Interview with Jason Garner: Redefining the American Dream

As a teenager in high school, Jason Garner worked parking cars at a local flea market in San Jose, where he watched and learned the mechanisms of commerce. He eventually came to oversee the entire business; he was an endless source of innovative ideas, like the time he built a small stage on the beer patio so that he could book local bands to perform for worn-out shoppers. Little did he know that these innovations were the beginning of a very lucrative and successful career, although it was one that would eventually transform dramatically. SHEI caught up with Garner to talk about his transition from the world of business to a life filled with deeper meaning after certain tragic events in his life pushed him to make a change.

Garner, in a sense, represents the American Dream that so many citizens strive to achieve. Garner started out as a valet driver before eventually climbing his way to the very top of Live Nation, one of the largest entertainment companies in the world, where he worked as the CEO of Global Music. Big-time musical acts such as Enrique Iglesias put him on the map and grabbed the attention of many large English-language promoters. He knew how to play the game, and his keen business sense earned him the honor of being featured on Fortune Magazine's "Highest Paid Under Forty" list.

However, the fast-paced life he led came to an abrupt halt when his mother was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer. He tells SHEI, "I had everything I thought mattered in life, but I was empty inside." With his mother's last breath Garner felt the sudden emptiness of the room and realized he needed to make some changes in his own life; he needed to breathe.

This moment marked the beginning of a spiritual journey, as he threw away the false notions of happiness that had restricted his previous life. He began to loosen his grip on everything he previously thought was a necessary component of success. Within the next year he had transitioned out of his CEO position and traveled to China, where he studied with Daoist Masters and Zen Buddhist Monks. One of the philosophies he learned during his stay was the importance of embracing both the warrior and the monk inside himself—a sort of yin and yang ideology.

Garner maintains that too many people spend the majority of their lives searching for happiness, or that which they deem happiness. Money, power, and prestige rot the minds of young up-and-comers in nearly every business until those things are all they can focus on. "What I was searching for was always available to me in my heart," Garner said. "I was just so busy I couldn't feel it."

While many people may not have a hard time conceptualizing this idea, it is something that is often far harder to make a reality. Changing your path in life is scary, especially when you cannot see what awaits you at the end. Garner clarifies that by learning to love yourself and others, one doesn’t have to run away from the material world altogether. It is simply about finding balance. "It took life's painful events - death, divorce, losing a job - to crack open my heart and allow me to breathe and to really feel life," Garner said.

A big part of finding balance involves nurturing the body. Garner begins each day with yoga to get the blood flowing and allow his organs room to breathe. His philosophy is that the best way to start the morning is to wake up ready to welcome each new day and anything it throws at you. Meditation is another part of the daily ritual that allows him time to simply be present with himself. Finally, he dedicates himself to eating a balanced diet of nutrient-rich foods such as leafy green vegetables and Chinese herbs.

In his book …And I Breathed, he talks about his former boss and first guru, Michael Rapino, who mentored Garner during his time at Live Nation. While Garner admits that the focus of Rapino's advice was targeted more to the cutthroat world of business, he still recognizes much of what Rapino had to offer in his everyday life. Rapino taught Garner to always ask why and to be fearless when it comes to straying outside the lines. These are two of the most important lessons that he believes everyone should keep in the forefront of their minds.

Today, Garner advises college students who are eager to enter the workforce on matters he is innately familiar with. One piece of advice: resumes with character and spark always grabbed his attention. "There are so many intellectually smart people," he says. "What's unique in business is someone who can operate from the heart and knows how to connect with others." People like that are the kind that really create a meaningful type of magic in business.

Some of Garner's best advice boils down to two little words: Don’t wait. It’s that simple. If you want to do something, just do it. If there's something worth having, it's worth working for; it's not right to expect that  things will just be handed to you. He believes that life does not necessarily have to go in the traditional order that so many people follow: school, internship, job, marriage, and then someday children. Happiness comes in many forms, not one idealized notion. The American Dream that we have come to know as pushing our way to the top at whatever cost needs to go.

After everything he has learned, there is so much Garner wants to share with the world. He entreats, “Open your heart and then go express what’s in it to the world." This philosophy, the one that Garner lives out daily, encompasses the spirit of the real American Dream.


Photos courtesy of Can Public Relations.

SpotlightBrenna MacArthur