and trying to make a family because having a family, in my experience, makes impossible decrease the need. Maybe your need (i did it), but not for the childs and family. If you work and your wife or husband works, you can share your car with others, because the needs you have aren’t only the yours; you cannot send your child to the nursery that thakes a lot of money, you wouldn’t pay the motgage or the rent,  and so on. My curiosity, at least, in your story is if your story is based on a choice to live your life alone, with no family, with no child…and so on. Sorry if i went on the personally field, i will understand if you’ll not ripond. Ciao.

Children as a burden?

Ok, I am really anticipating another Edgeryders campaign here, but it seems that you started a sub-debate about children and dependants in general (Lyne here, Neal’s reply here, later Renato here). Lyne and Neal seem to be taking the position that a richer family life makes people happier with less, whereas Renato implies that radical life choices are really hard because of the financial requirements of child rearing.

Neal: do you think people with children can follow in your path?

Children, gender crisis, end of thickness

I cannot wait to do this eventual campaign on children!

The importance of breastfeeding (I breastfed my son until the age of three years old), do day care have an effect on child development, the role of grand-parents and multi-generational families, the impact of divorce on children, and also how do children of divorce cope with divorce themselves and raise their children, how do single mothers cope with parenting when they end up with full responsibilities.

A rise in solitude. However, loneliness isn’t all bad. It can bring energy and inspiration (empowerment).

We’re at the end of the “thickness” in relationships. With the acceleration of time and the impatience of our time, we lack space to dream and to connect deeply with those around us. We develop a false self-adaptive self, which causes people to lose touch base with their true inner feelings, and live a life devoid of authenticity. They might in turn serve as models to their children.

We’re also in the middle of a structural gender crisis. (whoa, I’m a total failure in this field. Better ask someone else to talk about marriage…)

Which brings me to another big problem. Perspectives of quality between women and men pushed back to more than 100 years from now in stuctures of power (both business and government) — I forgot where I put recent articles about this — make me sick, when I think about it. Last week I read “PERHAPS WE WOMEN should just keep out of this male circus”, too many suits… That’s terrible. It really made me feel like yelling.  Women represent a little bit more than 50% of humanity. How come, in 2011, we are regressing in women’s rights?

So many things to talk about!

Last Fall, Adriel Hampton was travelling and he made me discover via Flickr Eros bendato, a beautiful series of public art sculptures, by Igor Mitoraj, a Polish artist, known for having provoked strong controversy. He’s inspired by ancient sculpture to illustrate human nature and its imperfections. His sculptures are deliberately scratched or injured. I love to look at these sculptures, every now and then. They symbolize for me the structural gender crisis, and much more.

Yes, I think they can, but it’s harder.  How hard depends on your savings, your household cash burn, and what your new income levels are.  And if the change requires a move, that’s another level of complication.

It also depends on the age of the children. I think that it’s especially difficult when the kids are under school age and requires paid childcare or one parent to stay home.  After children enter public school, the time and money commitment goes down quite a bit.

That said, I think that with some planning, almost anyone could organize 3-6 months off.  And these days, employment can be more flexible.  I think that going part time or job sharing is probably easier these days.  And I say almost anyone, because taking time off work is probably much harder for a single parent or someone with a health condition that requires being insured (US scenario).

I didn’t have to plan because I lived in a way where I could take time off at any moment and not be too pinched.


Renato, I wasn’t married when I made the change.  My girlfriend (and now wife) was very supportive too.  And now that I do have a wife and child, it would be more difficult but not impossible because we’ve followed the same low cost strategy I followed when I was single.  And we’ve integrated sharing into our lives to save a lot of money.  By being a one car family, sharing childcare, and other strategies, I estimate we save about $15,000 a year.  My wife also has relatively stable, good paying employment in the health care sector.  This helps, but is offset quite a bit by the ridiculously high cost of living in Silicon Valley.

If I take a year off again, it might be to spend time with my son Jake and spend a whole year with him trying new things together, to further cement the bond and give him confidence that he can tackle anything in life.  It would be great to do this with my wife too.  We’ve discussed doing some traveling with Jake when he’s old enough to appreciate it.


if we have a space when you dcide to travel

You’re always welcome to hang out at our place…Just saying :slight_smile:

Thanks, and…

…I may take you up on it!

Cultures of sharing

Hi Neal,

This really strikes a chord with me - my research interest is sustainable consumption and one of the things that intrigues me within the debates in this arena is the potential of collaborative consumption.  I guess the thing that plays on my mind is how to mainstream the idea of sharing - sure, we do it amongst family and friends without thinking, but building the trust within a wider community such that members feel able to share cars, for instance, involves quite a leap.  A key question, I think, is how to create a mass culture of sharing.

Taking the example of car sharing business Streetcar (now Zipcar) in the UK - it currently operates in London, Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and Maidstone.  Each of these locations share (aha!) two important characteristics: first, they are all towns/cities that have grown from ancient settlements, such that the shape and planning of the streets makes heavy road use nothing short of a nightmare.  (I can vouch for this having lived in Cambridge for ten years and never for a moment considered having a car here!)  Second, they each have communities that are strongly and visibly committed to the idea of sustainability.  These are the two key ingredients that have meant Streetcar/Zipcar has taken off in these locations.  The combination of the mobility challenges presented by the geography of each town/city, along with the core values of people within those communities who are committed to driving change has meant that this form of sharing has worked.

But what about other towns and cities - where there is more space for private parking; where public transport provision is appalling; where the sustainability agenda remains invisible?  When I visit my home town in the north of England - where all of this applies - I often wonder what other values one would need to mobilise in order to generate enthusiasm for forms of collaborative consumption such as car sharing.

I wonder whether this is something you discussed in the salons you organised.  I know for a fact that when I move on from Cambridge - such a great place for community collaboration - I’m going to be frustrated by the lack of easily discernable ‘hooks’ to engage people in places where the conditions of personal mobility, as well as community priorities, are likely to be very different.  I’d love to hear any ideas you have.

Maybe a good place to begin

might be to ask what people already are sharing and how as well as what they would really like to be able to share in different parts of the world. With the aim of understanding what the obstacles are that people are coming across whether culture or practical or even legislative. And I’d like to start with Europe because it’s so diverse. Is this anything you might be interested in collaborating on?

As part of this effort I’m putting together an email call to action around this, and would like to send it out to people outside the Edgeryders space via organisations or mailing lists to get an idea…not sure who to get in touch with, or what to wrtite in the email…have an attempt, but it’s just a starting point for a discussion…

If Car sharing would work in Austin, it would work anywhere.

Good question.  Car2Go, the one way no reservation carsharing service, was trialed in Austin Texas to see if it would work in one of the most car-centric places in the world.  Austin is built for cars, pretty much.  They are having success there.  They figured that if it’d work in Austin, it would work anywhere.