IT FINALLY BECAME CLEAR AS TO WHY I STARTED MY BUSINESS!
What’s interesting, is that I reached this epiphany though, long after I had actually started my business!
Now you might be thinking that this is not how its done, and to some degree you are right.
However, over the years sharing my story with other entrepreneurs and founders, I have discovered something quite profound.
It doesn’t really matter whether the initial reason or driver for starting your business is your “why”, or it comes later!
What does matter is this…
At some point on your entrepreneurial journey, you do need to get to a place where you have a compelling “why”, if you are to be in this, for the long run.
If you don’t get this, you will not succeed because there is nothing there to sustain you.
What this means then, is that your “why” needs to be visceral.
It needs to be on a level that you are deeply connected with what you are doing and the difference or contribution you are making, or will be making and whenever you are speaking about your business, others can see, hear and feel your passion and conviction.
Now of course this means different things to different people.
Just think about Richard Branson and Bill Gates – both very different personalities, though successful entrepreneurs.
That’s because it’s got to be you – your authentic self, and sometimes that takes a lot of deep soul searching to really find out what that is for you.
BEWARE OF FALSE GODS
Because there are complications in seeking your “why”, and it is these same complications that initially prevented me from reaching clarity about the reasons for starting my own business, let alone scaling it.
Simply, there are false gods that will distract you from your real path!
What I am talking about are the things that you think are important or matter, but are actually only superficial.
For example, collecting job titles are misinterpreted as real achievements, when in reality, they are often influenced by our ego.
Also, while there are things that motivate you to move away from (like a mean boss) that gets you to take initial action do serve a purpose, it is the things that pull you forward to a place you would rather be is what is essential for your entrepreneurial journey in the longer term.
Much of this of course can be put down to what Tony Robbins describes as motivators of “pain & pleasure” and “the six human needs”, in which one or two of these six needs will be more dominant for you.
For example, for me it was initially about “significance” and “variety” that drove me to do what I do.
However, only when I started to reflect on the bigger picture, I realised it was more about “growth” and ultimately “contribution” that I was really seeking – it just took a lot of years of living to figure that one out!
So, this very personal journey of mine in self-awareness of “why” I started and continue to grow & scale my business, led me to realise that there are basically three steps to figure all this out…
THE 3 STEPS TO DEFINING YOUR “WHY”
Step 1 – What’s Your Big Dream (Vision)
The first step you need to do, is to figure out what your “big dream” is. You vision.
Now what I mean by this is, what is it that you can see (or visualise) yourself doing in your future? What do you want to become? What are you prepared to stand up for?
It’s a relatively simple question, but not easy to answer if that makes sense because you must give yourself time to reflect and maybe even experience a few things until you arrive at your understanding of what this is for you.
Remember, this is about you and your dream, not somebody else’s, because it is your guiding beacon to keep you focused that aspires you to move forward!
What’s your big dream?
Step 2 – What’s Your Reason For Living (Purpose)
The term “ikigai” combines two Japanese words: iki (生き) meaning “life or alive” and kai (甲斐) meaning “worth or benefit” to arrive at “a raison d’etre” – or reason for living.
It is also in the culture of Okinawa, where ikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning” – a reason to enjoy life.
Because ultimately, we want to take your “big dream” and craft it in a way where it is your Profession, your Vocation, your Passion, and your life Mission.
What’s your “philosophy of life” (your purpose)?
Step 3 – What’s The Impact You Will Make (Mission)
Last for step three, is to think about what sought of impact specifically, that you want to make.
For example, Rotary International with later support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, mission is to eliminate polio from the face of the planet. In comparison, a client of The Startup Business, is working to provide affordable green energy solutions in their region, knowing that they are playing a role in reducing global carbon emissions.
What’s your mission?
These three steps work together to provide you with the necessary clarity as you start, setup, scale, and sustain your business into the future.
HOW I FINALLY DISCOVERED MY “WHY”
I said earlier that I discovered my “why” for starting my business long after I actually started it.
