TripAdvisor opened up a whole new world of travel to us. Waze changed and simplified the way we navigate daily. Sagi Shahar aims to provide a similar revolution for individuals and their careers. A continuation of our in depth interview. If you missed Part 1 you can read it here.
DC: You can tell me here if I’m jumping ahead, but you decided to leave the IDF and pursue other things. Was there anything in between? My research shows that you go and you do business administration and management and you get a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree.
SS: Right, but before that, I went for a year and a half just to travel the world.
DC: A gap year?
SS: A gap year that you create yourself. I know that in the US it has a name. For us, we call it the three paths of the Army; everybody does that. That’s the gap year that we all have because it’s unbelievable. Every young man or woman who ends their service goes for year to just find himself in India, in Australia, in the US, North and South America, everywhere.
DC: Where did you choose? Or several places maybe?
SS: A couple of things happened. I decided to go out to the trip myself, on my own, figuring out that I’m going to meet some people there, but I didn’t want to go with someone. Once again, it was…
DC: It’s a fresh start again.
SS: Yeah, it’s another fresh start that I could be whoever I want to be and I knew that I still had so many things to dig out with myself -who I am, what I want to be. When you have another fresh start but from something that was really good, you expect things to be as good when you go out. I chose to go to Australia, that was my landing point, and once again, I was on my own. I remember feeling, at first, that that’s not good. I had no one to share what I’m feeling and I need to make connections, I need to make friends because I’m alone.
So once again, “Oh my God, what have I done?” and on the other side, “Oh my God, I can do whatever I want to do.” I have no constraints, so that’s, once again, the same range. Eventually, it turned out to be really nice. I met some guy and we hooked up and we traveled together. We bought a car in Australia, met lots of people. But then I think, once again, that was a fresh start; it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. I can’t really explain why and how, I certainly don’t know. I need to figure out probably. I think it’s things that… You know what, I can’t say it won’t happen again because it could happen again. I hope it won’t because I’ll tell you what I always felt and what was the miracle that actually happened to me eventually. I felt a fear to be left alone. Seriously, that’s the biggest fear I think anyone has. For me, it was very present. I always felt very aware – aware of myself, aware of my feelings, aware of the surroundings, aware of the people around me. I was, and still am, very sensitive. I feel to myself and to other people to just… I felt aware and once I was that aware, eventually, at some point, when you don’t have anchors…
DC: Roots that hold you down.
SS: Exactly. Then you can feel and that’s what I felt for many years, like a leaf in the wind.
DC: Just going here and there.
SS: I’m going here, I’m going there. Up until the point I actually got married with the one I actually wanted, which is two hours by itself, the story about how I met my wife. It’s a great story.
Up until that point, I felt like a leaf in the wind. Once we got together, then I think I got the power to pursue my actual dreams and become an entrepreneur. Even though it doesn’t make any sense now that I need to provide for a family.
DC: Right, that’s contrarian.
SS: Exactly, but it gave me the power to do that. It give me the power to actually pursue everything they I needed because, once you’re alone, you’re occupied with not being alone, I think, for me.
DC: You waste energy.
SS: You waste all your energy. You can’t actually build something, for me once again, when you don’t have that anchor. Once I got it, that’s it. It actually freed my energy, my motivation, my everything to actually pursue any other thing that I actually wanted. So for me, it happened only when we actually got together.
DC: You’re saying your wife was actually that anchor or that missing piece that could help you move forward and do that, supporting you.
SS: Right, and it’s just because, for me, there was that so deep fear. And once again, the fear is not of just staying alone because you can always be with someone, but you want to be with that specific someone. You want to find that soul that’s actually connected to you. This is what I feared, to not find that person. That’s really scary. I’m also scared about it now. That’s the biggest stuff in life. Once I actually managed to do that… Once again, another thing that I always felt is that I’m going always against the odds. I’m always against the odds, things are always difficult, things are always on the longest path possible to reach out. But eventually, especially with my wife…
My wife, I need to tell that it was a seven-year story. We met when I started working in my first job, it was in a very big company in Israel and we worked in the same team. We felt that connection in a second, but she was with the boyfriend and I was alone. I felt things for her, but I couldn’t do anything about it, so the tension kept on going up until I left the company, but I still had the same feelings. It was like that for seven years. It was like Harry and Sally, the movie.
