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.
What do I do best?
I know how to focus. I was born with learning disabilities; to this day, I cannot multi-task. If I have five things to do, I have to tackle them one at a time if I want to do all of them well. I struggled in every school structure where I had to juggle five classes. I finally found a university where I could do one class at a time, and graduated summa cum laude. I didn’t mind staying up all night to study if it was one subject. Learning how to focus is how I survived.
What makes me the best version of myself?
I’m at my best when I have a purpose. Don’t we all need a compelling reason to get up in the morning? Throughout my schooling and my business career, I was always goal-oriented. When I got older and left the world of commerce behind, I realized I needed a purpose to be a whole person. Luckily, I came up with a concept, Cowboy Ethics, that launched me on a second career as an inspirational author and speaker.
I’ve always been an optimist, and I believe in good karma, meaning you attract good luck with your attitude toward life. The successes I’ve had I attribute as much to luck and hard work as to intellect. I believe those two things, luck and hard work, will take you a long way.
What are my aspirations?
My purpose now is changing lives for the better. For ten years, that meant helping people be in touch with their deepest values and their highest selves. Cowboy Ethics was about living by a personal code, like the cowboys in the white hats, and finding the hero each of us has within. My books, speeches, and foundation programs have in fact reached many thousands of people, thanks in large part to my organizational partners.
Now I’m focused on showing people over 50 how to live healthier, richer lives by getting into the fitness habit. That dovetails with my personal goal, which is to fight off old age by being physically active at least an hour a day, six days a week.
My biggest success?
Marrying my wonderful wife, Stanya, and keeping the relationship going strong for 49 years. Her deeply held values and clear expectations of me have done a great deal to shape my life. To this day I’ve never quite understood why she agreed to marry me; she certainly had other suitors. But we’ve made it work by never taking each other for granted, continuing to challenge each other, and always being willing to put in the effort it takes to get through the ups and downs. The older I get, the more value I see in having an enduring primary relationship.
My most challenging moment?
Without a doubt, it’s when I made the decision to become an entrepreneur. This was back around 1980, when stocks were going nowhere. I rolled the dice, borrowed $50,000, and bet all my assets on my prospects with a start-up money management firm. I told the founder that I wanted no salary, no draw, and would pay all my expenses. In return, I wanted a percentage of every account I brought in.
It was a huge personal risk, and I literally came within $1,000 of going under before the fees started coming in. Yet taking that risk was the only reason I was able to make any real money and have the freedom to do what I’m doing today. That’s when I learned there is often a very thin line between success and failure. I’ve seen that borne out many times since.
Funny you should ask. In the business ethics workshops offered through my foundation, we ask participants to write their own 11th principle as a personal complement to the ten principles of Cowboy Ethics. My 11th principle is “Give your best to the world,” and I make a genuine effort to live by it. Whatever gifts you have, you owe it to the rest of humanity to make the most of them. If we all looked at things that way, and were better able to recognize and fulfill our true potential, we’d all be better off.
My other motto, the one that’s helped me in business, is “Don’t compete; create.”
My favorite people/role models?
I’ve always been fascinated by creative people who are animated by an original vision, no matter what their field of endeavor. It doesn’t matter if they are successful or not. It’s the quality of their vision that makes me admire and want to emulate them.
My most important role model has always been my Dad. I’m certain my brother, who was adopted, as I was, would say the same. I can’t really explain why we feel that so strongly. He was a dentist in Lexington, Kentucky, and not wildly successful in a material sense. He was quiet man, modest and self-possessed, with a keen intelligence. But there was just something about the way he walked into a room that inspired all of us to reach for the best in ourselves. He died years ago, at a relatively early age, and we still talk about him frequently. I still think, “I hope he would be proud of me.”
My favorite places/destinations
I’ve always loved Santa Fe. There’s just something about it that draws me…the architecture, the light, the colors, the amazing landscape, and all the history there. It’s one of the oldest cities in the Americas. I also like how easy it is to get there, and how many great restaurants there are. My favorites aren’t in New York or L.A., they’re in Santa Fe. It’s a great place to de-stress, and I try never to go too long without a fix. I also love Sedona for similar reasons. There’s a beauty there I’ve never seen anywhere else.
My favorite products/objects?
I’ve never cared that much about possessions like cars, rifles, fishing rods, or any of that. Books have always been my friends. That’s a connection that goes back to my early childhood. I must confess, though, that I do have a thing for dressing in the Italian style. I really enjoy mixing up fabrics and finding elegant ways to accent an outfit. Yellow socks are my sartorial signature.
My current passions?
I got the fitness bug at age 70, and my workout sessions are the most fun I have all week. I love the challenge, the sense of accomplishment, and how just plain good a workout makes me feel. There’s nothing like mastering a movement I couldn’t do two weeks ago. I also love being a student, and I’m constantly learning new ways to challenge myself and new things about how the body works. A tough workout is empowering because it leaves me feeling, “If I can do this, I can do anything.”