Where this happened though, was even more surprising…
Flowing through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, & Vietnam, the Mekong River is the twelfth longest river in the world.
There I was, travelling solo along this great river delta through Cambodia, hitching a ride on an old fishing boat, with the hot sun beating down on me and the noise and smell of a diesel motor running constantly in the background.
Nevertheless, I could quietly reflect on the landscape passing by. Rice paddies, banana plantations, small villages with their houses built on ten-metre-high stilts, women washing clothes, men fixing nets, children swimming.
At this very peaceful moment of sitting back and observing life go by, I was suddenly struck by a sense of lack of satisfaction from what I had been doing professionally.
You see, much was around achieving things, but in all reality, little fulfilling. For years I had been helping businesses become more efficient but doing this and working for somebody else which typically meant trade-offs and even at times, compromising on my personal values.
So in that moment of great clarity on the Mekong River, I thought what if I keep doing what I am really good at, but on my terms, not on somebody else’s, and focus only on the types of projects and initiatives that I am really passionate about that can make a long lasting contribution to society… maybe even the planet?
I then wrote in my diary “I want to live and contribute, anywhere, at any time”.
While these words may not mean anything to you, they serve as the foundation, of my “why”, and what drives me today.
What drives you?
IMAGINE KNOWING THAT EVERY DAY YOU ARE MAKING AN IMPACT
I fundamentally believe that we all have a purpose. We are all here to make a contribution. We are here to make a difference. In a positive way. It’s just that you may not know what it is right now.
But imagine, if today you did know what your “why” is. Do you think that could make a difference to where you and your business is currently at?
I believe it would, and that’s why I am so passionate in sharing these ideas because it made a huge difference for me and my business.
You see, I believe in Learn, Lead, Legacy and being a force for good.
Because you must continue to Learn today as we are living in ever-changing and disruptive times.
But of course, learning and not stepping up, is not an option today. As much as this may take you out of your comfort zone, you must step up and Lead, and when you do, you lead by example.
You be the standard that others look up to
Lastly, and most importantly to us, is what we do. Because what we seek to achieve is to be sustainable and to make a difference, an impact, a Legacy.
That’s why we do what we do.
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How many times have you heard that question being asked?
Perhaps you have said it yourself?
I certainly have.
I believe now after all these years, it’s the wrong question you need to ask yourself.
I will get to that in a moment, but first, I recall a conversation I had years ago with my sister.
I am not sure how it came about, but it was along the lines of wouldn’t it be great if suddenly a bolt of lightning hit us (metaphorically of course) that allowed us to be transformed in understanding why and what we are here for and it somehow empowered us to pursue that?
Like in John Travolta’s movie “Phenomenon”. Did you see it?
I won’t spoil it for you as you should see it for yourself, but in the film, he, as George Malley, becomes very clear as to who he is. That’s what I am talking about!
Being clear, being focused.
However possibly I am asking for too much. This instant gratification, if you call it that, only happens in the movies doesn’t it – or maybe not…
Perhaps it can happen to anyone at any time, but why it seems so hard is that we are either asleep or are looking in the wrong direction from where we should be.
As I said, asking ourselves the wrong questions.
In 1993 (yes if you were born in that year you would be 22 years old today with a life a head of you) by pure chance and random events, I came across a book that would have unforeseen future ramifications for me.
It was not my book, but I asked to borrow it as I was heading overseas. My friend Janet said “get your own” as she was still reading it. So with only a day before my flight’s departure, I managed to buy a copy.
That book captivated me.
Not only was I learning new ways to see the world, it started to challenge some of my perceived views about who I was and what I was capable of doing in my life.
However, it was the author’s words in the introduction of the book that resonated most with me…
We all have dreams… We all want to believe deep down in our souls that we have a special gift, that we can make a difference, that we can touch others in a special way, and that we can make the world a better place
While my trip through France, Switzerland, Germany and Poland was to see new places as my train journeyed across West and the newly opened East Europe (since the recent fall of the Berlin Wall), this book instead, had me travelling internally in my mind as I thought about the possibilities of my life in front of me – all at the “young” age of 31!
