The Opportunity to Create a Life by Design: An Interview with Rahaf Harfoush

The Opportunity to Create a Life by Design: An Interview with Rahaf Harfoush


This interview is part of our entrepreneur interview series.

Most people think that entrepreneurs work, work, work all the time and don't take a minute to briefly step back, ever. Truthfully, most of these people would be right, however, it is important that an entrepreneur takes their time and relaxes once and a while. Whether it's reading a good novel or writing a short 750 word piece to calm themselves down,entrepreneurs need a break too - because after all, they are only human.

Check out our awesome interview with newly announced New York Times best-selling author, Rahaf Harfoush and her beliefs that balancing  "you" time and "work" time is essential. 

Build Your Own Path

1. What is the hardest part about being an entrepreneur?

The hardest part for me is also the best part: the opportunity to create a life by design. When you’re building your own path, it’s exactly that - your path. So while you can ask other people for advice and guidance, ultimately you have to be the one who chooses where to go. That can be very scary and overwhelming at times. There are days when I miss having a “career path” laid out in front of me and then I remind myself how uncertainty is just a part of this process and that I need to be ok with not knowing sometimes.

Create Content Your Readers WANT

2. You have quite the impressive portfolio of great projects under your belt. Too many to list, but some that surface instantly include your work with the New Media team in Chicago to publish Yes We Did: An Inside Look at How Social Media Built The Obama Brand and your newest book The Decoded Company: What if we understood our talent better than we understand our customers? What’s the biggest challenge and lesson learned in publishing a book?

The biggest challenge is to make sure that you’re writing something compelling, something that people will want to devote some of their precious free time to read and interact with. I always ask myself if what I’m writing is interesting, relevant, concise. People have so many possible ways to spend their time that you need to be very clear about what you’re offering so that they choose you. I think the biggest challenge for me was being patient: writing  a book takes a long time and sometimes when you’re writing about a fast moving field, like data or technology, those wait times can feel like an eternity.

Your Career Path Will Be Non-Linear. Accept It.

3. If you could share a business or life lesson with a younger you, what would it be?

I would go back in time and tell my younger self to not worry so much. Because my career path has progressed in a non-linear way, sometimes I’ll finish a project and not really know what I’m going to be doing next.  I develop an anxiety if I don’t have a very clear next step but the reality is (at least for me) that sometimes projects and opportunities take time to fully develop and present themselves. I still struggle with this today (like right now!)  but I’ve gotten much better at telling myself that it’s ok not knowing sometimes, and that the next step will always reveal itself to me eventually. It’s my job to just keep working at building relationships, discovering new ideas and better understanding the market while that is happening.

Never Let One Thing Be All Consuming. Balance Is a Virtue

4. I see you have undertaken Julia Cameron’s program, The Artists Way, A spiritual path to higher creativity (something my business coach once recommended). It is an interesting and deep approach to finding internal creativity. Having completed almost half the program, what have you learned about yourself that you care to share with our audience of tech entrepreneurs?

I have really been enjoying the artist’s way. I got a little derailed with the book launch but am back on track. A group of us decided to complete the program together and it’s been a very interesting learning experience. A few lessons:

a) I think the concept of writing morning pages (just free flow 750 words about anything) is a huge powerful tool. It sounds so simple, but taking ten to fifteen minutes to just dump everything on your mind cleans out all the junk and helps me face my day with clarity and focus. Additionally, when I’m writing my pages I can see any issues or anxiety come out in my writing, which allows me to deal with them directly instead of just feeling bad about them during the day.

b) The concept of the artist date (where you spend two hours every week focused on doing something just for yourself) was also very important. I had a lot of resistance to this at first and kept making excuses not to schedule them, but once I started doing it I was stunned at how much better I felt, and how much easier it was for me to tackle work problems that I had been struggling with. We had people in our group who would spend their artist date cooking a new dish and then come back and report that they had figured out how to tackle that bug in their code or how to nail that proposal. I think we all need to nurture our creative side, to give it time to breathe and recharge instead of constantly working ourselves to death.

The concept of balance was a very good lesson as well. I love what I do so I have the tendency to just work all the time with no clear boundaries. Now I’m much more specific about when I’m working and when I’m off, in order to give myself time and balance to make sure I’m paying attention to my health, my relationships and my general well being.

We Are All Architechs

5. In your TedxWallStreet talk you explain the concept of architech’s, people who have the ability using available tools to disrupt the status quo. They can apply technology in a creative way and provide alternative solutions. Who are today’s architech’s? Why are they so powerful?

The short answer is: we are all, architechs. Thanks to the vast amount of technology that is available to us today every one of us has the potential to start a movement, build a business and change the world around us at either a local or global scale. This is a big movement because this technology has given has access to power and resources at a scale that was normally reserved for big corporations and institutions. Now I can get support from global networks of entrepreneurs, thanks to social media I can reach out and connect with major industry influencers, I can use micro-funding sites to raise some money. All of these things are empowering us to be able to do things that we couldn’t do even five years ago.

Never Underestimate The Power of PR

6. In understanding what Onboardly does (PR and content marketing for startups), how have you used either strategies (or both) to grow your consulting agency and/or promote your books?

I think your two services have been the most important things for me. Great content has become a survival imperative. Developing good ideas and perspectives is an important way for me to maintain a consistency of brand and reputation. Getting that content out there, in a strategic way the second part of that equation. PR has been one of the most important tools in promoting my books. Finding the right positioning, targeting an audience these are things that often need the touch of a professional especially when you’re moving so fast and trying to do so much. I would not underestimate the power of PR for a startup, at the right stage (instead of just generating empty hype) I believe it can make the difference between generating funding interest or being lost in a crowd of voices.

About Rahaf

Rahaf Harfoush is a Digital Foresight Strategist and New York Times Best Selling Author who has a deep passion for exploring how technology is affecting the way we communicate, work and play. Her second book "The Decoded Company: Know Your Talent Better Than You Know Your Customers"(Penguin/Portfolio) was released in early 2014. She is currently working on her third book, an experiment in digital publishing called "ArchiTechs: How to Work Govern and Learn in a Hyper-Connected World." Formerly, Rahaf was the Associate Director of the Technology Pioneer Programme at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Rahaf is a Global Ambassador for Sandbox, a World Economic Forum Young Global Shaper, and a member of the Summit Series Network. She sits on the board of Taking it Global, and is on the advisory boards of companies like, & She writes about technology and innovation at The Mark News, Techonomy and The Next Web.

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