Why Who You Spend Time With Matters.
In December 2013, I made the move out to Salt Lake City, Utah from the Northeast to start a new adventure that would later change the course of my career and the principles by which I lived. This adventure included working with refugees from around the globe who illustrated an enthusiasm for entrepreneurship. It was my job to help ambitious newcomers start and grow small businesses, and how powerful it was to watch as some of these people uprooted themselves from poverty by working hard, being resourceful and creating opportunities that improved their economic condition.
Apart from bearing witness to the challenges and successes of these newcomers, I built relationships with dozens of Utah entrepreneurs who frequently assisted my program by mentoring me and the participants of it. These were people who had already experienced praiseworthy success in their entrepreneurial careers. Being around these people made me recognize the deep value in creation, taking risks, finding comfort in uncertainty, embracing ambiguity and transcending boundaries of difference in effort to find out more about oneself. It made me understand that ordinary people do extraordinary things, that people regardless of their past experiences can find the mental fortitude and passion to exceed their wildest expectations. It made me realize that this world is scattered with fun, creative and well-intentioned people, most of whom seeking what I seek in my work and life: meaning, challenge, knowledge, progress and the opportunity to do something different.
Being around these creatives and inventors made me realize that the entrepreneurial process energized me. In the last twelve months, I have extracted four “principles” from a few inspirational leaders who changed my life. These four “principles” are below:
If not now, when? If not you, who? The time to act and engender change is now. This summer, I sat down with an accomplished millionaire and entrepreneur who has spent his career around product development and humanitarianism in Africa. As I explained to him my idea for starting a social enterprise in South Asia, he recited the line “David, if not now, when? If not you, who? Go for it.” This compelling yet simple statement propelled me into action. He was right. For what was I waiting? More experience? Better timing? An extended version of a business plan? Access to more money? These were all excuses keeping me from achieving my goals. In reality, you will never feel like the timing is right, that you have enough experience or enough money to keep you comfortable. If you wait, maybe you will lose the inspiration that keeps you pondering the possibilities. The time is now. Go for it. Take chances and embrace change. Learn from your failures. In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take. Start becoming who you want to become today.
Find your why. One of the most important days of your life is the day you discover why you were born. What is the purpose or belief inspiring you to do what you do? German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once said, “He who has a why can endure any how.” Knowing your why is the first step in figuring out how to achieve the goals that excite you and create a fulfilling future and life. Only when you know your ‘why’ will you develop the courage to take the risks needed to get ahead and move your life into a more challenging and rewarding direction. Try to answer a few questions in your effort to discover your why: (1) how will you measure your life? (2) what makes you come alive? (3) Why does it make you come alive? (4) why is it important to have in your life? and (5) What are your strengths? Working on understanding and developing your why will bring energy and enthusiasm into your day. Focus hard on finding it, and always reflect on its importance.
Become friends with people who inspire you. In many cases, you simply become a product of your environment. Almost everyone I was surrounded by in Utah were talented entrepreneurs who carried humanitarian spirits. They inspired me to think beyond the status quo, create and challenge myself. I came to believe in this idea that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time around”. I also like to reflect on this idea that if you are the least intelligent in the room, then you are in the right room. Being conscious of who I associated with helped me internalize and cultivate a strong desire for entrepreneurship, innovation and self-improvement. Surround yourself with people who challenge and inspire you. Find people who will support and encourage you. Find a mentor who can give you advice that can help you self-discover solutions to complex problems. Find people who motivate you to improve yourself and continue to learn. Express gratefulness for the relationship with these people and always try to go out of your way to help them.
It is not about resources. It is about resourcefulness. Most of the successful entrepreneurs I know never started out with dozens of venture capitalists knocking on their door to hand them millions in cash for their “new” idea. The reality for most new entrepreneurs is reaching out to friends and family and into their own savings. Some relied on their co-founders to sell their every possession (car, guitar, furniture, whatever it takes) in an act of sacrifice to contribute something other than sweat equity to the business. Others were lucky enough to know a few angel investors willing to take a chance on a first-time entrepreneur. These people are not the norm. Most people start small and think big. They do what they can with what they have, and what they often have is very little. A friend of mine started a company over a decade ago with $50,000 he borrowed from his grandmother. He later turned this into a multi million dollar business which later sold. The premise of his story? It is all about resourcefulness. It teaches you to be creative in your problem solving and business practices. Look at what Apple accomplished out of a garage! If you really want something badly enough, you will find a way.
I hope these four “principles” inspire you as much as they have inspired me. What are a few principles by which you live? And how have the people you spend time around influenced your behavior and actions?