Askinosie Chocolate is a small-batch, award winning chocolate company widely considered to be a vanguard in the industry. Known for sourcing 100% of his cocoa beans directly from farmers across the globe, Shawn Askinosie has pioneered direct trade and profit sharing in the craft chocolate industry with farmers in Tanzania, Ecuador, and the Philippines. In addition to developing relationships with smallholder farmers, the company also partners with schools in their origin communities to provide lunch to 1,600 children every day with no outside donations. Twenty-five years ago, Shawn Askinosie was a successful criminal defense lawyer trying his first murder death penalty case that would later go on to become a Dateline special. For many years he found law satisfying, but after several high profile trials he reached a breaking point and found solace in the search for a new career.
In this inspiring guide to discovering a vocation that feeds your heart and soul, Askinosie describes his quest to discover more meaningful work – a search that led him to volunteering in the palliative care wing of a hospital, to a Trappist monastery where he became inspired by the monks focus on “being” rather than “doing,” and eventually traipsing through jungles across the globe in search of excellent cocoa bean farmers to make award winning chocolate. Askinosie shares his hard-won insights into doing work that reflects one’s values and purpose in life. He shares with readers visioning tools that can be used in any industry or field to create a work life that is inspired and fulfilling. Askinosie shows us that everyone has the capacity to find meaning in their work and be a positive force for good in the world.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Find Meaning in Your Work,
or Else It Just Might Kill You
I've known my friend Danny since childhood. He helped me study for the Missouri bar exam in 1992. He was a brilliant whirlwind of a lawyer who specialized in mass tort litigation, mostly what are called "toxic torts," like defective drugs that end up hurting and killing people.
He made a lot of money; I mean a lot of money. He also medicated himself with alcohol in the process. On the outside, Danny was winning. Danny the person, though, was rudderless, in pain, and without a vocation.
After almost twenty years of representing plaintiffs, winning cases, and pounding on other lawyers, Danny left the law. And do you want to know what he did next? He helped his wife start a scrapbooking business. He immersed himself in colored paper, holiday stencils, adhesive dots, and craft rubber stamps. He wanted to serve Nikki in pursuit of her passion and that's exactly what he did for four years. Unfortunately the business went south, and they moved to another city, where Nikki found a great new job.
Years earlier, while in the process of getting sober, Danny had attended a workshop that helped people discover a better version of themselves. Because he found them beneficial, he continued attending these courses over the next several years, as an assistant, while he phased out of law and into scrapbooking.
Eventually he began training to become a paid teacher of these workshops. Danny never considered that it could be a career, until he started working with Nikki. That's where the mystery of service and vocation comes into focus: while he was serving his wife-not thinking about himself-space was created for him to consider this new career, a life of helping others, with the skills he'd learned over the previous decade of workshops and training.
Danny's selfless service to Nikki was ultimately how he found himself; and importantly, it was a bridge to his vocation.
When I asked Danny to describe this, he said, "I discovered that one of my core values was kindness, in a way that on my deathbed it will matter to me: was I kind? The courtroom was no longer a place for me to live that core value." Today he travels the country leading workshops for people from all walks of life, from Orthodox Jewish teens in New York City to middle schoolers in San Diego, to LAPD gang unit cops, to people simply searching for a better life in St. Louis. He has a thriving coaching practice and makes, in his exact words, "a whole f-ing lot less" than his days as a lawyer, but he loves his life.
I've seen him at work and if there was ever a person who dodged death by finding and living out their vocation, it's my friend Danny.
Like Law for Chocolate
"Why did you quit law?"
"Why on earth chocolate?"
And my personal favorite: "I bet this career is a lot sweeter than your old one, huh?"
It's possible I've told my lawyer-to-chocolate-maker story a thousand times in the past ten years in response to those questions. From college campuses to boardrooms to tours of our chocolate factory, these are the most common questions I'm asked. And I get it. People want to know how and why I made this crazy leap. They also want to know how I manage to "do it all." How our team of sixteen people, working on a humble street in a small city in the Midwest, makes chocolate that wins awards around the world. Or how we practice direct trade with smallholder farmers across the globe. Or how our small chocolate factory is able to feed thousands of students per day in Tanzania and the Philippines with no donations. After hearing me speak, a lot of folks say-either with excitement or despair-that they wish they could do what I'm doing, but don't know how or where to start or that it all seems too daunting. I like to answer their questions with as much detail as time permits; the good, the bad, and the ugly. And my reply always centers around the fact that Askinosie Chocolate is my vocation and it's the only reason we're able to do what we do.
Askinosie Chocolate Touchstone: Direct Trade
We've been directly trading with cocoa farmers around the world since the beginning. This means we not only pay a premium for our cocoa beans, but we personally travel to each of our origin communities-Ecuador, Tanzania, and the Philippines-yearly. On these trips, I inspect our crop of beans to ensure they meet the specifications outlined in our contract. We share profits, in cash, based on a percentage of sales of the previous year's crop of cocoa beans. We translate our financials into the farmers' language and walk through it line by line, to show how we arrived at the calculation. We tour the small family farms and we discuss the health of their cacao trees; we talk about postharvest and fermentation techniques. We'll roast freshly dried cocoa beans
together over a fire to analyze their flavor. And I always bring chocolate for us all to taste, including bars made from their cocoa beans as well as our other origins. Direct trade is about relationships. It's a practice, and a way of being.