When I returned back home to Sydney, I caught up with my friend Janet and told her about how much of an impact this book had on me. She then told me that the author of the book would be in Sydney the next week running a seminar.
I had to be there and somehow, I managed to get a ticket, despite the late notice.
Well of course many of you would have put it together by now, the author was Tony Robins and his book was Awaken The Giant Within.
I attended his seminar and I went on to attend his advanced programs over the next two years. The experience certainly shaped me, but was it really the thunderbolt that I was seeking?
You see for me, I went back to sleep. I became comfortable. I had a good job. Life was OK. I stopped asking the important questions that I should have kept doing.
However, I continued to read and learn, particular biographies – Ghandi, Victor Frankl, Nelson Mandela, Lech Wałęsa, Aung San Suu Kyi and even just recently, Malala Yousafzai. All of their stories incredibly inspirational.
At the same time, life presented ups and downs, but these stories gave me the strength to keep moving forward, to keep searching, to keep stepping up.
The stories gave me new perspectives and new beliefs in what is possible for the human condition, despite the deepest depths we can all fall too.
Several years ago I even had the most humbling experience to visit Robin Island off Cape Town and stand in the same cell that Mandela had been kept in for all those years – just look at what he overcame!
So now after 22 years since reading Tony Robins’ book, I have “woken up” again. But this time it is different.
You see I was asking myself the wrong questions.
It’s not about “what I want to do in life”.
It has to be “how can I contribute and make a difference” – the very same words that Tony wrote which hooked me in the first place all those years ago – it is just that I did not really understand it then!
It is not about taking, it is about giving.
In my businesses today, it is about the value I can give and the role of my businesses play in all this that drives me. This is my purpose and life’s work now.
Being clear, being focused.
So do you need to take 22 years like me as well?
Well I can’t answer that. Maybe you need more time. It’s up to you.
My only wish for you, is for you to not sell out on yourself.
Maintain a higher expectation on you, than anyone would expect of you – a higher standard and then, hold yourself to account.
While you may never know whether long after you are gone, you are remembered because that does not matter. What is important is whether today, right now you are making a difference, a contribution and working towards making the world a better place.
Then, it is my belief you will find yourself in that place as I find myself today.
The family of four, had finished dinner and now the older teenaged daughter Katherine was in her room doing her homework while her sister Julia, was practicing her guitar lessons. In the kitchen, Shane was helping Claire putting away the dishes.
Perceiving something that Shane was not his jovial self, Claire asked “What’s wrong Shane?”
“Nothing!” Shane said as he frowned.
“Come on Shane, you have barely spoken all night, what is it?” Claire asked again.
“Well, you know that job promotion I was after? It did not happen. Apparently I am not the right fit. They think I am doing a good job at what I am doing now, but they have found somebody better. I know we had a lot of plans, but I guess that’s all fallen through now.”
“Look Shane, there will be other opportunities, don’t get all hung up about it”, Claire replies reassuringly.
“You know the sad thing is that when I was younger, I said to myself, I would never sell out. I had dreams. Like remember when we met?”
“Well you were a bit of a dreamer Shane, but I still married you didn’t I!”
“Yes Clare, but what happened? It’s like we are doing the same thing day by day.”
“Shane, we are no different to any other family like look at your sister’s family or your brother’s family? Even the neighbours.”
“But that’s my point, it just seems like everyone around us has chosen this life, but I still feel there has to be much much more.”
Do you know somebody like Shane, maybe somebody perhaps with similar traits as yourself? Living a comfortable life with a close family all around him, but for some reason he has lost his enthusiasm or direction. In many ways, he has lost his purpose.
If you knew Shane, what would you advise him? Would you say to him that this is life, this is as good as it gets? Just like with Jim Carrey in the movie The Truman Show?
Or would you suggest to Shane that perhaps it is for him to find a deeper sense of purpose or meaning, something that ignites his spirit, that connects him to others in a way that he has never experienced before? A way to fulfil his (and his families) six human needs as Tony Robbins defines – certainty, variety, connection, significance, contribution, growth?
