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Every New Year’s Eve, my mouth waters for Freedom Soup.

Freedom Soup is a traditional dish enjoyed every January 1st on Haitian Independence Day. This has been the tradition since General Toussaint Louverture led his people to freedom from the French in 1804.  

Soup Joumou, traditionally known in Haiti, was a forbidden dish during the French colonial period. Only enslavers could enjoy this savory soup made with Caribbean pumpkin – Joumou. After the enslaved people gained independence, they reclaimed the soup. 

This savory delight became a timeless symbol of a people’s freedom, independence, and dignity.

There was plenty of reason to crave freedom in 2022. 

My mom, sister, and aunt collaborate on making a big pot of freedom soup every new year.  

So, as I downed each spoon full of this medicine made from the stringy descendant of the gourd plant, I thought about freedom.   

Freedom from the grip of macroeconomic shifts brought on by the war in Ukraine. Freedom from the persistence of fossil fuels and the effects of climate change. Freedom from a Crypto apocalypse. Freedom from a closed capital market. Freedom from my demons. Freedom from the endless fires I was fighting as CEO.

And I wasn’t the only one fighting fires…

Every CEO wore wartime uniforms in the latter half of the year. We were all slaves to the challenges of running a company in a tumultuous environment. Capital dried up as the Fed raised interest rates. Layoffs ensued. Cash became king again. Phrases like “hunker down or shutdown” were en vogue.   

But then I remembered one thing while enjoying my second bowl of soup…  

Freedom comes from letting go. 

Letting go of the pains that come with the role. The CEO Journey is not a straight line.  It’s like a series of concentric circles in a field.  As we reach each new outer circle, we change. We learn to accept our weaknesses and leverage our strengths. Our habits build us up. And we get closer to mastery. 

How I Found Freedom in 2022

I turned 50 and started writing down my learnings since I came into the world wearing my birthday suit. I continued voracious reading last year and worked on my popular annual booklist

One book I read was David Goggins’s book, “Can’t Hurt Me.” I tried being David for a couple of months, and I think I broke my body– LOL. I am not nearly as antifragile as him.  

I also doubled down on journaling. I have used this daily routine for the past three years to process my thoughts and find gratitude. I also maintained my running practice. I continue to learn so much about myself through my long runs

I spent more time with family and friends and began to travel again – and like many, enjoyed the gift of COVID.

I joined a new CEO collective again. It was so helpful to me to connect with other leaders experiencing the same struggles I do. The Katahdin Group has a different approach from the prior one I participated in, led by Bouzha Cookman. We use a written case format to explore challenges faced each quarter and get feedback from our peers.  

I got to work with a fantastic group of people on a big problem. We built an Aspen Grove that helped catapult us into the forefront of a red-hot space — data centers powered by wasted renewable energy

I testified before Congress and rang the Nasdaq closing bell. I reconnected with my former assistant Jen Plourde – who later started a perfect service for CEOs. I enjoyed every day leading my team through thick and thin. It was a reminder that the best teams are built on trust, conflict, and commitment in that order. On a foundation of trust, anything is possible. Empathy and caring for your people are essential to being a CEO.

I ended my year returning to life as a wartime CEO. While I don’t particularly enjoy these times, my colleagues and friends often remind me that I am wired for it. I learned that your intelligence matters less in a crisis as time passes. Instead, solving impossible problems takes lateral thinking.

I doubled down on my meditation practice and even took a much-awaited journey of self-discovery influenced by the recent Netflix documentary and book by Michael Pollen, “How to Change Your Mind.” After that experience, I found freedom. I let go of the past and have a much better vision for the future.

This is my recipe for freedom. 

But Freedom Soup is not meant for one person to enjoy.  

Haitians have a saying, “manje kwit pa gen mèt.”  It means “cooked food has no owner”; it is intended to be shared.

It can feel lonely at times, working in the fields of a startup.

However, we CEOs are not alone.  

We all share a desire for mastery. As we journey through the concentric circles, We find more freedom as we work our way out from the center.  

I wish you the best of luck on your journey.

Work the fields with all your energy, and remember to let go and find freedom.

Enjoy your freedom soup.


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About the Author: John Belizaire

John is a versatile CEO and serial entrepreneur who has successfully founded, scaled multiple technology companies over a 20-year career. He is currently the CEO of Soluna, a company helping to shape the future of renewable energy and computing. Before Soluna, John was the founder and CEO of FirstBest, a transformative insurance software company acquired by Guidewire Software and Theory Center, an e-commerce software company acquired by BEA Systems. Before becoming an entrepreneur, John was the lead architect for Intel’s Digital Enterprise Group. John is on the advisory board of several software-as-a-service, data analytics, and insurtech startups. He is the Managing Editor of CEOPLAYBOOK Media LLC, an online publication full of sage advice for first-time founder CEOs. John is also a trustee of Harlem Academy, an independent school in New York.