Hugh Culver co-created the only private airline in Antarctica, and he’s been a professional guide, ironman, marathon competitor, and university professor. He is a recovering overachiever who loves sharing better ways to create results that matter — at work and in life. Culver is the author of Give Me a Break: The Art of Making Time Work for You.
What was your childhood like? Any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I learned about adventure early in life and that made a huge impression on me. I learned that these experiences and the stories from them would eventually shape my adult life.
By the age of 15 I was guiding people on whitewater rafting trips by the age of 20 I was leaving expeditions in northern Canada.
And so I learned early on that age wasn’t important and that people are just people. It’s only our beliefs that get in our way when it comes to working with different people. That simple lesson has made a huge impact on my life.
What advice would you give to your 20-year old self?
Think bigger, quit sooner, experiment more often. It’s always easier to start than it is to stop a project or a business or even a relationship that’s gone South. Most entrepreneurs I know are better at starting than at stopping.
I would tell my 20-year-old self that every exciting project comes with baggage and that you need to be prepared to weather to storm of uncertainty if you want to enjoy the riches that come with freedom.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
More money means more success. I’ve had huge incomes and I’ve had tiny ones. And what’s more important is whether I’m doing something I like and if I’m making some kind of dent in the universe.
Making money is only part of the solution. When you’re broke and living on savings it’s hard to think this way. But it’s true.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I grew my company to mid-six figures and was burned out, doing 110 speeches a year. I couldn’t figure out why I was unhappy!
Eventually, it was a wonderful story and there were great lessons from that time, but when I was in the middle of it I was very frustrated. The work kept coming in, but I had already moved on.
I get a lot of perspective by getting away from the office. I need to keep doing that. Even a long weekend can help me have creative time and to think about the bigger picture of my work.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I exercise every day for an hour (paddling, yoga, gym, hiking) and always have something fun on the calendar to look forward to. It sounds trivial, but I perform better when I know I’ve been taking care of myself.
I’m going to write about this relationship – too many people that I speak to have a problem taking care of themselves and it’s a shame.
The second factor is sleep. I need more sleep than I used to and I notice that I perform at a much higher level if I can get 7 hours at night.
What is your morning routine?
Up at 5. Write until 7. Walk my dog for 40 minutes listening to podcasts. Leave for office at 8.30. Look at email at 8:50. Try to do the hardest work until 11:00.
I love the freedom that comes from knowing I don’t have to work from lists – that I got the hardest work done. That freedom is often where the best ideas come from.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I would say delegation without strings attached. I really try hard to allow my team to own the solutions. And I love it when they come to me with ideas they want to work on.
I can be much more productive if I don’t have $10/hour jobs plugging up my list.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
I always think about my brother who died on K2 at 41. Nothing I’m working on seems very important after that. It sounds morbid, but those thoughts put everything in perspective and help me to get grounded into what I need to do. It becomes easier to pick up the phone or to say ‘No’ to someone.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The power of habits by Charles Duhigg (more recently) that taught me more about discipline and how to get incredible amounts of work done simply with better habits.
Before that it was Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl – amazing philosophy on life, endurance and perspective.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“You can have whatever you want in life by helping others to get what they want” – Zig Ziglar.