A year of risk, reward & discovery
The #cbus studio for Joy Venture

The #cbus studio for Joy Venture

One year ago Jeremy and I took a risk to do something new (following a whole bunch of conversation and hand-wringing to get it right). But when we whittled it down to its components, it's hard to believe this was really a risk at all. Here's what we did:   

  • Developed a vision and roadmap for what Joy Venture should or could be
  • Bought some recording equipment
  • Made a list of people whose stories fit our vision
  • Built a website
  • Launched a podcast
  • Wrote a handful of blog posts with the intent to encourage

Our intent all along has been a simple one: to share stories of dreamers and doers who are actively discovering, developing and spreading their joy with the world.

Why this vision

We knew from experience -- and saw it in others -- that we all get stuck: stuck in jobs we don't love. Stuck doing work that doesn't motivate or fulfill us. Just plain stuck in a myriad of ways. What we wanted to do was give a platform for those who found ways to become unstuck -- to take risk and pursue their joy, to pursue that thing that, at some point, might not have been part of "the plan." In doing so, we believed listeners would resonate with the challenges and be inspired by the perseverance of our guests to pursue that thing they felt an itching to do. 

We've said this often: you get one shot on this merry-go-round of life. Make it count. 

What we discovered

The stories being shared are resonating and making a difference. We're finding a loyal and interested audience, even if it doesn't always show up in the almighty marketing metrics. How do you measure the impact on the heart or to quantify success when someone takes life-changing action? You listen. And you've told us that sharing a different kind of story that peels back the veneer of the marketing story and the so-called overnight success story is something worth fostering.

Something else we've discovered: It doesn’t particularly matter if you know the podcast guest. If it is someone who is well known, it's because we seek to uncover a story you haven't heard yet. But we're also big on introducing new voices with great insights and compelling stories to share. Discovery is always the key ingredient regardless of who the storyteller is. 

We've wanted the stories told on Joy Venture to be unvarnished, vulnerable, enlightening and encouraging. We'll keep asking: does this inspire or jolt you to think differently about your work or what you feel called to do? Can you see hints of yourself in stories of others? 

This was and still is our hope.

For all of you who have validated that vision for us – thank you. 

What's next

Our growing community of dreamers and doers will multiply this year and spread beyond our home base in Columbus, Ohio. We'll be taking our gear on the road in the months ahead to meet up with extraordinary folks in other states. We'll be dialing in disrupters and community-makers from Indianapolis, Minneapolis and perhaps more cities ending in -apolis; “the other Columbus” down in Georgia; Nashville and even the coasts.

We believe every story we share is unique and valuable. As our episode list continues to grow we'll also help you find the specific types of stories you're looking for by categorizing them by vocation and purpose on our website. Look for that soon.

And we have more up our sleeve – ways in which we'll invite you into to our joy in the months ahead.

Until then, take this as encouragement and a call to action: we discovered and befriended some amazing people with extraordinary stories on this journey. Because we we're willing to take that leap, we're now developing Joy Venture in ways we couldn't have envisioned a year ago. That's exciting for us, and hopefully it will prove valuable to you.

And so it begs these questions:What's that thing you need to do this year? What leap will you take?

If you feel compelled, share what's up your sleeve with us on Facebook or Twitter and be an encouragement to others who have similar ideas or simply need a nudge.  

Joy Venture is a rewarding labor of love meant for all of us – to help us push through the artificial boundaries that we've constructed. Thanks for joining us on this ride. We've got a lot more ground to cover together...

Happiness vs. Joy: what's the difference?

There are some really good reasons why we didn’t call this project the Happiness Venture. To pinpoint a few:

  • We knew there would be a learning curve and that difficulty would likely ensue
  • We anticipated there would be days, weeks or even seasons when things just wouldn’t go our way
  • We would feel like nobody was listening (friends and family included) and question if anyone cared about our little adventure
  • Rejection and disappointment somehow would be part and parcel of the experience

We expected these moments might arrive (and they have) – and that happiness wouldn’t be riding shotgun (disappointment is indeed a lone but frequent invader).

