New Article for Washington Speakers Bureau

New Article for Washington Speakers Bureau

How to Build a Life Rich in Experiences – and Why This is Crucial For Your Company Culture

Bridget Hilton, author of Experiential Billionaire: Build a Life Rich in Experiences and Die With No Regrets, and founder of LSTN Sound Co. shares insights on connecting teams and leaders in the workplace through rich experiences and shared goals.

When researching for my (and co-author Joe Huff’s) book Experiential Billionaire, we asked 20,000 people questions such as “What have been the most valuable things in your life?”

We started with friends and family, which led to us visiting retirement homes, which snowballed into us doing the largest survey of life experiences ever done — all around the world, with participants of all ages.

And according to the overwhelming results, bank accounts (or anything financial or material) were not what people actually value the most in life. Nearly every participant stated one of their life experiences.

Our experiences are the most valuable thing in our lives. This is a truth we all know, because when people are on their deathbeds, they don’t ask to see their wallet one last time. At the funeral, you don’t hear, “I loved Bob—he was wealthy.” No. Bob’s coworkers talk about how they loved volunteering at the animal shelter with him. His kids talk about how they went to National Parks when they were young. His wife talks about how they watched the sunset together every night. They talk about Bob’s experiences.

So, when I reflect on the data, along with the most valuable things in my life (and what I would regret not doing), these categories of experiences rise to the top. These are the things I will remember at the end: what motivates me, connects me to others, and ultimately fulfills my purpose.

Following Dreams

Our study showed that the number one regret that people have at the end of their life isn’t things that they did, it’s all the things they never got around to doing. 3 out of 4 people felt that way — because they were busy chasing the things that didn’t truly matter to them, instead of their dreams. 

Growing up in Flint, MI, I used my love of music as inspiration and hustled my way into the largest record label in the world as a teenager — after a journey that included sleeping in my car and more friends’ floors and couches than I’d care to try and count — or remember. Because I pursued this unlikely dream, I ultimately got to work on hundreds of records and helped to launch some of today’s biggest careers in music, including Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, Rihanna, and The Killers. It made me believe that truly anything is possible if I just take small steps towards big goals, and inspired me to take that same approach to accomplish many of the bigger experiences in my life.

Investing in Relationships

Not surprisingly, thousands of people responded that their greatest life experience was getting married to the love of their life, having children, or being a part of a tight knit group of friends. Some of my closest relationships are with people that I worked with that I shared once in a lifetime (or just out of the ordinary) bonding experiences with, whether it was staying up all night talking after Coachella, taking cooking classes, or camping in Joshua Tree. Meaningful experiences build strong relationships, and strong relationships lead to more fulfilling experiences. Building relationships takes effort; we only get out what we put in. But it’s worth the investment of time and energy because it’s through our relationships that we find meaning, support, success, and satisfaction — personally and professionally. 

Getting Out of the Comfort Zone

There are some things that can’t be learned through a screen. They must be seen, heard, and felt in person in order for you to grow into a newer, expanded version of yourself. Plus, people want to be surrounded by others that have inspiring, interesting stories — whether that’s at work, on a date, or at a party. And the way to do that is to get out of your house and do things that might seem intimidating at first. The #1 answer to the things people still wanted to do in their lives was a version of travel — whether it was a big overseas trip, or just to the next state over. The top reasons why they hadn’t done it yet? They just “didn’t get around to it” — and they had fear. But you need to push past fear to get the experiences you really want in life. My memory bank now includes chasing the northern lights in Iceland, studying with samurai masters in Japan, trekking to find Silverback gorillas in a hailstorm in Rwanda, swimming with sharks in Tahiti, riding camels around the pyramids in Egypt, meditating at Gandhi’s ashram in India, floating weightlessly in the Dead Sea, “modeling” for a whisky company in a haunted Scottish castle, hiking the Seven World Wonders, and meeting with people in all 50 U.S. states. There was beauty to be found in each place—both in the landscapes and the people. After all those experiences, it’s much easier to not only continue getting out of my comfort zone, but to see that everyone has their reasons for thinking and living the way they do, enabling empathy and understanding to others on a bigger scale.

