"I didn't want to repeat my parents' life. I saw in their lives a routine and a lack of dreaming, a lack of the possibilities, a lack of passion. And I didn't want to live without passion."
-- Hugh Hefner
What makes an evangelical entrepreneur. He/she is a staple image of the technology world. They are everywhere, willing new worlds into being...Gates, Ellison, Jobs, Sergey & Co, the list goes on. For most entrepreneurs, day to day existence is much more practical and mundane. What drives this difference and what is the dangerous other side of that coin?
I came across the idea for this post in church this past Sunday. The sermon was on "Which Excellence" and started by diving into the escalating issue we all, as parents are facing...the race to the lowest denominator in which we uber-program our children earlier and earlier. A local Winnetka Wall Street Journal writer is quoted as saying:
"Every weekday morning this summer I have dropped my granddaughter off in front of the New Trier High School, in posh Winnetka, Illinois, with a slight feeling of depression...Yet I feel a slight sadness when I contemplate their (students') energy, their too-early-in-life resume building, all devoted to a path of success set out for them by others."
He goes on to talk about the Lutheran and Puritan work ethics that drove the initial creation of the country (matched by equally disciplined ethics from other religions and cultures over time). "Americans have always worked harder than everyone else, believing that their identity and self-worth depend on it." Entrepreneurs have this in spades as they are one step ahead of the undertaker in the dog-eat-dog worth of technology.
Hard work, discipline, maniacal focus are all key to successful entrepreneurship. However, evangelical entrepreneurs have something else, something that shields them from the daily grind and frequent disappointment. They are driven by a deep care, passion and moreover, often, love for what they are doing and, better yet, hoping to achieve.
Before you cast off this post as another 20,000 ft high touchy, feely drabble about passion, let me be specific. I am not saying that you need to be passionate about what you are doing because you likely are. I am saying that you need to be clear about what it is, exactly, that is the heart of that passion. Why did you jump into your current endeavor and what is the impact on the world that you hope to leave? Remember this, write it down and revisit because, just like the high school senior, as you get into the bowels of execution, very quickly it will become about small tactical achievements. It will become about amassing a resume of pseudo events and successes...many being defined by others. Inevitably, you will lose sight of what originally got you into the business to begin with and it will become about closing the next customer, getting the next press release and trying to make as much money as possible.
The issue here: just like with our kids, you risk burning out, losing touch with yourself and ending up winning the battle and losing the war. My simple advice is to care. Care about what you do. Care about the impact your business has on the world around it. Care about your employees. Care about your family. Care about helping others (you can still "care" about crushing your competition also...). Remember what drove the initial passion and why your cared about it. Most entrepreneurs, within a matter of a couple of years, lose sight of this. You can see it in their eyes. They have lost the Northern Star and are just grinding it out. They have little resilience and often, at this point, they burn out. They can often grow bitter of the "lot" that fate or the market cast their way. This does not need to happen if you continually revisit, remember and refresh. That Northern Star will drive others to see you more in an evangelical role than as a grinder.
Of course, this still leaves open the question about our kids and what society (and parents) are doing on that battlefront. I am torn daily between pushing my kids as hard as possible to succeed in an increasingly competitive world and letting them set their own pace and appreciation for what they do and what they care about. But, alas, that is for another post...