There’s plenty of psychological research to explain the differences between joy and happiness, much of which focus on the external emotional influence on our happiness and the more internally grounded nature of where our joy comes from. We won’t rehash all that here, but instead provide an analogy that we feel sums up this whole happiness vs. joy thing – and why we choose to seek the latter.


If happiness is the wood veneer applied to the manufactured table  

Then joy is the solid wood table.


There’s a reason that we accept and, when necessary, painstakingly restore the hand-me-down bureau or the Amish-built table. There is a deep beauty that has endured through the generations, a solidness that has been tested and upheld over the years providing function. Something so well-worn becomes a story itself worth sharing, not to mention the stories that emanate from its history.

Likewise, there’s a reason we don’t seek to restore, pass down or hang on to the DIY particleboard piece either. The idea sounds silly for something fabricated to be functional yet fleeting, destined to be disposable yet affordable enough to replace on whim.

We all want happiness in our lives and we want it now. And, much like the analogy, we have a tendency to look for shortcuts to get it.

We put on the good face in hopes that our external veneer can somehow conjure up those desired feelings. Sometimes it works. We go looking for it in all the wrong places and manage to find moments of happiness now and then. But we also know it’s circumstantial. What ushered in happiness yesterday won’t necessarily yield it tomorrow.

Joy – and in particular, Joy Venture – is about recognizing that happiness is fleeting and how we need to find that thing, deep within us, that gives us joy. That something to buoy us, to lean into when "it" hits the fan (and it will). Something that gives us purpose to persevere during the less-than-happy times.

Do you have that thing? Do you want that thing in your life?


Take happiness as it comes. In fact, revel in it. And recognize it for how finite it is.

Then go and seek joy.


Discover that thing that gives you joy – a vocation or change of vocation, a hobby or side project, a ministry or volunteer purpose – and develop it. Pour yourself into it without reservation. Hone it. Make it yours. And make it last.

Through this lens, it’s hard to imagine chasing happiness when joy is there for the taking – for all of us.


Need some inspiration to start your Joy Venture? Check out our podcasts and other posts to get motivated. Get outside your comfort zone and see what resonates. And take comfort in the fact that you’re part of a community of dreamers and doers who are activity pursuing their joy.







Failure is trendy. Don't buy the hype.
Beckett's #epicfail                                                                                                                                                                                   Photo credit: deshi yin

Beckett's #epicfail                                                                                                                                                                                   Photo credit: deshi yin

There was a time when I embraced Beckett’s quote. The rejection slips I received during my college days – and long thereafter – were stark reminders of the difficult road ahead of me as a young writer, one that demanded I put in the hard work if I hoped to get better.

Yet a strange phenomenon has appeared across the books, blogs and posts we read in the last few years. Failure, something that nobody wanted to be associated with, recently has become a badge of honor of sorts. People are more comfortable wearing failure on their sleeve and talking about it as part of their incredible catapult to success.

This new romanticism around failure is cloaked in a faux sense of vulnerability. Talking about past failures is much different than staring adversity smack in the face, and few are the people who stand up and embrace or even entertain the idea of failure as it unfolds.

Failure has become a popular plot line for storytelling.

It also has become a disingenuous narrative.

It seems as though 'failure is the new success' has become an acceptable way in which to masquerade our self-righteous and narcissistic ways, and proclaim our greatness as pure grit...so long as a little light is cast upon the missteps. 

That's not to say failure isn't real. Things do fail. And people sometimes do fail us. However, failure is being thrown around in ways that seem all too trivial and misguided, giving any misstep #EpicFail clout and providing us with an out or permission to quit. Worse, it’s becoming part of a narrative that ends with a predictable conclusion of success. At Joy Venture, we're of the mind that we should abandon the failure narrative and instead write a more honest one.