DC: “When Harry Met Sally”?
SS: Exactly, “When Harry Met Sally.” Exactly the same thing – I had a girlfriend then she broke up with me, and then I broke up and reached out to her, but it wasn’t quite right back then. It was like that, back-and-forth, and up until… We hadn’t been in touch for two years. We met by accident in Cellcom, in the same company that we worked together, then, all of a sudden, things just clicked.
DC: It was the right time.
SS: It was the right time and it was the right moment. Three or four months later, we already got married. That was like things happening, everything got into the right place. For me, a guy who always go against all odds, for that to happen, it was like a miracle, seriously. Not only that it felt like a miracle, I said eventually I got my dream girl. How many people get their dream girl eventually? That’s a miracle. Then I thought to myself that if I have done that, I can go against the odds in many other things. I need to go against the odds in many other things. It just gives you power. It gives you a lot of power.
DC: It’s very empowering.
SS: It is.
DC: I’ve got two different questions. I’ve got to go back to while you were traveling thing, but first, while we’re here, it’s just so fascinating with you and your wife. In that seven years, did you see there was a reason why it didn’t work at first? That maybe you needed to grow and mature more and maybe she did before it was the right time?
SS: I think it was a matter of maturity and timing. These were the two things, and then I think it was mainly for her because I knew from the first second that I wanted her. I wasn’t sure she was going to be my wife like the stories, “I saw her and immediately I thought that’s my wife,” it wasn’t like that, but I knew there was some chemistry that I didn’t have with anyone else. For seven years, by the way, according to my friends, she was the biggest missing point for me. She was the biggest thing that I had missed out, the one thing I really wanted. Up until the point that, all of a sudden, she’s mine and I’m hers and it’s happening. My friends couldn’t believe it. It was a miracle happening. That’s how it was for me.
DC: Amazing. I’ll come back and ask about her when we start about your venture off into the entrepreneurial world, but to go back to when you were in Australia, you said a year and a half you were gone, basically in Australia?
SS: Yeah. It was in Australia for six months, then I went to Japan for three months, then to the US for another three months, then I got back to Thailand, I went all over Europe. I’ve done everything I think I could.
DC: And you brought up, in that time, you said the loneliness factor was that the biggest thing you learned in that time?
SS: I actually think it was really present in terms of it wasn’t only just partner in terms of…
DC: Like man and woman or spouse?
SS: Yeah. It’s like the whole social thing, I wasn’t really connected. I think it’s the worst feeling just to feel alone. I think that’s the deepest feeling that actually drives you, you sad.
DC: And you had this realization while you were traveling by yourself for so long?
SS: I did. Once meeting some people and then figuring out that these are great people, but it’s not going to be my anchor. Once again, it also took some time but, eventually, alongside what happened with who came to be my wife, there were two friends that became the anchor on that side as well. So now I have these two…
DC: The friendships.
SS: The two real friendships I always needed and my wife, which is the third one. That’s it for me. These are the anchors that allows me to reach out to everything.
DC: It’s like the three legged table. Two legs won’t stand; you need the three legs.
SS: Yeah, for sure. Also my family and everything, but that’s an anchor but a given one. You need to create role in order to… I hope it’s something people won’t understand, but for me it was really, really important.
DC: Were there any other things that stood out while you were traveling that you learned or helped prepare you?
SS: I just remember that the big trip wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. I had great expectations, I always dreamed about it and thought about it and imagined some things, and it wasn’t quite that. I don’t remember said it, but they said that no matter where you’re going to be, you’re going to be there so it’s up to you. Since I wasn’t feeling that great, it probably made the atmosphere not that great as well. I guess that was that. But it was also, as I was in the trip, I had some great moments, I had a girlfriend in some period, Japan was amazing, for example, but it had things up and down, like life, but I got through.
DC: For people who are going to be reading this, would you recommend that they do a year just to go out on your own and travel around? Do you think it would be helpful for them?
SS: I would. Especially for me, it wasn’t just a one year trip; it was the four years IDF, which is taking you out of your comfort zone, facing you with something that you have no idea how to do, and you just grow into it. Going for a trip like that does exactly the same thing, it’s just more fun than the other one.
