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Adam Sherlip: an unconventional life

By Posted in - Interviews on May 28th, 2014 Adam_Sherlip_headshot
Adam Sherlip has choosen a path that has taken him across the country and around the world in pursuit of numerous projects, interests, and passions. From teaching ice hockey to young people in northern India, to launching a number of startups, to his online musings on outdoor gadgetry, Adam rarely stands still. And at 30 he’s still getting his stride. My recent conversation with him touched on the work of his 501(c)(3)—The Hockey Foundation, his life with tea and his thoughts on the future of solar power.
Avi David Edelson, Traverse

Avi David Edelson: When we first met about four years ago you had just launched The Hockey Foundation. What is The Hockey Foundation and why should the world take notice?

Adam Sherlip: While it was formalized as a not-for-profit in New York State that year, the idea had been developing for quite some time. It first came to me during my time with the New York Islanders’s Project Hope initiative in China. Seeing the success of our work there, I later planned a trip to India where I worked as the ‘The Hockey Volunteer’. During my time in India it became clear that ice hockey could provide something truly unique, and that it could affect young people in a really positive way.

That opportunity, and the ones that came after, affirmed my feeling that an organization aimed at teaching life skills through hockey could have real impact. Playing hockey provides lessons in teamwork, accountability, personal responsibility and selflessness. It’s all part of the game. And, of course the toughness that’s required is incredibly important for personal development too. I was witnessing all these things coming through the kids as we played together. So, about a year later, following that first trip to India, I founded The Hockey Foundation with the goal of empowering youth, supporting community development and fostering international cooperation and understanding—and we’re doing it. We’re doing it through ice hockey.

Avi: And you’re doing it in India. What lessons do you think your experience as a hockey coach from the United States has for the youth you’re working with in India?

Adam: Our lessons on the ice promote ideals such as accountability, teamwork and selflessness. And through these things we become better people. Kids, and especially female players, realize that there’s a world filled with potential and opportunity available to them. These are lessons that transcend state and political boundaries. They also learn that what they do on the ice directly impacts what they do off the ice. That’s powerful. It’s what informs my work and the work of the foundation. I also hope our work helps them see that Americans are rarely how they’re portrayed in the news or in Hollywood movies. I want them to build a stronger emotional connection to the U.S. – and Canada – through the efforts of The Hockey Foundation.

Avi: You are also a technologist. And, actually, that’s how we met. Through your expertise with new technology. How does your background with technology inform the work you are doing in India—a rapidly modernizing country?

Adam: I was listening to the BBC the other morning and they were talking about ‘the’ tech industry. The first thought I had was, there is not tech industry. One time, maybe. But today there are many tech industries. We are going to get to a point where nearly everything is going to be part of a tech industry. Technology is now a part of life. Of course, there is a beauty in being off the grid; everyone should have an appreciation of that. I’m lucky—I have the opportunity to experience some of that remoteness every year when I go to the Himalayas. But all this technology is the future and it enables human development in ways that we could never have imagined a few decades ago. We would have a nearly impossible time living without our technology if we lost it all.

The fact that I can have conversations with people in India and keep in touch with friends and colleagues around the world is amazing. There are boundless opportunities through technology to make the analog more enriched. But you have to have a foundation to appreciate those analog things. I have a Kindle, which is wonderful and it’s convenient for my travel, but I still love books. Those are not mutually exclusive things and I think that’s a common error people make when they’re afraid of, or resistant to, technology. They think it is going to ruin things that aren’t tech and I think that is a false assumption. I think that it can enhance it—if you keep it in check.

Avi: Related to that, you’ve done a lot of work with solar power and mobile power. What do you think is going to be the future for those types of technologies?

Adam: It goes back to Moore’s Law, which relates to processors and hard drives. Moore’s contention was that about every eighteen months processors would get smaller, faster, and more efficient. I think that’s the case with solar, though it’s not happening at the same rate. It’s a different type of technology. While these developments won’t happen in the same way, they’ll definitely get more efficient—and ultimately we need that. Even though there is a carbon footprint to the batteries, and the minerals used for the panels, there are better methods coming on line all the time. The process is fascinating to me and we need to rely on it. In practical terms, it’s a limitless energy source unless you live in Delhi, Beijing or another one of those heavily polluted cities.

Avi: I’m going to switch gears slightly, since you brought up Delhi and Beijing. You’ve had a long relationship with tea—and, particularly teas from India. You’ve written about tea, you’ve been a tea rep. You’ve even done some tea consulting. So, where does this passion come from?

Adam: It comes from the nerdiest of places possible—Capt. Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He’d order ‘tea, earl grey, hot’ from the ship’s replicator and as a kid I thought that was amazing. So, I decided I wanted to drink what Capt. Picard was drinking. At first it was just something I did to entertain myself. But over the years it became part of my life, and eventually one of my passions. When I was just starting out professionally, I worked with both small and large tea companies, which gave me the opportunity to refine my knowledge and my interests. Later on, I did a lot of market and industry research, which provided the foundation for the tea consulting business I later started. And I’m still in the industry—here in New York City. Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water, before beer and coffee. It’s been with humanity for thousands of years and to me it’s life’s elixir. It gets me going. It’s energetic, it’s healing. It’s so many things.

Avi: I’m a coffee drinker. Is that a problem?

Adam: The problem with coffee is that there is a lot of it. So the price is going down and the farmers are making less money. There is a lot of governmental interference with coffee because it typically comes from corrupt and less stable countries. So there are obviously problems with that.

Avi: This conversation reminds me that as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always had a lot of projects going on at once. How do you keep it all straight?

Adam: I don’t know any other way. I have a lot of interests, I’ve got a lot of things that I consider myself very knowledgeable of, or close to expert on. And I value that. The thing that concerns me is that we’ve become a society that tries to silo people. There are kids in NYC who go to charter schools and specialty schools, and they know at 14 years old what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives. I don’t prescribe to that. I think that well-rounded people should always have a variety of interests, hobbies and passions.

Avi: Well, I know you have to run. Was there anything else you wanted to offer—thoughts, pearls of wisdom?

Adam: Yeah, sure. I spend a lot of time thinking about the experiences I’ve had throughout my life. There have been tough times, for sure, but I wouldn’t trade any of them. And, I realize that for some people the chaos is scary. Putting oneself in situations that are new and challenging can be unsettling. And while it’s never been easy, I’ve been very fortunate to have had the experiences I’ve had.

But, I also have to recognize the help I’ve gotten along the way. People have propped me up because of their enthusiasm and their passion for what I am doing. Family, friends, colleagues, even strangers. This has kept me going, and has propelled me forward with The Hockey Foundation. All the people who want to donate money and equipment because they believe in the mission reminds me why I launched it in the first place. And the truth is, it’s easy to forget the ‘why’ when you’re stuck doing the day-to-day things. What’s really amazing is that there are all these people who are in awe of the foundation and what I’m doing, but really, it is me who is in awe of them, because they want to support this mission. A mission I just happened to write down one day

Avi:—and devote part of your life to…

Adam: And my life has been changed forever because of The Hockey Foundation. And I’m appreciative of that. And I’m appreciative of the other things going on in my life that excite me. Hockey, tea, technology—these things will always be part of who I am. And the fact that I can still find time to do them is incredible. Even when I get two hours of sleep, and I’m running late, and have real world things to deal with, I’m still excited about these projects. I still look forward to the adventure of everyday life. And I think that translates to everything in my life. To consider it the adventure. And when you do that you can’t be disappointed; it’s all part of the experience. I try to remind myself of that. And I think I’m getting better at it.

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