For example, perhaps you've seen the inspirational quote, post or infographic with Colonel Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and how his secret recipe was rejected a whopping 1,009 times. We don't buy this as a failure narrative despite its current packaging. If anything it is a story of perseverance, of finding the right people who believed in his idea, and of relentless hard work. We should acknowledge the effort for what it is.


Failure is not part of the joy narrative

After a few years assisting startups in two different business incubators, I became wise to a disheartening trend. Months after mentoring passionate entrepreneurs, I learned many had abandoned their "big idea" and were off doing something completely different. There are a variety of reasons for abandoning an business venture , and Gallup confirms many of the trails of startups. Perhaps they weren’t making money, or securing venture capital, or scaling fast enough, or destined to be bought out. Perhaps it was the lure of being the boss (or running from other bosses). Or maybe they simply underestimated the difficulty, determination and patience needed to grow a business the old fashion way: year after year after long and toilsome year, without of the euphoria of instant success.

In contrast, there are joy ventures.   

Again and again through podcast interviews on Joy Venture, we’re finding that people don’t fail at what they truly love. That’s not to say they don’t experience setbacks or grow in new and surprising directions. Rather they gravitate toward and lean into those things they love and what they believe they were created to do, regardless of the challenges. They refuse to let obstacles become mile markers on some imminent road of failure. Instead, they persevere.

There’s a stark difference in pursuing an opportunity and pursuing your joy. When things get awkward and sideways, we tend to go looking for new opportunities. It’s the opposite with joy: here we don’t find ourselves cutting bait and running the other way.

While opportunities and ideas emerge within the context of pursuing your joy, they don't define your joy venture. 

So what are you pursuing: opportunities or joy? The end result or the act of doing something meaningful?


Persistence pays off

My early and ongoing lack of success as a writer didn’t plummet me into despair or encourage me to quit, it focused my resolve: Write more. Write better. Find my voice. Learn the rules. Break the rules. Discern who would be responsive to my quirky style of prose. Stay engaged and don’t give up.

By doing this, the literary and academic journals that I admired were starting to publish my work. It didn't happen in 12 weeks or even 12 months. Instead, it took 12 long years. To characterize those dozen years as failure is to discard everything learned and the discoveries that emerged during that time. It was and still is a joy venture. I just didn’t know to call it that at the time.

Romanticizing failed opportunities is easy – anyone can do it. Take a different path.

Joy, on the other hand, is about discovery and development. In essence, it’s always a work in progress. Pursue it and you’ll have a treasure trove of stories about the journey and the progress – the kind we all yearn for and desire to share with others.

Converting inspiration into action
INSPIRATION: a screen, an internet connection and some reference books. ACTION: requires none of the above. 

INSPIRATION: a screen, an internet connection and some reference books. ACTION: requires none of the above. 

Inspiration, it seems, is everywhere.

Inspiring videos and posts fill our social media feeds as do the inspirational quotes, which also anchor our email signatures (sometimes incorrectly, as you will see). It's all too easy to be inspired by and enamored with those who did the impossible, seem to have figured it out, or found their life's calling as we continue to toil away in our everyday, mundane lives.

But finding real inspiration – entering into that discover phase we talk about that sends us reeling and in pursuit of something we were made to do – is really not that difficult. It just requires being intentional and making room in our hyper-connected, over-scheduled and immediate-gratification world.

We’ll use a couple of inspirational quotes and stories to illustrate how you might go about turning inspiration into action. 


Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Mary Schirch, Chicago Tribune columnist (improperly attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt)


This is about getting out of your comfort zone and actually “doing” something, not just thinking about it or passively absorbing the idea as something you'll consider. Notice, she calls us to “do.”

Jeremy, my Joy Venture co-founder, has recently stepped out of his comfort zone to take pictures of strangers. This requires some dialogue with a complete stranger on the street and getting their permission. Awkward? Sometimes. Intimidating? For sure.


