April Rinne Discovered the Superpowers to Thrive in a World of Constant Flux

April Rinne.

Since childhood, April Rinne has been doing handstands. This turned out to be the perfect exercise to understand a world that is upside down and to see life’s challenges in a new way.

“The old script no longer works when change is accelerating in every area and is unlikely to slow down,” Rinne, author of “Flux: 8 Superpowers For Thriving in Constant Change,” told Startup Savant. “Our nervous systems are programmed to ‘fight, freeze, or flee,’ but few have written a new script that is optimum for thriving in a world that is in constant flux.”

Rinne (rhymes with “mini”) found out in the worst possible way about being unprepared for what can happen. On June 6, 1994, she was finishing her studies in Oxford, England, and packing to lead a trip with fellow students when her sister called. “April, Mom and Dad were killed in a car accident yesterday. You need to come home right now.”

The bottom dropped out of her world and it would be many years of grief and recovery. Along the way, she began to deal with other unexpected changes and the anxieties they produced, slowly developing the set of ways of thinking and behaving that helped her cope, then thrive. She is now a professional futurist, traveling the world to give keynote presentations to help others see the “Brave Ever-Newer World” as a set of exciting opportunities. Her clients have ranged from Nike to the World Bank.

In a nutshell, these are the eight “flux superpowers” that helped her to “flip the old script”:

  • Run Slower: Making quick decisions and moving fast when the path is uncertain and the world is changing 24/7 will likely lead you to the wrong destination and make you make poorer choices along the way. Better to go at a pace that allows you to focus, learn, and adapt.
  • See What Is Invisible: Our family, culture, education, and training enable us to readily see only what we expect. This does not prepare us for a world that is changing fast in every way and is more connected than ever. We need to train our awareness of the bigger picture of what may be ahead, both the positive and the negative — from opportunities in unexpected places to our biases and blind spots.
  • Get Lost: In a world in constant flux, becoming disoriented and feeling lost is inevitable. But by becoming purposefully lost, one can get out of their comfort zone that is increasingly irrelevant, if not dangerously naive, and discover all kinds of new knowledge, resources, and ways to do things better.
  • Start With Trust: In a world where distrust is pervasive and often deliberately engineered, from advertisers and lawyers to hypocritical business leaders and partisan politicians, trust is hard to find. But without building trust, no progress can be made in any field — and change becomes far more difficult, if not impossible, to navigate well.
  • Know Your “Enough”: To know one’s “enough” means to know that in every area we are constantly encouraged to believe that more is always better, but this breeds dissatisfaction and unhappiness. The fact is, our obsession with “more” can be toxic. But when we shift to “enough,” life can be better in every way, and it’s already within reach.
  • Create Your Portfolio Career: Few are going to remain in their current jobs until retirement and new college grads have new ways to build their career and new challenges to face. The future of work is itself in flux, and it means constant learning, harnessing multiple capabilities, and curating one’s professional “portfolio.”
  • Be All the More Human: In a world of quantum leaps in artificial intelligence, robots are still not going to be able to replace humans who develop next-level skills, from how to manage their digital security, to networking with and serving a wide range of other people, to quite simply showing up in your full humanity.
  • Let Go of the Future: Nothing can predict the fast-unfolding future, nor should one pretend that the future can be predicted or controlled. In a world in flux, this is a futile quest. However, there are ways to be more prepared for a variety of scenarios that will provide new opportunities — and a brighter future.

As important as these big ideas are, Rinne provides lots of tips about implementation from her own experience, as well as questions readers can ask themselves for a superpower self-audit. The book’s vision and practicality have been praised by bestselling authors such as Daniel Pink and Adam Grant.

The Long Journey to a Flux Mindset

Rinne grew up in a San Francisco household where amenities were modest because both of her parents were public school teachers. She was taught at seven how to manage her personal budget, from school supplies to underwear.

“Unsurprisingly, I became entrepreneurial and resourceful fast,” she said. “I learned to sew and sold simple clothes, washed cars, cleaned neighbors’ homes, and mowed lawns.”

When she went to college, she was shocked to find out how other students were almost entirely dependent on generous family support. After her parents died, mentors encouraged her to continue her education, which would help take her mind off her grief and enable her to earn a good living. She was committed to pursuing her studies, but she didn’t find the idea of “climbing a corporate ladder” appealing. Life is short. She knew she could die tomorrow, too. So, how should she spend her limited time?

Instead of following traditional career expectations, at age 20, she spent the next four years exploring the world. She guided others on hikes and bike trips starting with Italy, working for tour operators and sometimes on her own, often putting in 18-hour days. But she would go off on her own for the cultural experiences and after this period would set out on her own to new places, having now visited more than 100 countries.