It's not as simple as "Follow your dream," which is nice, if trite, and also not that helpful. How exactly do you follow your dream? What does that look like? What are the next steps? In this chapter, I provide an alternative to this platitude by suggesting some answers to these very questions. I hope the lessons I've learned and the mistakes I've made along this path to my vocation inspire you to find meaning in your work. But before we discuss your business we need to talk about you. You have to find your personal vocation. I encourage you to follow these steps, try some of the exercises at the end of the chapter, and then go live what comes out of it.
For the record: no, making chocolate is not necessarily "sweeter" than my former life as a lawyer. Try standing at the counsel table in the well of a courtroom, shoulder to shoulder with a client-in whose innocence you believe with every fiber of your being, but who is charged with murder and might die by lethal injection-as the jury files in, the foreperson says they have reached a verdict, and the words "not guilty" are read by the judge in slow motion. Is that "sweet"? No, not exactly. But it sure is gratifying, gut-wrenching, and life affirming. Nevertheless, chocolate is what I do now and it, too, has its gratifying, gut-wrenching, life-affirming moments.
Vocation, Vocation, Vocation
My grandparents lived on the same farm in Miller, Missouri, for over sixty-five years. I think they left the state once to go with my parents, my brother, and I to Panama City Beach in 1972 (the entire trip they fretted about their animals and the weather back home). Their daily schedule was waking before the sun to milk the cows, collect the eggs, eat, tend the garden, work the fields, eat, work the fields some more, milk the cows, eat and then to bed, wake up, and repeat. I love the monastic rhythm of that work now, but I didn't appreciate it as a boy. It was boring and I didn't like helping with chores. It always seemed too hot or too cold.
But the farming life was their vocation. They were called to it and clearly loved it, all of it. The best expression of my grandmother's vocation is how she treated people who visited the farm. Everyone left with some kind of food that she had baked, canned, or picked from the garden. She insisted on it.
In South America they call it a plan de vida; in Japan, ikigai. I call it vocation-the reason you do what you do. We all need a reason to live, a reason to wake up in the morning. My grandparents woke up in the morning to grow and harvest food to nourish people. This reason for being can be cultivated in your personal life. But it's also entirely possible to create it with your work. In fact, not only is it possible, it's essential. After all, according to the math people, we spend approximately eighty thousand hours of our lifetime at work. You better hope your work fulfills you, or at the very least is enjoyable.
If you follow the advice in this book, I promise you will find some things out about yourself. My hope is that you'll uncover your personal vocation, and apply that to your business. This is not only the best way to achieve the fulfillment you seek but it's the best way to create a successful, sustainable organization. The impact of vocation reverberates throughout your life, both internally and externally, your business, your community, and the world by allowing you to realize your true self and by meeting and serving the needs of others.
Most people find it easy to recognize when something needs to change in themselves or their business, but knowing what to do about it is another matter. So many people share with me how miserable and unfulfilled they are-they know they want their work to look and feel different, but they have no concept of what to do to find out what that should be. In this chapter, I will explain how I did it; it begins with finding your personal vocation. Chapter 2 is about honing your business vocation, and while your instinct may be to skip this stuff about personal vocation, I urge you not to, because your personal vocation will lead you to your business vocation. You can sell your company and start a new one, or buy a franchise now, you can quit your job and search for another, but if you don't figure things out before you move on, you'll almost certainly find yourself in the same spot. You will not find meaning in the new work just because it's different. For some entrepreneurs this will be a painful chapter, but I ask you to bear with me and give it considerable thought, reflection, and work.
Time for a Change
I never lost a criminal jury trial. I am one of a handful of lawyers in the country who have successfully obtained a not-guilty verdict in a death penalty case. My reputation as an overprepared and aggressive criminal defense attorney was built on murder cases. Once, I had prepared so many D-ring binders that I had to rent a U-Haul trailer to drive them to the courthouse. The D-ring binders, themselves, were a source of stress for the state's expert witnesses. They made a distinct sound when I opened them up, a metallic thud. The witnesses eventually knew that when I opened a binder it was to show them a document, usually one they had authored, and that they were lying. The sound of my binder opening often caused a visible flinch. It reminded me of Pavlov's dogs.
I've crawled on my hands and knees at night, in the dark, at a crime scene to see blood spatter patterns glow with luminol. I've been to an autopsy and smelled bone dust. I've used microscopic evidence with DNA material to free a man convicted of a rape he did not commit after serving two years in solitary confinement on a sentence of seventy years. I've had death threats. The most bizarre was when someone chopped up a deer and smeared blood all over the front porch of my law office building. It never really bothered me until my family was threatened, too. That was when my wife (who hates guns) and I took tactical handgun classes. I went a step further with low-light handgun training. It got so serious, we eventually had a security expert come out to our house to practice and plan what-ifs in the event of a hostage scenario. This was when my daughter, Lawren-incidentally, a great contributor to this book-was a young girl, so we wanted to be very careful.
