What will you do with the time you have left? Are you willing to start right now?
Those two questions are essential to the life and work of Kirk Souder, the co-founder of enso, a mission-driven branding agency partnering with companies such as Google, Kahn Academy, Pepsi, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and The Nature Conservancy.Kirk experienced an inciting incident at an early age that heightened his awareness of how fragile life can be.
When he was 18, he went in for what he thought was a pretty standard orthopedic surgery, only to discover that he had a very rare and aggressive form of cancer. He was told he had a few years at most to live.
What followed was a great struggle, but also a great awakening in his life. “I realized then that I was here for a very finite amount of time. What was I going to do with that time? I remember telling my parents at that point that I’d rather be awake for the next 2 years than asleep for the next 80 and only find out at the end that life is a finite thing.”
Kirk vividly remembers one of the darkest days when he and his dad had just left the doctor’s office with dire news that his cancer had spread to his lungs. In a car beside them at a stoplight, the driver was impatiently honking his horn, furious and yelling that the traffic light was not changing quickly enough.
“Wow, I will never be that person. A red light not turning green fast enough is just not a problem compared to what’s happening in my life.” He remembers thinking that he was so blessed at that point to not be bothered by all the little things in life.
But fast forward 20 years, and he did find himself being that guy, sitting at a light honking the horn and irritated. While thankful that the doctors’ prediction that he would die young turned out not to be true, he realized that he had lost that sense of awakeness that had come with his initial cancer diagnosis.
“I’d let go of my blessing. I’d allowed myself to slip into the big coma. I had lost that fierce urgency of life. I knew it was time to get back to that original awakening.”
That experience led to the founding of enso, and, in 2006, Kirk completed his Master’s Degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica. Since 2007, he’s also been a volunteer with The Freedom to Choose Project, which facilitates twice yearly self-awareness workshops with women in a maximum security prison.
“We so easily find ourselves in that place of comfort and familiarity. We have to leave that comfort, experience that dark night of the soul, to really understand who we are and what we’re here to do. The greatest peril is to not have lived a life of vitality connected with what brings us joy.”
With the creation of enso, Kirk has worked with his branding and coaching clients to answer life’s bigger questions.
“The bigger question and opportunity for brands today is if you really want to demonstrate that you are a conscious citizen of the planet, are you willing to go further than just telling a story? Are you willing to move into action? How do your core goods and services positively impact the planet?”
That’s the work Kirk and his associates strive to accomplish at enso – working with brands and businesses whose core offering also makes a positive influence on the planet. The agency seeks out clients who have a shared value of making a profit and making change.
And listening is the key.
“The most important thing – and I think the thing that is traditionally really missing in business, but also particularly in agency and brand relationships – is the act of listening. And I mean really listening.
There’s a difference between really listening without any agenda versus listening so that I can figure out what I want to say next or how I can advance a particular agenda or pre-existing idea that I want to promote. That’s pretend listening.”
Kirk also seeks to identify self-limiting beliefs that are holding back businesses or individual coaching clients from creating and achieving what they are capable of.
“I try to be a mirror which reflects back what they have inside themselves – a deep, authentic purpose to express out into the world and make a difference.”
One of the questions Kirk asks his clients to consider is: “What is the kind of daily experience you’d like to be having as a result of reaching your goals?”
Start with the experience that you want to have, then reverse engineer from there to see what it would take for you to have that experience.
It’s possible for anyone to lead with love and not compromise by one iota any other metric society uses to measure impact or success, Kirk believes. “That’s a pretty solid foundation from which to do things in life.”