Her interest in seeing something beyond the US and the UK had been planted by her father, who taught geography and every morning over breakfast would ask her what the capital city was for every country. “The more different someone looks than you, the more interesting they are to get to know,” he told her, stimulating an early appreciation for diversity and interest in seeing the world.

“Most of my bills, including flights, were covered by guiding, and once you’re in a location, you can almost always find very reasonable accommodations, so my expenses were lower than if I had stayed at home,” she explained. “I spent time everywhere from Vietnam to Patagonia, what I would now call ‘getting lost with purpose,’ and I gradually reoriented my compass and grew through finding new bearings. This was when I began to really unpack the meaning of ‘Get Lost.’ I had no GPS or smartphone, of course, so I had to talk with locals and understand their cultures, which built up my self-confidence and courage in what I could figure out. I became very comfortable with risk and ambiguity, which top leaders say is the skill most needed to navigate a world in constant flux.”

She says she feels sad for those who have grown up only knowing the world with all the digital advantages and who become anxious (or get into trouble) if they can’t get immediately connected online.

“Friends thought I was crazy and would be putting myself in constant danger, but the reality was that when people saw this small, blond female traveling solo, they thought I was lost and wanted to help,” Rinne explained. “I wasn’t naive, of course, but I got to see the best in humans. I was taken under their wings and into their homes and had some of my best experiences this way.”

Of course, there were some bumps in the road, like the time she took a boat down the Mekong River, not realizing it was packed with illegal drugs, and another when she was kidnapped at gunpoint in Bolivia.

“I was put into an old car that didn’t have automatic locks, so I was able to open the door while it was moving and throw myself out,” she said. “But I was not going to allow two bad apples to ruin my opinion of an entire country. You have to learn to trust people, but you don’t need to do it blindly. I’ve been back to Bolivia many times without any other problems, and it has become one of my favorite countries.”

While on a Fulbright fellowship studying economic development in Italy, she learned the value of getting away from the big city tourist traps, discovering historic and artistic treasures, and interacting with people in smaller towns.

Building a Portfolio Career

Rinne confesses that for most of her life, she has struggled with a high level of anxiety. A pre-pandemic poll reported that a quarter of all Americans suffered from this. Traveling slowly by necessity helped give her some perspective. Upon returning, she was appalled by so many students and workers who were like hamsters on a wheel going nowhere fast, propelled by FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and Fear of Better Options (FOBO), with insane schedules leading to burnout.

She eventually learned to cope better through cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and eye-movement therapy (EMDR). Some other techniques and practices she recommends include:

  • Calming the mind for a few minutes each day by simply observing its wanderings without judgment.
  • Spending five minutes in complete silence and stillness.
  • Yoga.
  • Slow, conscious breathing.
  • Getting out into nature, whether hiking in a forest or boating on a lake.
  • Disconnecting from all technology once a week (aka “technology Shabbat”).
  • Doing nothing while waiting for something, rather than filling your mind with the news, an app, or reading.

“Anxiety limits your peripheral vision, which is the ability to see things outside your direct line of vision,” Rinne said. “Our peripheral vision has atrophied as we put so much attention on focusing on getting immediate answers, but it’s still incredibly important to have — arguably more so than ever — in order to get fresh ideas and see things outside the mainstream.” She suggests some exercises to increase peripheral vision, including handstands (or any kind of inversion: headstands and hanging upside down are terrific, too).

April’s four years of initial extended travel were followed by four years earning a joint degree in microfinance and law from Harvard, then roughly four years practicing law in London and San Francisco. She then decided her passion for building a more sustainable world was best served by two different four-year stints: first, helping microenterprises in underdeveloped countries get funding and then, by doing broader economic development, such as bridging access to finance for clean water and safe sanitation.

In the past eight years, she has focused on advising companies in the sharing economy. Some of these include Airbnb, to create additional income for a broad range of people everywhere as well as those that empower small business, such as Intuit. She has also worked with nonprofits and governments from Canada to South Africa.

“On average, one shared car takes nine cars off the road,” she said about one example of moving toward a more sustainable economy. “That reduces CO2 emissions and traffic, improves mobility, and saves everyone money.”

She doesn’t do quick projects and likes to embed herself with a company for long-term strategic advising. She is even getting less restless after her usual four years of focus but still loves to travel with purpose.

“I never fly anywhere to give a presentation and leave as soon as I’m done,” she said. “I always want to learn more about each place and the people who live there, which never fails to enrich my life.” 

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Scott S. Smith

Scott S. Smith has had over 2,000 articles and interviews published in nearly 200 media, including Los Angeles Magazine, American Airlines’ American Way, and Investor’s Business Daily. His interview subjects have included Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Meg Whitman, Reed Hastings, Howard Schultz, Larry Ellison, Kathy Ireland, and Quincy Jones.

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