Alumni Profile

April Rinne: Flux Capacitor

Instead of resisting the world’s constant state of change, Emory alumna and futurist April Rinne 96C wants you to embrace it.

Portrait of April Rinne

As a young child, April Rinne used to sit at the kitchen table and pore over the details of a world map placemat as she ate breakfast.

Her father, a cultural geographer and teacher, liked to sit with her and quiz her on the capitals of far-flung countries. She’ll never forget how he repeatedly told her that the world was bigger than her backyard and that she should explore it.

Years later, Rinne found herself in Mongolia, a nation of nomadic peoples where most of the population moves and rebuilds their homes up to three times a year — usually in harmony with the seasons. Living like that would evoke fear and anxiety in most Americans.

Yet Mongolians embrace this frequent upheaval of their lives and belongings. It’s a central part of their nomadic lifestyle and culture that is fundamentally resilient, she says.

Rinne sees this as an example of what she calls a flux mindset. “Flux is not just a different word for change,” she says. “It’s a specific type of change: the constant, continuous change of the world all around us. And flux is not just a noun. It's also a verb. It’s the process of becoming fluid in response to change. Our world is in flux, and we need to learn how to flux.”

She says that adopting a flux mindset is the ability to see all change — good or bad, loved or hated, expected or unwelcomed — as an opportunity and not a threat. “It’s change that whacks you sideways, and you have to deal with it whether you like to or not,” she adds. “Most people fear this change, resist it, pretend it away, avoid it. But those with a flux mindset embrace it.”

Over the years, Rinne has learned to embrace change in all its forms. A personal tragedy while she was a student at Emory shook her up and led her down an unexpected, unconventional life path that’s taken her all over the Earth.

She’s been a Fulbright Scholar, international tour guide, lawyer, microfinance expert, global development executive, entrepreneur, and adviser to organizations of all shapes and sizes — start-ups, international governments, think tanks, nonprofits, and major corporations like Nike and Airbnb. For all her work, she was named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and ranked one of the “50 Leading Female Futurists” on the planet by Forbes.

Her debut book Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change takes in all the things Rinne’s learned along her journeys to help others rethink their approach to change and uncertainty. She explores many counterintuitive ideas, like how slowing down can make us more productive and appreciative. Or how letting go of the future can rid us of the illusion that we can control it. Interwoven through the book’s eight core lessons — or superpowers as she likes to call them — reside some deeply personal stories that ground her ideas in the daily challenges of life.

From Tragedy, a New Path

Rinne spent much of her childhood in Colorado, and she came to Emory primarily for the adventure of getting out of her comfort zone. “When I chose Emory, I wanted a college experience where I knew nobody and nobody knew me,” Rinne says.

She first visited campus in early March of her senior year of high school, leaving behind frigid and snowy weather in Colorado. “I landed in Atlanta, and the dogwoods and azaleas were in bloom,” Rinne says. “Walking across campus, I thought I’d been transported to heaven. I had a sixth sense Emory was going to be very good for me.”

Her freshman and sophomore years flew by. She did well in her classes, played intramural sports and worked at the Dobbs University Center. For her junior year, she got an opportunity to participate in Emory’s unique exchange program with Oxford University in England and fulfill her dream of living in another country. It was a dream that her parents also had strongly encouraged her to pursue.

But after a tremendous year abroad, and on the last day of Oxford’s tutorials, Rinne received a phone call that upended her future. “I had gone back to my flat to pack to leave — not for home, but for Rome, Italy,” Rinne says. “I was supposed to join an Emory study abroad trip and serve as the student assistant because I spoke Italian.”

Her sister, Allison, was on the other end of the call. “April, are you sitting down?” she asked. “I need you to sit down. Something horrible has happened. Mom and dad were killed in a car accident. You need to come home.”

In shock, Rinne jetted back to the U.S. She helped her sister and family deal with the funeral and all the issues that had to be sorted out. She took a semester off from her college classes and then returned to Emory in January to finish her undergraduate degree.

The university, she says, stepped up in a number of ways to help her. Her Italian studies professor Judy Raggi Moore and her family informally adopted Rinne, and they all remain close to this day.