Making Time For Play 

One day in your past, you had the last sleepover with your childhood friends, you just didn’t realize it. The last time you played hide and seek. The last time you pranked your parents. The last time you had a snowball fight. But why? The participants in our survey stated that the things they missed most in their adult lives were the fun, free, or cheap activities they did as a kid — like chasing fireflies, making crafts, telling ghost stories over a campfire. I intentionally schedule time for play in my life — things like collecting cool rocks, going to see Santa at the mall with my friends, and having Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle themed dinner parties. And instead of another Zoom or coffee meeting, I try to schedule meetings that are more memorable — like going to an arcade, playing catch, or going paddleboarding. Not only is playtime good for the brain, and helps bond you with others, it’s fun! And who doesn’t want to have more fun in their lives.

Lifelong Learning

In our survey, the top 3 things people wanted to learn were forms of a musical instrument, a foreign language, and a sport. Some of my most fun and fulfilling learning experiences as an adult have been learning beekeeping, how to make wine, how to surf, and going to farming school. It’s never too late to become a beginner again.

When we’re young, we’re constantly learning. Somewhere along the line, that growth starts to wane. We finish school, and there’s no longer someone handing us assignments to learn things. We figure out who we are, master (or become somewhat passable at) the basics of adulthood, and settle into a career. By the time we hit our thirties, the pace of learning has dropped off a cliff. By middle age, it has slowed to a crawl. That feels peaceful, in a way. We don’t have the constant stress of not knowing what to do or how to handle things. 

But every time you learn something new, no matter how trivial or significant, you’re investing in your own identity and making yourself into a wiser and more experienced version of you than you were the day before.

Turning Negatives Into Positives

⅓ of respondents said a negative experience was the most valuable in their life. For me, a few of those moments were getting laid off early on in my career and having to move to California, which ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to me. I’ve gone through mental health battles, which has taught me to be grateful for each day and what I need to cultivate the best relationship with myself. I’ve watched loved ones go through battles with cancer, which gave me urgency to live for now, and not for a ‘someday’ that might never come. Learning that a bad experience can turn into an important lesson – or just a funny story later on – has been incredibly valuable to me in both business and life.

Living With Purpose

Thousands of people responded that the greatest experience of their life was one of purpose and giving back — the times they built schools, volunteered as a Big Brother, or worked providing meals to those in need. And I would agree with them. Inspired by a viral video of a deaf woman hearing for the first time, I co-founded the first social good electronics company, LSTN Sound Co. We design and sell headphones and speakers and direct the proceeds to giving hearing aids to people in need. Over the past decade, we have traveled to 40 countries around the world, helping to give the gift of hearing to over 50,000 individuals. We get to watch kids’ eyes light up as they hear music, rain, or someone saying “I love you” for the first time. It would be an understatement to say this changed the way I viewed the world, and the ripple effect that this has caused is what I consider my greatest and most fulfilling experience of my life.

So why is this crucial for your company and its culture?

Connection through rich experiences and shared goals is the way to attract, retain and nurture talent. Shared experiences cultivate a culture of community, belonging, and wellbeing at work.

Prospective employees are naturally drawn to companies whose leaders prioritize their personal goals alongside their professional aspirations. And since experiences are sharable by nature, prospective employees are more likely to see a post about or hear from friends about a company that provides these, and think “I want to work there too!”

An engaged employee is a retained employee. Engagement thrives on a shared sense of purpose and common experiences that boost motivation and satisfaction. Celebrating collective successes from achieving shared goals fosters a sense of accomplishment, positively impacting the overall culture — basically, it’s how you build a workplace that employees won’t want to leave. Because in a culture built on shared experiences, employees are better equipped to adapt to change, collectively overcome challenges, and experience reduced burnout.

Shared goals also cultivate trust and collaboration, nurturing and strengthening working relationships that turn into lifelong friendships. A culture centered on shared goals encourages open communication, creating a space where employees feel comfortable expressing ideas, concerns, and feedback—making them feel seen and valued, and ultimately fostering better problem-solving, innovation, and company growth.

In short, staying squarely within the familiar routines of basic life (and work) maintenance doesn’t just limit the richness of your life, it also limits the value you can bring to the lives of others, your businesses, your communities, and the world at large.