Jim Owen: 'I’m a Low-Tech Guy In a High-Tech World'

The best-selling author on why he's never sent a text message in his life.

Image courtesy of Robert Dawson. 

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Thrive Global: What's the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Jim Owen: As soon as I get up, I do 60 seconds of shadow boxing – pow, pow, pow! -to get me ready for my day. It’s a mental reminder that I want to do whatever I can to fight off old age. It’s my way of telling myself to keep moving and be physically active every chance I get.

TG: What gives you energy?
JO: Working out is always energizing, even if I’m not at my best going in. That’s why I do it. Sitting around or spending hours on the computer – that’s a drain.

TG:  What's your secret life hack?
JO: I’m convinced hydration is really important for good health, but it’s easy to forget to drink enough water. So I keep half-liters of water in the refrigerator, and every night before bed, I put one on the hallway table, where I can’t miss it on my way to get the morning papers. I drink it slowly as I read, and then go get the second one from the refrigerator. Spending 45 minutes reading and drinking water before breakfast gets me off to a good start.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
JO: Lonesome Dove, the epic novel by Larry McMurtry, not only rekindled my life-long fascination with cowboys, it got me thinking in a whole new way about the breakdown in ethics, not just in my industry, investment, but in society as a whole. That’s how I came up with the idea of Cowboy Ethics, which propelled my life in a whole new direction. Over the next ten years I wrote three books on that theme, spoke before audiences all over the country, established a non-profit foundation called the Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership, and created ethics programs for schools and businesses, which other groups have helped to scale. Those experiences paved the way for the work I’m now doing to promote fitness among older adults. It just goes to show the power of great storytelling.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
JO: I’m a low-tech guy in a high-tech world. I don’t even have a smartphone; I operate with two flip phones, and I’ve never sent a text in my life. I don’t want to have a relationship with technology. I see people spending their whole day looking at their phones, sending email, or taking selfies. Being plugged in like that is not for me. I’ve got too many other things to do.

TG: How do you deal with email?
JO: I’ll spend maybe 15 minutes a day on email, tops. I find talking by phone to be much more efficient. Rather than getting into long emails, I’ll send two sentences asking if we can talk by phone.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
JO: I take the opportunity to move around. I’ve developed a short routine for loosening up my body with different stretching, rotating, and side-to-side movements. Doing just a few minutes of this at a few points during the day makes a big difference. It’s surprising how much more flexible I feel, simply by moving and dancing around. I don’t call that exercise, and don’t count it toward my daily exercise goal. It’s just loosening up.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
JO: I get tired just thinking about how many Cowboy Ethics speeches I’ve given. I stopped counting at 300. While I really enjoy speaking before an audience, I get beaten down by the travel it takes to get there. Getting up at 4 a.m.… driving to the airport… waiting for your plane… being delayed…rushing to make your connection…renting a car at the other end. And knowing you’ve got to do it all again to get home! As a result, I don’t accept speaking opportunities without first considering the effort it will take me to get there.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
JO: Growing up, I had learning issues, so I had early experience with failure. I realized…this is just part of life. So I learned to ask myself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen because of this?” After a while, the prospect of failure no longer fazed me. People who are perfectionists or have never known failure are at a real disadvantage, I think. When something doesn’t go according to plan, they don’t have the resilience it takes to cope. Even today, when things go wrong, I don’t stew over it. I just recognize that it wasn’t my day. But I do spend time thinking about how to do better next time. Mistakes are inevitable. The only real failure is repeating the same mistakes over and over.

TG: 
Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
JO: One of the most inspiring people I ever met was Ty Murray, the “King of the Cowboys,” who decided in early childhood that he wanted to become the winning-est rodeo champion ever. After many injuries and reversals, he ultimately achieved his goal by earning a record-breaking seventh All-Around Cowboy World Championship title. But when I got the chance to talk with him at length, he told me, “It’s the effort, not the outcome, that makes you a winner.” Ty’s words have always stuck with me. As he reminded me, when you take on a challenge, the only thing you can guarantee is that you will “try your guts out,” as he puts it, every single time. If you do that, you’re a winner, no matter how things turn out.

Formerly a Wall Street rainmaker, Jim Owen has been an inspirational author, speaker, and social entrepreneur for more than a decade. His book credits include
Cowboy Ethics, a best-seller with 150,000 copies sold to date, Cowboy Values, and The Try. He is currently focused on inspiring and empowering older adults to embrace fitness as a way of life. His most recent book, Just Move: A New Approach to Fitness After 50, is being published by National Geographic in September. 

Wisdom, Advice