“Judy stepped into a role I never could have imagined,” Rinne says, “She also put out a kind of Bat Signal at Emory, and other faculty members and classmates rallied to make sure I was doing okay and had everything I needed.”


“In order to survive I had to expand my peripheral vision of life. Today, I have a far larger family of choice than I would have had if my parents had lived. In losing my parents, I gained a community.”

April Rinne, TedX Talk, November 2019

To cope with her grief, Rinne found herself focusing on her studies — they were an escape from her growing anxieties. “I was forced to grow up fast, and I took my coursework very seriously. At the same time I was asking myself, at just 20 years old, existential questions like, ‘If I died tomorrow, did I do all the things I wanted to do?’ and ‘Does my life matter? Did I make a difference?’ ”

After graduation, Rinne deferred PhD programs at Stanford and Harvard to accept a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Italy for a year. Instead of following advice to further her studies or enter a career on Wall Street, she chose to reevaluate her option. “I needed to hit pause, or I would have headed toward some kind of nervous breakdown,” she says. “And the world did not need me to get a PhD. I knew it needed me to do something else that I had yet to discover.”

So when given the chance, Rinne took a left turn. She signed on with Butterfield and Robinson Luxury Travel to guide hiking and biking tours across Europe, which she says remains among the most extraordinary chapters in her book of life. Originally, she thought this tangent was only going to last a year, maybe two — to clear her head, to satisfy her wanderlust — but she spent the better part of four wondrous years without a permanent address, she says.

“Some people were really concerned about me and my mental health, and that I was throwing my career opportunities away,” Rinne says. “But I knew I was doing the right thing for me. Looking back on my career, it was still the best job I ever had even though I got paid far less than what I would’ve earned on Wall Street.”

Most important, it gave her exposure to the broader world and its problems. “I started learning about economic development, sustainability, and the disconnects between the developed world and countries that were struggling,” she says. “And I started to build a plan for the next chapter of my life.”

She came back to the US and finally went to graduate school for an interdisciplinary joint degree, earning a juris doctorate from Harvard Law School and a master of arts from the Fletcher School at Tufts University. She leveraged her love of travel and all she learned along the way into purposeful work.

As a lawyer, she learned about capital markets and became an expert in microfinance. She became global director of’s WaterCredit initiative — rubbing elbows with co-founder Matt Damon — and helped improve water and sanitation needs in India, Kenya, and Peru, among others. She served on the board of directors of the World Wide Web Foundation and became an in-demand adviser to a wide variety of organizations, eventually working full time for herself as the CEO and chief change navigator of April Worldwide.

Many of her clients hire her to use her knowledge and expertise to peer into the future, to anticipate where the world is heading. “I try to be practical and tangible in addressing what changes might be coming down the road and how we can embrace them,” Rinne says. “A lot of being a so-called futurist isn’t about having all the answers, but instead preparing organizations to have a flux mindset.”

From Fixed to Flux

Rinne believes that, especially in modern years, humans have developed the misplaced belief that they can predict and control the future, and shape change through sheer willpower.

In her experiences and observations, however, she has found exactly the opposite to be true. Not that the world is out of control, but that change is everywhere — constant, continuous — and we shouldn’t keep trying to fight it.

Her new book aims to guide that mental switch. “It is meant to be equal parts a guidebook for personal transformation and an antidote to change management manuals,” she says. “It’s my love letter to the future, and if I do die tomorrow — which I have no intention of doing! — I will feel very good knowing that it’s out there in the world and can be used even without me. It’s my ultimate way of letting go.”

She believes that letting go of the future is the essential difference between people who thrive and crumble under the weight of the world’s flux. It’s a “surrendering” much like the yoga principle of aparigraha, which teaches us to not be greedy — whether it’s for materialistic things or control, says Rinne, who on top of everything else, is also a certified yoga instructor.

“And like yoga, a flux mindset often requires the same presence and mindfulness,” she says. “While we’re grappling with existential changes such as what’s going to happen to our world in terms of tolerance, or democracy, or our ability to connect as humans, we need to learn to embrace that mindfulness as we search for answers. I fundamentally believe that if we can embrace the flux superpowers like starting with trust and being more human to better serve humanity, we’re all going to have a brighter tomorrow.”

Published in late August, Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change by April Rinne is available at most major booksellers.

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