Mindful Agility

Noah Rasheta: The Entrepreneur Driving the School Bus

April 05, 2022 Noah Rasheta Season 1 Episode 6
Mindful Agility
Noah Rasheta: The Entrepreneur Driving the School Bus
Show Notes Transcript

When we choose ambitious goals, we're going to create stories about them. But nothing lasts forever: our jobs, our achievements, our friends, our relationships... or our stories. If we attach our identities to ephemeral stories (and aren't all our stories ephemeral?), we will suffer.

Noah Rasheta, the host of the Secular Buddhism podcast and author of three books on Buddhism, abandons the story he told himself and others, that he was a successful entrepreneur. He takes us on a journey of self-discovery, finding comfort with unknown challenges, changing stories, and new pivots that may be needed. From entrepreneur to school bus driver to ... well, you decide if he's an entrepreneur or just having fun.



  • Daniel Greening, host, agile coach, and computer scientist
  • Mirela Petalli, co-host, meditation guide, and neurocritical nursing instructor
  • Dan Dickson, business coach, executive and management consultant


[00:00:00] Cold Open

[00:00:00] Noah Rasheta: So one way to kill that story was to purposely do something completely off the track of what I thought I would do. 

 In the town where I lived there was a lot of need for school bus drivers. And I saw the signs up in town and I thought, you know what, I'm going to do that. 

[00:00:19] Welcome

[00:00:19] Daniel Greening: Welcome to the Mindful Agility podcast. I'm your host, Dan Greening. My co-host is Mirela Petalli. We're joined today by entrepreneur, podcaster, school bus driver, author, and paragliding instructor Noah Rasheta. By the end of this episode, you can decide for yourself which of those labels apply.

If you want to get useful stuff done faster, this podcast is for you. Mindfulness practices help us gain greater insight while agile practices help us get results. Each episode is an agile experiment. We hypothesized this episode will help you gain more insight and build more value. The journey is half the fun.

[00:01:07] Introduction

[00:01:07] Daniel Greening: We're really happy to have Noah Rasheta here today. Noah is the host of the Secular Buddhism podcast and a good friend of Mirela's and mine. Noah's thoughts have shaped much of what we talk about on the Mindful Agility podcast.

[00:01:23] Mirela Petalli: I found Noah's podcast a few years ago, when I first got interested in mindfulness and Buddhism, but wanted to stay away from organized religion. His podcast, books, and the amazing community he has created have been very important in my journey. 

[00:01:40] Daniel Greening: Noah, I've been listening to your Secular Buddhism podcast since early 2016. Many deep thinkers in the space are academics, like Stephen Bachelor and Sam Harris. I'm kind of an academic too, so I appreciated them. But when I started listening to your podcast, I thought. "Okay. This guy is just living his life with Buddhist philosophy and he's showing me the practical side I need." 

[00:02:07] Noah Rasheta: When it started, my only intent was to have a place to share the journey and the ideas that I had learned. But I didn't have a plan for what it was going to be or where it would go. I didn't have any plans for writing at the time. 

In terms of how it's affected my life and my journey, it's been a very instrumental tool that I think has helped me to be more mindful of the phases that I'm going through in life and enjoying each step of the journey. I like to think that I'm enjoying the journey more, thanks to the ideas that I've learned and the concepts that Buddhism has presented to me. so it's, it's been a fun journey.

[00:02:48] Daniel Greening: When you had a business failure and you talked about it on your podcast, I was riveted. Then you became a bus driver, so that was wild to me.

[00:03:01] Noah Rasheta: I was running a company, manufacturing products and selling them in the U S market. That company was collapsing, and along with it was the sense of identity I had, the sense of who I am. That was deeply anchored and attached to, "I'm an entrepreneur who runs successful businesses." That's what made it so painful. My sense of identity was threatened. And as the company was going under, I didn't know who I was.

 I would have ranked it among the most painful things I had ever gone through up until that moment. And I had gone through things that I would say are significantly worse things to go through than that. 

So that allowed me to get introspective and through that introspection came the realization that I had anchored my sense of identity to what I was doing for work. 

 But as soon as I noticed that and realized that's what was going on, that's why this hurts, it ended up being quite a liberating experience because the relationship I had with my sense of self changed. Rather than thinking, "this is who I am," it softened to, "this is what I do, or is something that I do." I could do anything, but It happens to be entrepreneurial work. 

So one way to kill that story was to purposely do something completely different, completely off the track of what I thought I would do. 

That was to become a school bus driver. In the town where I lived there was a lot of need for school bus drivers. And I saw the signs up in town and I thought, you know what, I'm going to do that.

