Michael spent his youth exploring the bush country of Rhodesia – modern day Zimbabwe. He would spend days running barefoot, with his fox terrier, Toki, under the watchful eye of Twalika, one of the family’s cattle herders. Indeed, watchful eyes were needed as snakes were very common, including cobras, mambas and, most notably, the deadly puff adder. Often his destination was one or more of the five villages on his grandfather’s land. His grandfather had received a land grant in this British Empire colony after having served in World War I as a brigadier general.
Such a childhood would strike most people as an exciting and exotic life. But for Michael, the bush was literally just the beginning of a life of adventure, danger, accomplishment, and experiences which would impress even a Hollywood script writer. Michael’s lineage was filled with adventurers, perhaps the most noteworthy being his mother. Born and raised in Ireland, she ventured to the U.S. at the age of 19 – completely on her own. It was the 1930’s and a girl on her own was definitely uncommon. Yet off she went, determined to reach Kirksville, Missouri and attend the first-ever college of osteopathy. There’s much more to that tale, but this is Michael’s story.
Curiosity has always been a major attribute of Michael’s. As a young boy, he became infatuated with a mural in his grandfather’s house. The painting featured tigers, griffins and dragons – animals he had never seen in Africa – animals his grandfather said lived in China. Michael made a mental note – he would visit China and see these animals in person. Curiosity would take Michael places that even he couldn’t imagine.
When he was only six-years-old, his mother had a very serious talk with him. Her message for Michael was to always pursue substance over form, explaining that substance defined the essence of a person – their soul. Substance was the foundation for one’s moral value system. Form – or style – had to do with the trappings, the material things which led to being more concerned with the approval of others. Lofty concepts for a young child to grasp – but that’s what he did.
Michael would eventually move to Dublin, Ireland to attend Trinity College and pursue a medical career. Just one year into it, Michael realized that caring for the sick his entire life was not for him. He set off for Canada finding work as a retail clerk and at a logging camp. His odyssey would lead him to San Francisco working as a stevedore and then to Hawaii, where he managed a surf rental shop.
One day he was approached by a Buddhist monk who wanted to learn to surf. Michael struck a bargain – free surf lessons if the monk would arrange for Michael to study Buddhism. The monk introduced Michael to his teacher and abbot who had serious doubt about the foreigner. The abbot posed a riddle to Michael – “If you want to win, you lose. If you don’t want to lose, you’ll still lose. What do you do?” Michael answered – “Neither winning nor losing is important – what’s important is achieving balance.”
The monk accepted Michael as a student, taking him to Japan to study. Michael became an ordained Zen Buddhist monk by the age of 20. Michael’s odyssey was far from over, however. He would go on to learn Japanese, start a business and develop real estate, get run out of the country by not cooperating with the CIA, attend three universities without earning a single degree and ultimately become the Chairman of Merrill Lynch Asia Pacific. He effentually left the world of finance due to the ever-growing discrepancy between his values and those of the majority of people in that industry.
This variety and depth of adventure, accomplishment, travel, learning, and growth is only possible because Michael Dobbs-Higginson is a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands seek a life balance built on a moral value system
Michael Dobbs-Higginson lives his life fueled by curiosity. He maintains a rock-solid commitment to living based on the foundation of his own moral value system. Both curiosity and moral foundation are essential elements of what is Michael’s true purpose – his primary life pursuit – minimization of ego. According to Dobbs-Higginson, Buddhists believe in reincarnation, that humans keep returning in life until the point of achieving zero ego.
It’s that pursuit of minimizing ego that created a major conflict for Dobbs-Higginson in the financial world. The degree of greed and ego that he experienced became unacceptable and irreconcilable with his own value system. Leaving that world behind, Dobbs-Higginson turned his attention to helping startups. The three most noteworthy are the development of electric vehicles, developing drones and creating a B2B e-commerce platform for Africa.
Most recently, Michael has embarked on what will certainly be his final adventure. His wife, Marie-Thérèses, has convinced him to back away from his business involvement and spend more time with her, their children and grandchildren. Michael Dobbs-Higginson has been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis – a fatal lung disease. His life expectancy is two years, maybe three. It’s the time he has left, the process of dying, which he calls his last great adventure. Curiosity is in his DNA – he wants to embrace and learn from the experience. His moral value system will allow him to make that journey with grace. Minimization of ego fosters acceptance – why shouldn’t he have a terminal illness?
When asked his greatest accomplishment in his life he states very genuinely “Having married my wife.” A follow-up question asked about his greatest regret – “Leaving my wife alone”.
Dobbs-Higginson details his life in his new book A Raindrop in the Ocean: The Extraordinary Life of a Global AdventurerMichael Dobbs-Higginson is a true adventurer. His three principles in life define exactly what I refer to as a fearless brand. Adopt them, and you too will experience the powerful results of a fearless brand.
Stay curious – Asking questions leads to answers. Answers present countless options and open new windows. Stay curious. Grow.
Substance over form – These three words sum up branding beautifully. Your brand is your value proposition. Your brand is your essence – your soul. Substance is the sum total of the intangible attributes which define you. Form – or style – is window dressing. Create your personal moral value system and you have defined your brand.
Minimize ego –Losing – or at least diminishing – one’s ego leads to a balanced life and creates more energy. Accepting our short-comings and our strengths – exactly as they are – is what allows us to be ‘fearless’. We become comfortable with ourselves, achieving a life balance. We stop expending energy when we cease putting on airs, pretending, hiding, and being focused on form – that energy can then be used in much more positive ways.
It’s very likely that no one, other than Michael Dobbs-Higginson, has led a life so filled with such variety and adventure – and that’s just fine. We needn’t be swashbucklers and world travelers to become fearless brands – to find happiness and success as we define success. We really just need to stay curious, embrace our moral value system and lose our egos. Simple.