But it is something that I think you have to do before starting real life. You have to do that because this is where you open your mind to some other things. This is where you get perspective. I’m a fan of perspective, as you saw in my talk. I need a broader perspective. I think anybody needs a broader perspective always because it never ends; it never gets too broadened. You need to have perspective on life, on your life, on life itself, on other people, on what people actually do, and you need to spend some time exploring in order to get perspective. It’s not enough to read about it, it’s not enough to watch it on TV; that’s not going to give you perspective in any way. You need to get your hands dirty and just go explore. This is how you get a broader perspective.
DC: So it’s not necessarily just traveling, but like you said, getting out of your comfort zone. Which is a way to do it, but you can do it by any number of ways.
SS: It’s not traveling; it’s just having one year, or maybe more than that, in which you create your own reality. This is what it is much more than just a trip. It’s a journey, in many ways, more than just a trip for me.
DC: I can see this.
SS: And I like the fact that it’s one year. You think in terms of long- term travel because then you have no idea what you’re going to do. I went with one one-way ticket to Australia. I had no idea I was going to visit Japan or the US or whatever. It was just going to the unknown, I love it. Even though it wasn’t according to my expectation that I felt some things that I didn’t think I’m going to feel, it wasn’t that perfect, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
DC: The experience, good or bad. You did this a year and a half, then you come back and you’d decided university already?
SS: No. It was even that I felt as if… And it was one thing about the blindness that I wasn’t quite sure what am I going to do. Then a friend of mine, one of the two great friends, by the way, started working for that company, Cellcom, and she told me, “You should come work for Cellcom as well.” Then I thought maybe I could find some sort of university that will allow me to maintain a full-time job. I found some sort of program, in the College of Management in Israel, that would allow me to pursue my BA, business administration, while maintaining a full-time job. So it felt great and I did that.
I started working for Cellcom. It was a great job, they give you a vehicle and you had a bunch of customers that you were taking care of. I’ve done my BA as well, but I never had the experience that I believe, today in retrospective, I would get so much from. I wasn’t a student in any way; I was just starting to work.
DC: It wasn’t a normal student at university because you were working full-time.
SS: Exactly. I didn’t have the atmosphere, I didn’t have the experience of being in the university. After that, I’ve done my MBA’s as a full-time student, so that was my correction. But that was my experience back then and I feel as if it was… You never know, but I think if I would have known some other things, I would change that decision; I wouldn’t rush into working so fast. That’s one thing that I know that I would probably have done differently.
DC: How long were you at Cellcom? Obviously, while you were doing school.
SS: Two years exactly and then I felt I needed to be in high tech, so I left to another company and did some stuff in high tech and I hated every second. I’ve been was there for a year and a half and then I was looking for another refresh, another restart, and I was looking for MBA programs, which felt right at that point. I was looking for MBA’s in the US and then I found that program in Beer-Sheva, Ben Gurion University, a joint program with Columbia University for the one year, a full-time program.
So I left my job, I went to live in Beer-Sheva for a year, another restart to my life. Apparently, I like restarts. Part of my generation’s problem, right? The hopping phenomenon. I actually did that and that was the second shaping period, I believe, in my life. I was a full-time student, I made great friends. I think that back then, I felt the entrepreneurial bubbling in my stomach started. I’ve done some things back then, I tried some stuff because you had some time and I felt as if, when you’re a student and you have your framework, now is a good time to actually experiment some stuff. So I’ve built some things and it was really great experience for me.
DC: So your first taste of that started coming while you are working on your Master’s degree?
DC: And you said you finished that in one year? For one year you get to be a university student and do this is.
SS: Exactly. I lived there in Beer-Sheva, I left the Center, Tel Aviv. That’s one hour’s drive, but we call it Center. In Israel, we have different scales.
DC: From there, you finished the first… My notes showed you as lead strategy practice at Tefen Management maybe, consulting. Was there something before this?
SS: Before that, I was part of a program called Nova while I was doing my MBA. It was consulting to nonprofits. I was a team leader of other students who did a consulting project for a nonprofit and I felt I’m loving it; it was great. I loved the consulting, I loved the fact that you need to solve a problem, a complicated one. I managed people, I liked that as well; that was part of what I wanted to do. Then, eventually, I wanted to stay… I finished my MBAs and I got two job offers, from Microsoft and from Better Place. Do you remember Better Place?