[00:04:41] Mirela Petalli: So, how did that go? 

[00:04:43] Noah Rasheta: It was, a deviation from the stress and anxiety that I had for years where.. It's always building, building, building, and here it's like, no, I just have to get up in the morning and get the bus going. The stress is dealing with loud kids in the bus, but that doesn't bother me. So I did it for a year. People would say, " How can you deal with all the chaos inside the bus? Like kids are, kids are hard. And I was like, no, this is actually a lot easier than dealing with the stress and chaos of building or running a business.

[00:05:13] Mirela Petalli: I'm curious, did you get attached to this new story of being a bus driver? 

[00:05:17] Noah Rasheta: So during the time that I did that, I felt almost like I removed this big chain and a heavy ball that was anchored to me that was my story. That "I am an entrepreneur. That's what I do." And that went away and it went away because that's not what I did. I'm a school bus driver. And when I emerged out of that and changed that mental approach to what I do in life, it allowed me to say, "Okay, well then if I'm not an entrepreneur, I'm not an anything. What would I want to do with my life?"

it was kind of liberating to realize, well, I could drive a school bus. I could go get a job doing anything. It doesn't matter what it is. So if it doesn't matter, then what would I want to do? 

 And that led me down the path of pursuing my passion, which was flying paragliders. With time, I became an instructor and then started a flight school. And now I get to do that. 

My line of work is the very thing that I wanted to do. As soon as I would get out of work was go fly. Now that is my work, and it almost feels unfair to call it work because it's play. I get to go have fun and play and share that joy with others and teach other people to fly.

And there's no pressure now, like I used to have before, of this has to succeed, because I have, no fear of, if this doesn't work, I'll go back to driving a school bus. I'll do whatever I have to do, because there is no more story or definition in my mind of who I am. Now, there's just what I do is what I do. And that could change at any given moment. If I lost the use of my legs, then I wouldn't be doing this. I'd be doing something else, but it won't matter what it is. And that was quite liberating 

I'm glad it all went down the way it did, because I don't know that I would have known that about myself had I not gone through the difficulty of losing my company. 

[00:07:08] Mirela Petalli: I heard your bus driving story when I was in grad school, halfway through getting my family nurse practitioner degree . I was trying to juggle family, full-time work, and school. And I felt like I was failing. Your experience resonated with me and prompted me to first see clearly, then question my stories and my attachments to them. 

I learned so much about myself. That I am not my stories, career, setbacks, or labels. It was a difficult, but insightful process that led to a change in the direction of my studies and a job that I truly love as a nursing instructor. 

[00:07:47] Daniel Greening: When I heard this story from Noah, I was an entrepreneur too. I had sold two previous startup companies. And my third one had gone bust a few years earlier. That same story, " I'm a successful entrepreneur," got demolished. I felt humiliated immediately after that failure. And I just went through my day feeling humiliated every day. So people were gone like, "what's wrong with Dan?"

And I was thinking , "Come on, dude. The fraction of startups that fail is pretty high. Two out of three isn't bad." Regardless there I was miserable. 

When Noah became a school bus driver, I thought "That is amazing. How can I be that chill?"

 I thought of it as, going, "Huh. My misery is really interesting. It doesn't really make sense. What's up with that? Maybe I should experiment with it." 

Noah, have you seen other people roll with challenges more quickly because of their perspective as buddhist practitioners?

[00:09:00] Noah Rasheta: Yeah, I think so. As I was studying Buddhism and encountering stories, little things would stand out to me. One is from a story in Zen Buddhism with a monk in China who was accused of fathering a child. And it was a story that was fabricated , to try to discredit him, but rather than defend his honor or anything, he just went along with it.

It was like, okay, I'll raise the kid. And raised this child for a while, until the truth of the story emerged that this girl had lied and she didn't want her lover to be in trouble for everything that had happened. So then her parents come back and they want to take the child. He's like, okay, and gives the child back. 

Stories like that, I would encounter like "what kind of person would do that? Because in our society and in my personal experience, I felt like that I would never do that. I would fight for my honor to the death, you know, like, and then I realized, but that's exactly what we're talking about here, right? 

It's the story that you have about who you are. And you have to defend that because I need you to be bought into the same story about me that I have about me. And then I would encounter in Buddhism people who weren't going through that. 

In another example, a friend of mine who I learned a lot from when I was doing the lay ministry program is Koyo Kubose, who runs the Bright Dawn School of Buddhism.

