I got an email from a PHD student at my Alma mater this week. She wants me to participate in a study that is analyzing where entrepreneurs are today, versus where they had planned to be when they started their business. I wrote back and said I’d be happy to participate, if the time commitment was minimal; what did she need my help with? She wrote back saying that to get started, all they needed was a copy of my original business plan.
I had to laugh. Hard. When I started my business, I didn’t have a plan. I had a dream. A dream that a twenty-two year old could build a multi-million dollar company from nothing. A dream to create something bigger than just myself. A dream to inspire others around me to do the same.
I knew I was supposed to have a plan, and I do have a notebook, with lots of notes on consultations from other entrepreneurs, internet research about the industry (it was really hard to come by internet research on the stationery industry). I think for years I had “write business plan” on my to-do list, and while it probably got started, I know it never got finished. I was too busy living my dream.
In the final chapters of Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, he talks about a conference he attended. In a room full of forty to fifty entrepreneurs, a speaker asked how many of them had achieved their financial goals. About 80% of the room raised their hands. The speaker then asked how many of them felt successful. About 80% of the hands went down.
Success doesn’t have anything to do with making money. Success comes when you are living your dream.
Looking back, I realize where I went wrong. At the peak of my success, things changed. It became about the money, instead of about the dream. I took my eyes off the reason I started the business, and I actively made the decision to turn it into some kind of corporate operation, because I thought that’s what you did. I thought that was how business ran. The price for this transition? Burnout. Frustration. Anxiety. Fear. All the very opposite of success.
I’ve been challenging myself for over a year now to return to my why–my original dream. It’s meant a huge amount of sacrifice. I’ve lost friendships, and as someone who doesn’t cry, I’ve shed countless tears over friendships that I thought were reciprocal, only to find out they were about status, or what I could do for them. It’s been detrimental to my brand, challenging to my principles, beyond straining for my pocketbook, and flat out exhausting at times.
But the dream is worth it.
Money doesn’t make a difference in people’s lives. Helping them find and live their dreams does. And that’s a difference I’m determined to make.