But here’s the cool thing about what Jeremy is doing: he has a tiny Bluetooth printer on his hip so he can print a Polaroid-style picture for the person he just photographed. While he waits for it to print, stories and conversations happen. A connection is made. Seeds and new ideas get planted. It will be interesting to see what takes root and what this experience leads Jeremy to do next. That’s the power of discovery, but it requires us to be active.


“Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act. Action will delineate and define you.” 

Witold Gombrowicz, Polish novelist (improperly accredited to Thomas Jefferson)


For years we can ask all the right the questions and still fail to follow up with any meaningful action. Jeremy and I have a friend, Stacy, who has a background in tutoring/test preparation, a desire to help kids succeed, and a passion for bicycling. Yet her professional life was a patchwork of jobs and positions that left her unfulfilled. Long before Joy Venture was a thing, our friend took a keen interest in what we were doing in Cambodia, including our efforts to raise funds to provide bicycles to orphaned children so they could get to and from school safely.

Bikes and kids. That spoke to her. If the idea and inspiration that came over her was going to amount to anything, it would require her to "do" something.

So she got involved in EduGo, a nonprofit that provides bicycles to orphaned children, and led the organization's first-ever (and then second) Road to Success Ride. She began to discover -- or better yet, rekindle -- what she felt she was made to do. She took a chance on herself and her love for empowering young minds to help them see their potential by launching her own coaching and tutoring company -- appropriately named Next Gear.  And, for the second time in a calendar year, she'll find herself in a small Cambodian village, building relationships with orphaned kids who not only will receive new bicycles her organized rides have funded, but also be assured of a meaningful education with a future filled with hope.    

And here's Stacy's cool thing:  she's combining her passion for bicycles with her calling to serve young students, both of which are making an impact on kids on opposite ends of the world. It started with a whisper, then a nudge, followed by small step, and then...

We don't have to figure it all out in order to get started. 

(That's not a quote. It's just something we know from experience.) 


Now about those quotes and attributions

We have a tendency to believe that only great people say and do profound things. We have a tendency to want to look up in admiration to people we all know instead of looking at who is standing next to us and getting to know their story.

A little digging on those quotes unearthed a not-so-surprising truth: some rather ordinary, hard-working and largely unknown people are behind these words – words that are embedded in their original and inspired experiences. You can find the backstory to each inaccurate quote here and here and here.  

Social media affords people to write a history of their own liking. And when we read it, we tend to believe it. But if you want to discover what truly inspires you, that thing you were meant to do, then shut down the digital feeds. Go outside. Meet new people. Listen carefully. And do something. You just might be surprised where you’ll find yourself.     

Consider taking this last quote to heart, pin it on a wall, and remember that more often than not, extraordinary things are written and achieved by ordinary people. Just. Like. You. 


"For what it’s worth…it’s never too late, or in my case too early,

to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit.

Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same.

There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it.

I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you.

I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before.

I hope you meet people who have a different point of view.

I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not,

I hope you have the courage to start all over again."

Eric Roth, screenwriter (inaccurately attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald)






How best-laid plans can rob you of your life's pursuit
Had I followed my plan, I would've missed out on being Solomon's dad. We're better together, and we're holding up our smiley faces in recognition of World Adoption Day (Nov. 15). 

Had I followed my plan, I would've missed out on being Solomon's dad. We're better together, and we're holding up our smiley faces in recognition of World Adoption Day (Nov. 15). 

"It's not a plan. It's a pursuit."

These are the first seven words that greet you on the JOY VENTURE website, and they are there for good reason.

If we're honest, plans can be hard to get excited about, especially after they have been written and you're further down the road of implementation. Don't get me wrong, plans are valuable. They point us in a direction and give us guardrails so we don't go off course. For some things, plans are essential. 

But keep this in mind: life, in all of its assured messiness, doesn't typically go as planned. 

