From The Relunctant Entrepreneur: The Why Factor
The sun is shining, everyone is on summer vacation, and you are stuck here, at the office, having to once again attack that endless to-do list for your business. Why did I start this whole thing to begin with? You think to yourself. It would be so much easier and less stressful if I went back to my corporate 9-to-5 job.
It is in these moments when you are overwhelmed, exhausted, longing for a summer vacation, and avoiding all your boring administrative tasks, where you have to really dig deep into what keeps you going on days when all you want to do is escape to a tropical island.
When demotivation, tiredness and burnout threaten to derail the progress you’ve made, it helps to think about what set you on this journey to begin with. The ‘why factors’ behind your entrepreneurial inception can be visualized as foundational ‘stones of memory’: emotional building blocks that you can reflect on and re-examine when the moment calls for it.
When I’m struggling through those tired and busy days, half-tempted to call it quits with entrepreneurship, I always take out my favorite three stones of remembrance to remind myself of why I believe in my company, Barefoot Love Collective.
The first relates to how the entrepreneurial seed was planted in the first place. My students were looking for a product to sell in order to fundraise for their student organization, the Social Justice Club. I created some postcards for this purpose, and after that weekend, they came back excitedly to tell me, “Ms. So, everyone loves your cards! We made double what we had listed the price as!”
In that moment, I realized that there was a market for my products, and that people were eager to buy beautiful and meaningful items. This paradigm shift was my first stone, and it showed me that not only are people capable of giving back, they are looking for ways to give back through their purchases.
As I designed and created custom cards that Christmas with the hope of making a profit, I wanted to focus my efforts on making a difference to the life of just one person in Hong Kong. I set myself a target of HK$1500 to give to one person as a reminder that they were not forgotten, and that this money was to go towards their personal hopes and dreams.
The money ended up in the hands of a Pakistani refugee. As we met and exchanged stories, we were both inspired by each other. Him, by a random person giving him money with no strings attached. Me, by hearing about his perseverance and hope, even while living in Hong Kong–a place that does not offer asylum, and where refugees wait 10+ years on average to find their new home.
This is my second stone of remembrance: no matter how big or small my enterprise becomes, I want to focus on one person to invest in, collaborate with, or give back to. If what I am doing is continuing to make a sustainable impact on just one person, I know it is worth my blood, sweat, and tears.
My last stone of remembrance, the one that really drives the ‘why factor’ for me, is the awareness that creativity can make a difference: promoting creativity positively impacts the world around me, and engaging in creative processes takes me to my happy place.
When my friend wanted a custom design for her new album cover, not only were we able to dream up a visual representation of her music together, but the profits from that work went to a single mom in Mongolia. For that Mongolian mother, who lives in the inner-city ger district, the money came just in time for paying school fees, with a little left over to get her daughter a birthday cake.
When I learned how creativity had met the practical needs of this family, and how simply doing something I love had made such an impact, I started to really acknowledge the privilege I had been taking for granted. To me, it was art and design. On the other end of the equation, it meant continuing education, and giving a single mother the means to make her child happier. When I realized this, I didn’t need any other motivation to start my business.
These three memory stones remind me of the steps I took when started Barefoot Love Collective, and the reasons behind the strong conviction that drives me every day. Remembering my beginnings helps me to stay the course, and also helps to weed out unhelpful critiques or suggestions from others that might sway me from my original path.
On the days when I feel overwhelmed, these stones offer me the stability and optimism I need to persevere. Take some time and think back to your three foundational stones of remembrance–what’s your ‘why factor’?