Re-Imagineer #2: Rob Smith CEO and Founder, The Phluid Project

As you approached 50 years old, you had a “midlife awakening” that you were not living the work-life that you wanted. Did that awareness build over a period of time or did you wake up one day with that realization? Can you share a bit of that process?

The “mid-life awakening” shift began several years prior to the moment of awakening. For a while, I was living two separate lives. One, during the day, working in corporate America. The other was a night and weekends, working on non-profits, working on boards, and serving my community. It worked for a while. Then there was a moment of clarity (if you can call it that). After my first trip to Burning Man, I experienced a community living with love, generosity, civic responsibility, and a social code of conduct that embraced radical self-expression. I wanted to recreate this world and I knew that I couldn’t do it in my existing professional scenario. Well, there’s a saying, “don’t quit your job after your Burning Man”.  Without heeding that advice, I gave five months’ notice and set out on a global journey, a pilgrimage, to discover who I am and what I am meant to do in this world, and participate in a shift that positively enriches all of our lives. Alone and with a backpack and one-way tickets, I traveled through the Americas, India, Nepal, and Tibet, studying ancient cultures, religions, beliefs and ceremonies. On this journey, I rediscovered myself and The Phluid Project was whispered into my ear, giving birth to my next chapter in life.  I launched the brand nearly nine months later, which is also very ironic. 

You decided to give five months’ notice at your job as a senior executive in the retail world and went on a six-month trip to explore what you wanted to do with the rest of your life. What was that like and what two or three major discoveries did you have at the end of that journey?

The journey offered many lessons and insights. Some of them are very painful and frightening moments, along with others revealing the pure goodness of humanity. My first step was to spend time with myself in the Amazon, discovering who I am, where I came from, and what secrets I have been holding back or covering up. Through deep work, I managed to face things that I chose to never face and finally come to terms and resolution with my demons. Traveling through Asia, I learned to surround myself with the flow of life and trust the universe. I studied Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Islam faiths. I’ve taken much of this, along with Western religion, Indigenous beliefs and Mystical practices and created my own form of my personal code of conduct and how I navigate life with my own value system. I learned that we’re never alone and that if you ask for help, someone will be there for you. I have faith in humanity.

How did you decide that the Phluid Project was your next calling? How has it been to be an entrepreneur in the social justice space?

The Phluid Project, GET Phluid and The Phluid Phoundation are a natural extension of what I was doing prior to becoming an entrepreneur by merging my profession (retail) and my passion (social justice). I’m living the life that I always dreamed of by merging my own beliefs with a broader cause for social justice and conscious capitalism. The time certainly is on my side with a collective awakening around the world to uplift underrepresented and marginalized communities. Responsible companies are leaning in and partnering with me and the Phluid team to create inclusive fashion, educate and train on the expansiveness of gender identity and expression, and give back to communities in need. Essentially, I am helping to break down dated constructs, language and prejudices that have existed for centuries and help to create a new social code that is more inclusive and allows for each person to explore and celebrate their authentic selves without anyone telling us what we can or cannot do or be. After four years and approaching 57, I feel like I’m just getting started. 

ROAR into the second half of your life (before it's too late)

Meet the Author

Michael Clinton is a best-selling author, new longevity expert, thought leader, and keynote speaker on the changing face of what it means to live longer. He is also a writer-at-large for Esquire, and regular columnist for Men’s Health. A former president and publishing director of Hearst Magazines, he now serves as the special media advisor to the Hearst Corporation’s CEO.

He is also a photographer, has traveled through 124 countries, has run marathons on 7 continents, has started a nonprofit foundation, is a private pilot, is a part owner of a vineyard in Argentina, holds two master’s degrees, and still has a long list of life experiences that he plans to tackle.