I loved my work, despite the sadness surrounding much of it, until I didn't.
There was one particular moment in my law career when I knew it was time to pivot and begin looking for another dream. I was representing a client named Debbie. Debbie believed, supported by evidence, that her ex-husband was sexually molesting their young daughter. For years Debbie had successfully convinced the courts to keep him away from her. Then one day a court decided, despite Debbie's valiant efforts, to allow the ex-husband his first unsupervised visit with her child in years. The day before the planned visit, Debbie, believing her daughter was about to suffer a fate worse than death, gave her a sleeping pill, carried her to the car, turned it on, closed the garage door, and let it run with the two of them inside.
When the police found them the child was dead and Debbie was near death and unconscious. She had hoped to die with her daughter. She was rushed by helicopter to another city, where she was placed in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. When she woke up she was immediately charged with first-degree murder. The family hired me to defend her. It was a no-win case. A loss would mean that she might spend the rest of her life in prison. The absolute best I could hope for was lifetime commitment to a state mental hospital. I pled her "not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect," otherwise known as the insanity defense. Guess how many times that defense has worked in the United States? Not very many. Basically never.
This trial was particularly brutal. Due to heavy media coverage, the jury was sequestered in a nearby hotel and instructed to have no contact with the outside world. The judge and I clashed at every stage of the case.
Minutes before my opening statement was set to begin, the judge let the prosecutor mark all over my integral (not to mention expensive) exhibit with a black Sharpie. Boiling over, I remember exactly what I blurted out: "Well, Judge, why don't you just go ahead and stick a needle in her arm now and get it over with." He threatened to hold me in contempt and put me in jail if I made one more statement like that. The judge repeatedly attempted to prevent me from getting into evidence why she did what she did: that she believed her ex-husband was sexually abusing her daughter. And unfortunately there was a mountain of evidence to support her belief. It was totally relevant. But before the trial the judge ruled that evidence inadmissible. Midtrial, I appealed that decision to a higher court with no luck. So I pushed and pushed and pushed again. My job was to make a record of any possible error in the trial, so that there was a chance the case could be reversed at a higher level and sent back for a retrial. I deeply believed that not letting the jury consider that evidence was a mistake and I just couldn't let it go.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Find Meaning in Your Work, or Else It Just Might Kill You 1
Chapter 2 Develop a Business Vocation, or Else It Just Might Kill Your Business 25
Chapter 3 How Much Is Enough? 62
Chapter 4 Essentials to Success 92
Chapter 5 Don't Scale, Reverse Scale 129
Chapter 6 A Rule of Life 151
Appendix A Breaking Down the Supply Chain Cycle: What Do Cocoa Farmers Actually Make? 187
Appendix B Askinosie Bean Purchase History 193
Appendix C Rule of Life 197
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reading this book was like talking to a favorite mentor--one who is kind and insightful, who guides you without judgement and shares his ideas through great storytelling. Only Askinosie's aren't stories, they're his real-life experiences. Some are funny, some are gripping (he was a criminal defense attorney who tried several murder cases, after all), all are hopeful. I won't give anything away here, but his anecdotes alone make the book worthwhile. More practically speaking, Askinosie's writing on finding your vocation was an "aha" moment for me. I'm a "millennial" and a researcher at heart, and this has led to "analysis paralysis" in terms of my career and finding the next step. The hardest thing for me is taking the leap without knowing everything there is to know beforehand. Reading about Askinosie's own journey to finding his vocation while leaving his law career was strengthening and emboldening. It reminded me that I won't find the answer anywhere "out there." The answer is already inside; I just have to create the space to tap into it. (And fortunately, this book gave me some great ideas on how to do that!) I found "Meaningful Work" to be challenging in the best possible way. The lessons Askinosie shares are applicable to anyone in any field, from likeminded social entrepreneurs to CEOs of large corporations to stay-at-home moms. Askinosie's experiences are evidence that business--and life--are not zero-sum games. There's room for both head and heart in business, and they work together best when they share the same office. I couldn't help but imagine what the world would be like if more leaders were like Askinosie.
One Heart at a Time In his book, Meaningful Work: a Quest to Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul, Shawn Askinosie pours his words of vocation, kinship, relationship, dignity, community, solitude, and of course, chocolate into every page. His poignant and personal writing makes this book important for every person, entrepreneur or otherwise. Shawn inspires businesses to have the courage to live out their unique vocations and to connect with the people they affect and influence. This book does not belong merely on your shelf. This book belongs in your heart and it belongs in the way you live your life. Shawn Askinosie and his vision of Askinosie Chocolate prove that businesses have the the capability to change the world in a radically small and personal way. One heart at a time.