The Joy of Less: Kim Coupounas at TEDxBoulder (Full Transcript)

I want to take you back to the winter of 1993. My husband and I are living in Boston. We’re newly married, and we’re kind of early on in our A-type high-octane business careers. So we were working all the time. We didn’t have much time for fun, and as avid backpackers and climbers, we longed for time in nature.

So hallelujah, we managed to escape for a long weekend-backpacking trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We were enchanted by the notion of meandering into this frozen wintry wonderland, breathing in the smell of the pines, feeling the crunch! crunch! crunch! of the snow beneath our snowshoes, and snuggling up next to a campfire at night.

So, in preparation for this trip, we bought every winter camping gizmo and doodad our young wallets could afford. So there we were, in this beautiful, pristine winter wonderland with 80 pounds each on our backs. Now, our dream vacation backpacking trip – probably the only one we were going to get that year – turned into a nightmare. We had welts on our shoulders, blisters on our feet, sweat-soaked base layers. We were seduced by the allure of more, and we didn’t just have more on our backs, you might say that we were “more-on” backpackers.

So after a bunch of trips like that, we took all of those learnings, and my husband and I founded an outdoor company on the basic notion that when it comes to connection in the outdoors and your gear, less really is more. We really had found the key to fun and freedom in the outdoors, and it was simple: go light.

So let’s talk about the culture of more. When we think about the word ‘more,’ we think more money, more sex, more friends, more respect, more success, more power, right? So where does all this fascination with more come from? From the rise of industrial capitalism at the turn of the 20th century. Suddenly, mass-produced products were available to everyone, life-enhancing products that raised the standard of living.

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Suddenly, we had more freedom, more education, more wealth, higher wages and more democracy. But let’s talk about some of the things that also came with that. Suddenly, we filled our days from morning to night with no time to breathe, and we had so many choices. As a society, we were consumed with the consumption of things. Now, tell me, why do we need 24 flavors of ranch dressing? So is it any wonder what this obsession with more has brought on a global basis? Folks, we’re gobbling up the planet, and well, we’re not having a heck of a lot of fun while we’re doing it.

Capitalism is a good thing, but it has lost its way, and so have we. I get the allure of more. I know the power of the dark side. I think to myself how I look so hot, so powerful, and so sexy in those shoes. I’ve got to have them. So I plunk down my credit card, and I have that immediate rush of gratification. And I take them home in their fancy packaging and I stand in front of the full length mirror. I put them on my feet, and I have that sickening realization of just how much I put on my credit card, and that they freaking hurt my feet! And what’s left after that initial rush, but emptiness and pain?

Fast forward to 2002, my husband and I are building an awesome company. We have product awards and media hits coming out of our ears, we are rowing internationally, and we are riding this huge wave of traditional business success, but we’re working more than 100 hours a week. We’re pouring capital in. We’re buying ad-buys for a single page that cost more than 20,000 dollars each. We’re buying trade show booths that cost more than a house. And you know, all of that was in the pursuit of more: more market share, more growth, more recognition, more success.

Can you see the irony of building a company all about less but living all of your time in the land of more? And what did it really get us? It got us less time with each other, less time with the family, less time with friends, less time in spiritual pursuit, less time working out, and ironically, less time in nature. We were running our business like the “more-on” backpacker.

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I want to be honest and tell you that the seduction of more led me personally down a very, very dark path. I was emotionally, spiritually, and physically so worn out and so out of balance that I spent the next eight years having five miscarriages, three failed in-vitro fertilization rounds and spending a fortune in Western and Eastern medical treatments. Can you imagine seeing your baby’s heartbeat at 12 weeks via ultrasound only to find out a few weeks later that the baby had died in your belly? Why are we so afraid of the word ‘less’? We think we’ll have lack. We think we’ll be judged. We think we won’t have enough.

We think we’re worried what other people will say. And all of that is rooted in fear. But good people, what the heck are we afraid of? We are living in a civilization with so much prosperity, and abundance, and wealth. Happiness, when it comes from buying things and stuff, is fleeting, and therefore, an illusion.

Let’s reframe the word ‘less,’ ‘less’ doesn’t mean lack. ‘Less’ doesn’t mean lack. ‘Less’ means less stress, less anxiety, less anger, less worry, and more happiness, joy, connection, and abundance. So, after eight years of fertility treatments and trying everything, everything to try and have a child, I was brought to my knees, and everything in me screamed, “Stop!” So I did. I got quiet. I stopped being the CEO of the company that I cofounded. I stepped off boards, I eliminated commitments. I stopped chasing every notion. I’d been told was my ticket to happiness, and I stopped with the attachments, and all of those things that weren’t serving me like self-judgment, and blame, and stress, and worry.

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