Working for Yourself to Make Life Better for Others
I know that not every partnership I enter into and every business I start is destined for longevity, much less forever, but every one of them is important to me. I am tempted to regard my businesses as more than just “important.” To me, they are very special because, in them, I feel I have not only created profitable enterprises but have fully realized my intention of helping others and making a positive impact on the world we share.
Most of us go “into business for ourselves” precisely because we want to go into business for ourselves as opposed to working for a boss or an owner or a bunch of stockholders. But my experience has taught me that the best reason for going into business for yourself is to make life better for others. Making other people’s lives better will determine whether your business will be profitable and a success, both financially and in terms of your own personal satisfaction.
Helping others, serving others, solving the problems of clients and customers—that’s what entrepreneurship is all about. Make no mistake. Making money is necessary to business, but despite what the hedge fund managers and venture capital “operators” might tell you, making money is not the purpose of business.
If you achieve the real purpose of business, if you help others—your partners and your customers—by delivering extraordinary value, then you will create the relationships and the trust that will build your business, and as a byproduct of this higher pursuit, you will make money. But money is a byproduct, not the point.
If your only mission in life and business is to make money, you risk two things.
First, in this narrow pursuit, you may very easily lose your soul—whatever “soul” means to you. To me, soul speaks of the highest human values: respect, trust, empathy, and love. It’s true that these values don’t show up as line items on a balance sheet, but they’re there all the same, and they show up in your life and ultimately in your business.
Second, if your main mission is to make money for yourself, you will probably fail. Not because somebody up there is punishing you, but because no customer or potential customer cares whether you make money. Of course you care. But, by definition, business is never a solo act. It requires people—plural—to exchange value for value. You need to provide value for money. If you focus exclusively on getting money, you’re focusing exclusively on yourself. If you do that, don’t be surprised if you don’t get anywhere. But if you focus on creating value for others, you have a fair chance of receiving value in return.
The thing is, “value”—sustainable value—cannot be reduced to dollars and cents. It is far more meaningfully defined in terms of making someone else’s life better. The more you multiply this value, the more successfully your business and your life.
Adapted from Fran Tarkenton’s book, The Power of Failure: Succeeding in the Age of Innovation