Would Shane be ready to hear what you have to say?
A month later the Simon’s were attending a family barbeque. Shane’s brother Karl and his family were also there, as well as a friend of Karl’s, Tim. Tim had his own business that he had set up several years ago and after a difficult start, things were really going well for him now. As the afternoon went on, the conversation shifted from sports, to children to what’s happening at work.
“You were going have your own business weren’t you Shane? I thought by now you would of got tired of your job and went out on your own?” asked Karl.
“I was probably not as brave as you Karl! Besides, I have probably left it too late!” Shane says, as he reaches for his drink and tries to change the subject.
“Come on that’s got nothing to do with it. It’s about finding something you really want and then going for it. No matter what that is. Of course there are unknowns, but equally there is the big unknown that if you keep doing what you have already done you will get what you have always got!”
“Did you know Shane that, Ray Kroc started MacDonald’s in his 50’s, Colonial Sanders was in his 60’s and in fact Charles Darwin published his book the Origin Of The Species when he was 50? Even Samuel Jackson was 46 years old, recovering from cocaine and heroin addiction before got his break with John Travolta in Pulp Fiction!”
“I mean these are people who made it big, but there are also thousands more who are unsung heroes who are making it every day in all circumstances”
“Its not about having left it too late Shane. Its about you figuring out what you want to do – what your life is going to be. There is nobody else but yourself that can figure that one out”
“Perhaps you just need a wakeup call to get on with it?” Karl said.
Little did Shane realise but the conversion with Karl that afternoon burned inside Shane’s deeper consciousness. It hurt bad. But it was good as well. Like it’s what Shane’s teenage daughters would say, you know what I mean bad is good and good is bad etc!
That evening, Shane was not his usual jovial self again…
He was different.
In fact it was as though something had awakened from a very deep sleep. Something Shane had forgotten about, or had given up on.
Bear with me for a moment, but do you think it is possible to learn new things?
Do you think it is possible to learn new things regardless of your age, your gender, your culture, your abilities, your location, your financial status, your health status? Do you think this is possible?
Perhaps somethings we can learn, are relatively straight forward and others are more complex. Maybe you want to learn how to fold a shirt in less than five seconds, well there is a YouTube video on that. Maybe you want to learn about quantum physics, yes another YouTube video.
But maybe somewhere in between those two examples we hear ourselves saying: “I could never do that”. To me that is worse than: “You could never do that”.
This is why having a sense of purpose is so important.
So if you are contemplating starting a business, or you are in the process of setting one up, or are well on your way with an established business, it is critically important for you to have a clear understanding of why you are doing this.
In corporations, Mission, Vision and Values Statements are used:
Mission – what are we (the business) about?
Vision – what are we (the business) going to ultimately accomplish?
Values – how will we (the business) accomplish goals?
Mission The mission statement of a business justifies and explains its reason for existence. As the business’s purpose, the mission should guide everything the business. At every organizational level, individuals can use the mission to evaluate priorities. If a proposed course of action doesn’t further the mission, it shouldn’t be pursued.
Vision A business’s vision is its ultimate goal, its interpretation what success will look like in the future when the company accomplishes its purpose. The vision statement translates the mission’s statement of purpose into a specific destination that implies or explicitly states action. The business’s vision shapes the business’s long term or strategic goals or objectives.
Values Values are the defined principles in how the business will go about conducting itself in order to achieve its Mission and Vision. In all my businesses, the core values are Learn Lead Legacy. These are also underpinned by my Ethical Principles and Sustainability Practices (some businesses may have similar but is written as a Code of Conduct). I have written them because they are important to me and re-inforce my Mission and Vision.
Goals Then and only then, once we are clear on our purpose (our Mission, Vision and Values) then we can define our strategic objectives or goals. The goals fulfil the business’s strategic plan. They take at least a year — often several years.
Short-term goals, the business’s tactical objectives, take up to a year to achieve. Every tactical objective that is completed brings the business closer to fulfilling its strategic goals.