When I walked away from a job after 16 years, I had an idea, but not a concrete plan. If there was a plan it was simply to do what I knew how to do well, and to work hard to make ends meet. You could sum up my unwritten plan like this: survive in hopes to sustain.  

My plan -- or lack thereof -- seemed to be working. Food was on the table. Business was going well. That naturally led to the need to develop another plan (maybe this time more formal), something to strive for in hopes that I someday get to check that box, too. 

But something else was happening. I was being stretched in new ways, often in ways I really wasn't comfortable with, both as a business owner and person. I quickly realized I needed to get comfortable with this idea of getting out of my comfort zone. In the context of JOY VENTURE, we call this the discovery phase. 

I've also found that plans aren't too open to discovery.  Plans are typically concrete. They are actionable. They drive results. And if we're not careful, they blind us of the opportunities in front of and around us that can change our world. 

Plans also imply we have things figured out, that we know where we're going and how we're going to get there. Sure, they may not be foolproof or definitive but, in the context of business, we don't want those plans being flimsy or lack authority either. Which is why we're likely to follow a plan to its full demise in hopes that we'll be validated in the end.  When that happens, we'll just draft another plan, right?

Pursuits, on the other hand, are things that gnaw at you, things that demand your action.  

That's my five-year-old son, Solomon, in the photo above, where we are raising our hands in support of World Adoption Day (Nov. 15). But I have a confession to make: he was not part of my plan. I often refer to our journey of bringing Solly into our family as the best decision I never made. 

I tell this part of my story in detail elsewhere, but the point to know is this: when that thing that gnawed at me -- concern and care for the orphan -- became a pursuit, I tried to hijack it and make it my plan. We would choose the country, the child, the health issues we could handle, and so on.  

That's not how the story goes. 

Seeing my plans stonewalled at every turn, I started listening and being receptive to following a path that looks completely unfamiliar. I soon realized that I was running after my pursuit with a curiosity rooted in discovery. And it changed my life for the better. 

Here's the truth: my plan would've robbed me of the joy that Solly brings to my life every day. My pursuit of the idea of him -- before I knew it would actually be him and to be surprised by joy once I recognized he was the one meant for our family -- was what mattered. It's what fundamentally changed my thinking. As a result, I was able to experience Gotcha Day and celebrate it every year thereafter; I appreciate why we put smiley faces on our hands for the world to see; I've flown around the world and fell in love with countries I didn't care to visit and people I never thought I'd meet. I understand and now advocate for the plight of orphans around the world. 

These are things that were not part of my plan. Ever. 

And today I am far richer for my pursuits than I am for my plans. I've grabbed onto discovery as the key means in which to grow -- whether it be in business or in my personal life.

I'm a believer in being intentional and thoughtful, and I'm certainly not against having plans. If anything, I've become a student of learning when plans are valuable and when it's time to set them aside and allow those pursuits to run their course. I've found that my pursuits have led me to think about an entirely different set of plans and how I approach them. 

What pursuits are gnawing at you? Are your plans too rigid? Are they preventing you from being open to real discovery and a life you've not yet dared to imagine? 

The opportunity each of us has to fulfill our potential is rooted in discovering our joy, realized as we develop that joy, and best lived out when we share that joy with others. It's also led to the JOY VENTURE mantra: 

Never. Stop. Discovering.  

By embracing this thinking and pursuing those things that gnaw at you, those things that demand your action, you'll find that your joy -- and your inspired pursuit of it -- is contagious.



Thad DeVassie
Living the Story You Were Meant to Live
Our "guy" in the story that follows. Photo credit: Jorge Quinteros

Our "guy" in the story that follows. Photo credit: Jorge Quinteros

Perhaps you know this story or one like it:

Guy works as a bond trader in Chicago. Guy gets laid off. Guy is forced to contemplate what to do next. Guy weighs his schooling, his training, what he thought he was supposed to be before the pink slip arrived. Uncertainty has disrupted this guy’s routine.  