His wife got cancer and passed away recently. And watching him go through all that, I was detecting the same thing. Like There was no sense of protecting the story of, oh, I don't want to show emotion or things like that. I saw the same thing that I see echoed in all these stories, which was almost a radical sense of vulnerability with no fear of taking on whatever life just threw at you. 

That's been very eye-opening to me because I've realized, "That's what I want." And at the end of the day, the story of the bus it's that, right? It's no longer having a story that you have to prop up, changes the relationship you have with life as life unfolds, because then it almost equips you to be like, "All right, whatever we have to do, this is what we have to do."

Someone comes along and says, "Hey, you fathered this child." And if you think, "Oh, well I guess I'll take care of the kid." It's like, "who thinks that way?"

[00:11:22] Daniel Greening: through some magical dust in the air.

[00:11:27] Noah Rasheta: Yeah. Isn't that crazy?.

 and that, to me, ties into this, when I think of agile, What does it mean to be agile? It's as soon as you take this bump, you pivot and you say, okay, then this is what I'm doing 

[00:11:39] Daniel Greening: Yeah. I was thinking that we are making pivots. That language "pivot" comes from, a type of agile technique called Lean startup. And I don't know if you've read that book, Noah. 

[00:11:52] Noah Rasheta: Yeah, I recognize the name.

[00:11:55] Daniel Greening: We'll be talking with Noah in a later episode about various pivots that can be performed as we go through life. First though I want to talk a little bit about lean startup, a tool in the agile tool box. 

Steve Blank developed the lean startup technique to help entrepreneurs find markets. It follows a repeating sequence, build, measure, learn, and sometimes pivot. 

When you learn something that surprises you like that your hypothesized market doesn't exist. You pivot to explore something else. Noah was surprised to learn that his business failure made him miserable. So he leaned in with what we might call the school bus driver pivot. To confirm he didn't need the entrepreneur label. 

Life and markets have many unknowns, I guess you could try to plan your whole career in detail, but you'll end up a bureaucrat in a big bank or something. Entrepreneurship provides opportunities for keen observers and courageous experimenters. 

Some very successful entrepreneurs made massive pivots. For example, several dropped out of undergraduate school. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs. And it just goes on and on. They had the awareness, discipline, and drive for success, but didn't need the degree. 

When we innovate, when we compose our lives, when we start companies, we can use skillful awareness to discover things that less skilled people can't see. The mindfulness concept in Buddhism teaches us focus, awareness and insight skills. It gives us greater comfort with discoveries we might find. 

 But passive mindfulness does not reveal every secret. Some secrets don't reveal themselves until you dig up a rock or try something no one else has tried. That's where experimentation gives us an edge. 

Noah did not do the same thing the monk did with the baby. The monk just passively accepted the situation. Noah did something active. He experimented with his own identity. 

Agile is just a succession of experiments, one after another, with a discipline of adapting after what we learn with every one of those experiments.

It explores the world more actively than mindfulness, but it needs mindfulness to keep a cool head. And that's why i think these two practices belong together

[00:14:40] Summary

[00:14:40] Daniel Greening: We often get very attached to our projects . We promote heroic stories about our past successes. On the one hand you want to be highly motivated to make your project successful. And yet our projects can fail. This is especially true for startups, which are notorious for failing frequently. So you want to be able to pivot when failure is likely. Moping around after a failure just consumes precious time.

It's inevitable that we construct stories about ourselves to match our past or current activities. But we have to watch out for attaching our identities to our stories. Noah and I were made miserable by our own business failures, and our attachment to our invalidated stories.

Noah's first pivot was pretty interesting. He became a bus driver to gain comfort with being able to do anything in life. His second pivot was to paragliding instructor. My pivot was becoming an agile coach. 

[00:15:44] Mirela Petalli: These examples of failure and starting over, by letting go of the attachment to our stories, apply to other things in life. Relationships end, we lose jobs, our projects fail. We have labels that we identify with and think that they make us who we are. When things don't go our way, and inevitably end or fail , we suffer partly because we feel that our identity is gone with those labels. 

The stories we shared today are good examples of how we can loosen the attachment to the labels, and realize that we are free to choose. We are free to write and rewrite our stories, as many times as we need. 

Earlier, Noah mentioned Reverend Koyo Kubose who ran the Bright Dawn lay ministry program I am a part of as well. Reverend Koyo passed away a few days after we recorded this interview. I am very grateful for Reverend Koyo's life and work that touched and will continue to touch so many. 

[00:16:51] Meditation Introduction

[00:16:51] Daniel Greening: Mirela is going to lead a 10 minute meditation to explore the stories we tell ourselves. 