Operational goals deal with day-to-day operations, carrying out tactics on the front line. Employees bring them to completion in a single day, a week or a month.
Now in talking to many of my clients and other entrepreneurs and business owners, I see that we often jump straight into operational goals. However I think the more time you spend figuring out your Mission, Vision and Values, you will be more energised to drive the required outcomes from your goals at a later stage. You will be more empowered and focused to make better decisions in the longer term. Considering many of these decisions are financial, getting it wrong could be catastrophic for you – something you definitely do not want to do.
So how can you do this?
Well I would suggest the following…
First, find time and a space that you will not be disturbed. In fact perhaps a space where you may feel inspired. It is essential that you are in your optimal emotional state for this.
Second, get hold of what every writing or capturing instrument that you enjoy – for me I use the Moleskine coloured note books (different colours for different themes) and one of my favourite pens.
Third, write and keep writing. Start with your purpose and then keep adding to it. Do not be judgemental at this stage. The objective is to get your thoughts down and then you can start to organise them further.
Fourth, be patient – this does take time, may be months. However the outcome will be linking you emotionally to your purpose of why you are wanting to set up or scale up or sustain your business – perhaps one that will be your legacy.
Finally, if you are still struggling and find that voice inside you says: “I could never do this”, well make sure you learn how to fold a shirt in five seconds, then if you have to, progress to quantum physics. Because I am convinced that somewhere in between you will be up and running!
Imagine if you will, somebody offering you the answer to the meaning of life. Would you listen? Would you take action in what you learn?
What if knowing the answer could fundamentally change who you are and where you are heading? In fact it drives you forward, guiding you, lifting your spirits when times are hard and grounding you when things are going well.
Well the answer I believe is a personal one and comes from within you and sometimes it takes work to discover what this really is. But when you do, man you are on fire, you are energised, its like you are unstoppable.
When you do not have this however, its like, well it is all too hard, you give up, you start accepting your place in the world, you accept mediocracy and in my view, you sell out on your potential and everyone loses then.
This also translates into business. I have seen business owners forgetting why they got into business in the first place and then wonder why they struggle, or why their business is in decline. The passion is gone. But it even goes beyond business, to sporting teams, to townships and communities and of course when things are appearing to be in decline it is hard to change this. Its like it then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But change is something we must do and what I am talking about here is having a sense of purpose.
A sense of purpose is having a grand idea bigger than yourself that is so compelling that you become awake and you awaken those around you with this whole grand idea… a purpose is what we all need.
I am fairly focused in my businesses at the moment, but I got to say there are always new distinctions to be made.
You see, over the last week I have been reading about the United Nations coming together to agree on the seventeen global goals for sustainability:
World Leaders have committed to 17 Global Goals to achieve 3 extraordinary things in the next 15 years. End extreme poverty. Fight inequality & injustice. Fix climate change. The Global Goals for sustainable development could get these things done. In all countries. For all people. (http://www.globalgoals.org)
Achieving these goals over the next fifteen years will not be easy, but as I reflected upon them I thought, what if they are achieved and how might the world be – better? Well of course it must be better if millions of people are not living in extreme poverty and there is greater equality and the threat of climate change is understood and mitigated.
Then I thought, what is my role, what can I do to support these goals? That’s when I go the crazy idea…
What if I hold myself and my businesses accountable to these seventeen goals over the next fifteen years? What if I report on progress each year to what I and my businesses have done in supporting them? What if I am fully transparent in my success and failures – no spin, just straight talk and action?
What if I then in parallel, share this to other people and encourage them to do the same? What if this starts to take momentum and more people come on board, more businesses do this as well – startups, micro businesses, and small to medium sized business. Could this be possible? Could this help to achieve these goals?
Well this is no longer an idea… because I have committed to do this today and while my purpose has been clear to me for some time, this thinking has changed the game and now I must step up. You see my vision and purpose now is much bigger than myself and while that is incredibly scary it is now driving me with a deeper sense of conviction and urgency to work hard and achieve it.