 But do you know the next chapter of this story?

As much as we desire to rewrite our narrative, especially when it feels like it’s going off the rails, we need to realize that the previous chapters are already inked. Good or bad, those chapters are now part of our recorded history. And believe it or not, this is a good thing.

What we’ve already done or lived through informs what we’ll do next or do differently. Perhaps the guy in this story really wasn’t cut out to be bond trader. Or perhaps he was just a victim of bad timing and a plummeting market. Either way, he no longer has to ask himself what if when it comes to being a bond trader.  

When a chapter closes, we need to muster the effort to focus on writing the narrative ahead of us – and perhaps because of our setbacks, we get to look at the blank pages ahead with a new sense of possibility versus some indefinite obligation (e.g., I will be a bond trader until…)   

So here’s where we pick up our guy’s story. This is his pivot:

Guy moves around to other cities. Guy starts taking photos of random people on the street. Guy eventually starts interviewing his subjects and adding quotes and short stories alongside their photographs.

And while this guy is content and committed to his pivot, as unconventional as it seems for a former bond trader, he must wrestle with the questions he receives from the doubter and the critic – including the voice in his own head: How delusional do you have to be to think you’re going to be a successful photographer with no experience?

But here’s the silver lining that exists in all of our stories – yours, mine and this guy taking photographs:

Every great story contains conflict.

All of us wait to see the hero or the heroine emerge. We want to see justice prevail. In order for those things to happen, a villain is present. Trouble ensues. Struggle becomes evident. This isn’t just the stuff of classic books or blockbuster movies, it’s also the story of our own lives.  

The questions we have to ask are: will we allow the conflicts to crush us or will we have what it takes to pick up the pieces, to persevere, and craft a better story other than the one we find ourselves in? Will we take the pen of life and write a narrative for ourselves that is worthy and just and inspiring – because we know, deep down, it is exactly what we were meant to do?    

Let’s finish out the story:

Our guy begins posting his photos and brief stories to a blog, and then to Facebook. He finds there is interest in his work. He begins to amass followers and likes at an incredible clip. This unlikely amateur photographer has found a way to emotionally connect with people around the world through a brief story and a single photo. He’s no longer a bond trader. This is the chapter he’s writing for himself.  

Our guy in this story is Brandon Stanton, the guy behind Humans of New York. When adversity hit, he, like all of us, had to make a decision. He decided to pursue his joy – photography. Not every story turns out this way. Not everyone perseveres. And certainly not everyone goes on to become an internet phenomenon. But the thing about Brandon’s story is that riches, book deals and stardom weren’t the motivation. He did it for the love of discovery and the adventure he carved out for himself. He found a way to develop his interviewing style to evolve the way he would share his work with the world.  

To me and my colleague Jeremy, Brandon’s story is perhaps one of the most notable and current examples of what a Joy Venture represents. Our motivation for starting Joy Venture is a simple one: to share stories of dreamers and doers who are actively discovering, developing and spreading their joy with the world. Our podcast will feature people just like Brandon – people that we believe have inspiring stories to tell, who we think you should meet, including some who have faced adversity only to find true joy awaiting on the other side.  

Here’s the other thing:

You don’t have to wait until adversity hits to make your pivot, to do that thing that you know you were meant to do.

Start slow. Discover and develop your joy in the off hours. See if it’s sustainable. Find your tribe, those who lift you up and believe in your vision. Immerse yourself in that thing or idea that’s pining within you and see where it takes you.

When a bond trader can pivot and become a photographer and storyteller with no formal training, it’s fair for us to ask – what story am I meant to live out and tell?  Brandon’s story is inspiring only because he chose to write a new narrative – the one he was meant to live right now.

Are you pursuing your Joy Venture? What life are you meant to live right now?

Watch this clip for a bit more inspiration and to learn about Brandon’s story and his approach to Humans of New York.