Try it, when you have those 10 minutes. After the meditation I'll summarize and close this episode. 

 I suggest you find a quiet place where you'll be undisturbed for 10 minutes. Pause now, if you want to situate yourself. But if you're an experienced meditator and want to meditate in the midst of chaos, that's okay too. 

Here we go.

[00:17:21] Meditation

[00:17:21] Mirela Petalli: Thank you for taking this time to meditate with us today. You will hear a bell at the beginning of the meditation and one at the end. The bell is an invitation to come back to the present moment. 

In this meditation. We'll look at the stories we have about ourselves. And our relationship to them. When we see our stories clearly, we can question and change them. 

First find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. It can be any position where you feel comfortable, but also alert. While we maintain an intention to be still you can adjust your posture at any time if needed. You can either close your eyes or keep them slightly open, focused downward in front of you.

Let's start by taking a few deep, slow breaths. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Fill your lungs with air. Relax your belly. And then let the air out slowly through your nose. 

 See if you can release any tension, and relax your body a little bit more with each out-breath. 

There is nothing to do right now. 

 Let's take one more deep, slow breath. 

 Now allow your breath to return to normal. 

Focus your attention on the breath where you feel it most: nostrils, chest, or belly. 

We will use that spot without holding too tightly to it, as an anchor, as a place to return to while we allow for anything else to arise naturally in our awareness. Thoughts, sensations, emotions, sounds. 

Our thoughts are often stories about ourselves and others. 

Pay attention to the content of your thoughts, especially the stories that are about you. 

Notice what the stories are without getting carried away as if you are listening to a friend telling you their story. 

Are these stories about achievements? Failures? How are you portrayed in them? A hero, a villain, a victim, a failure, a success. 

What words do you use to describe yourself in this narratives? 

Try to observe with curiosity and without judgment. 

This is an opportunity to take a peak at what our thoughts are about when we are not consciously controlling them. Our goal is to get to know the content of our thoughts, without trying to change anything. 

Let's take one minute of silence and see what comes up. 

 Now let go of noticing your thoughts. 

You can return to this practice of noticing your thoughts at any time. 

Bring your attention to your body and notice how you feel, without judgment. 

 And when you were ready, you can open your eyes. 

 Thank you for taking this time to meditate with us today

[00:23:49] Daniel Greening:

[00:23:58] Closing

[00:23:58] Daniel Greening: We all tell ourselves stories with the illusion of persistence. They might start as convenient shorthand. When someone asks, "what do you do?" You might say. "I'm an entrepreneur. I'm a nurse. I'm a stay at home mom." But nothing is permanent. Our relationships, our jobs, our belongings, and even our lives will disappear. And a lot of our stories will go with them. 

If we get comfortable with the ebb and flow of life, we can say, "Hey look, something just happened. I'm going to have to pivot." And in those pivots, we get to reinvent ourselves. There's a lot of freedom there. 

[00:24:42] Credits 

[00:24:42] Daniel Greening: Divya Maez and Jay Beale were beta reviewers for this episode. 

 Noah. How do people listen to the Secular Buddhism podcast? 

[00:24:52] Noah Rasheta: If you go to the website, secularbuddhism.com, there's a way there to find it on different platforms. If you search within any podcast app for Secular Buddhism, you'll find it. 

[00:25:02] Daniel Greening: You can subscribe to the Mindful Agility podcast in a similar way. Go to mindful agility.com and click the link for your favorite podcast app. Or just search for Mindful Agility in your app. 

We'll notify you about new episodes, if you subscribe to our email newsletter at mindfulagility.com. 

Ask questions, propose episodes, or just hang out with like-minded folks in our private Facebook group, Mindful Agility Community. 

The show notes provide references as well as links to additional content. 

Our co-host and meditation guide is Mirella Petalli. Mirela, Eric Reese, the author of Lean Startup, names 10 different pivots. Do you have a favorite? 

[00:25:52] Mirela Petalli: Yes, the zoom out pivot, where what was considered a whole product becomes a single feature of a much larger product. This reminds me of the Buddhist concepts of interconnectedness and interdependence. Zooming out means to get out of our self-centered mode, look at things from a broader perspective, and realize that we are only a very small part of the universe.

[00:26:17] Daniel Greening: Hey, wait a minute. If you're a very small part of the universe, so am I! What about my story?

[00:26:25] Mirela Petalli: Did you fall asleep during the meditation? 

[00:26:28] Daniel Greening: I'm Dan Greening.