DC: Yes, I do. They were a catalog, weren’t they? What do they do exactly?
SS: Better Place was a huge startup who raised $800 million by Shai Agassi.
DC: What was the product?
SS: With a mission to build an electric vehicle. It was not only electric vehicle, but an electric infrastructure that would allow many electric vehicles to get around. He wanted to replace fuel.
DC: And do clean energy?
SS: Yeah, and he raised $800 million. That’s a lot.
DC: That’s impressive. So you had offers from them and Microsoft?
SS: Exactly, and I chose Better Place, no doubt for me. Microsoft is amazing and I would probably learn a lot, but in Better Place, it was the biggest promise back then. Better Place was like Google back then; everybody wanted to work there, it was really promising. Shai Agassi felt like a messiah. It was really amazing and, for me, it had so many great concepts. I started to work there in the business development team. It was a great job and that was the first time I actually felt that doing just that great job was not enough. That’s not enough.
DC: That’s an “aha moment.”
SS: That’s a big “aha moment” because, in real life, I’m an MBA, I’m doing a great job in a great company, very promising company, the most promising company today, not only in Israel but maybe the world. Seriously, that’s how it was. It’s not enough. I need to gain more experience, I need to broaden my perspective because doing just one thing just feels wrong. I was just a student in my MBA, then I’ve done five different things. I’ve done the Nova project and many other things and how come I need to do more than that?
DC: So this, in a way, might be the roots of the Nachshonim adventure? SS: Yeah, the idea of the dual career was born back then.
DC: Was it just a seed then and you just needed to let it grow over time or did you already have it…?
SS: I actually did some of it in that organization I was part of, Nova. I kept on doing things for two years later whilst working at Better Place, but eventually I felt that I can’t do many things I want in that organization, in Nova, and I need to build something that would complete and would open the door to what I felt as so great of doing some stuff. Then I actually thought of let’s structure the second career because I remember telling myself that, “I’m doing some stuff and I’m enjoying it a lot and it’s on my spare time and it’s not structured, but I think I can make it structured.” That was the “aha moment” in which I called my partner Ari and I told him, “I have an idea, let’s discuss it.” In one second, we thought, “We’re doing it together.”
We started to build it exactly as I said in my Ted Talk, and we actually built the idea of what we wanted it to be. He, exactly like myself, thought that what he was doing wasn’t enough; we wanted to grow much more than that. Then we came to realize that we can actually do that. We have some spare time, we know what we want – we want to explore our possibilities, we want to explore our potential in many ways. We knew we have lots of potential, that the one path that we’re doing today is not fulfilling all of it. We wanted to grow our skills our capabilities and we mostly wanted to just get thrown to different areas that we didn’t think of and we didn’t know of and just figuring out what they really are. That was the specific methodology that we thought would give us the best value for what we did.
DC: So you were working at this place when this happened? You were working there, like you said, great job and everything. How long was it between when you first had the thought? You said you talked to your friend. Did it start right then or was this months and years before you really…?
SS: No, it wasn’t that long. I think it took three or four months to reach the point where we actually established a nonprofit and started working on it.
In Part 3, Sagi Shahar tells us about leaving his job and his comfort zone for a new start as an entrepreneur.
In the meantime, please check out Sagi’s Tedx Talk.
Sagi Shahar, a social and business entrepreneur, aims to change the way people build careers in the new world. Sagi speaks about the fear of regret we all have in our career and suggests a unique way to resolve it while making an unexpected impact on society. Get ready to discover a new way to accelerate your career while accelerating the growth of the businesses in your community. Sagi is an entrepreneur with a mission to close the gap between what people could have been and what they really are.
Sagi is the Co-founder of “Nachshons” – an innovative platform that enables Young Professionals to build a dual career and accelerate their growth while accelerating the growth of their community. He is also the CEO and Co-founder of “FiveYearsFromNow” – a global start-up with a mission to change the way people make career decisions. Sagi has also co-founded the “2040 Program” which redesigns the way people are being trained and developed in business organizations.
In his previous positions, Sagi led the strategy practice at Tefen Management Consulting firm as an Associate Partner, and prior to that was part of the Business Development team at Better Place.
Sagi holds an MBA from the joint MBA program of Ben-Gurion University and Columbia University. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx