Photo by Linda Joy

I don’t know that anyone starts a social enterprise hoping to improve themselves. I know I didn’t. Instead, I thought that I held so many of the answers; naively I couldn’t wait to share them with the world. After several years of flailing about in my desire to solve a real need, I realized that I was in the same boat as those I worked with: I needed them; they needed me. This began my journey to self-discovery and awareness. Social entrepreneurship might not have been on my radar to help me, but it sure has helped me. Here are a few ways that I have seen it in my own life:

01 | You Learn Time Management
The saying, “You have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyonce” becomes clearer when you sign up to become a social entrepreneur. Many social entrepreneurs are dreamers and actually going after the dream causes us to dig deep into the side of us that must learn to manage our time well. This doesn’t just mean juggling tasks until we burn out. This means taking note of what tasks are important for you to do and which tasks you can and should delegate.

02 | You Learn to Rely on Others
You can learn this lesson quickly or not, but the difference is easily noticed once you begin to rely on others. Social entrepreneurs tend to think of their mission/business as their “baby,” so we can be reluctant to give even the most menial task away. However, this is how we grow. As soon as I started learning to delegate, I realized that this kind of mutually beneficial relationship was something my entire life could benefit from. I learned to let others lead at times, learned to listen, and most importantly, I’ve learned to ask for help.

03 | Creates Equitable Ground Between You and Everyone Else
At different stages throughout an entrepreneurial venture, you can view yourself in different lights. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, really. Do I have enough skills for this? And other questions of self-doubt creep in. After a particularly good day or quarter, you may think I knew I wasn’t like these other people! Sometimes you feel embarrassed to admit what you’re doing, like a fish-out-of-water when you hang with your friends who work more traditional jobs. However, all of this up and down can take you to a place you absolutely need to be: on equitable footing with everyone.

This is particularly helpful because if you are a social entrepreneur, you want to make a social change in the world. We all need a dose of humility, and sometimes pride, to remind us that we are on the same ground as everyone else. Those we wish to help and those who work for us and those whose work we admire are the same kind of people as we are.

04 | You Learn How to Celebrate the Small Things
You will never make it as a social entrepreneur if you do not learn how to celebrate every small victory. It might seem like a roller coaster, but keeping a positive outlook and believing the best about situations all help your venture grow. As a plus, it also makes me a better person. If I am only looking for huge, sweeping victories, I am missing out on so much joy in the meantime.

05 | You Learn the Art of Creative Problem Solving
I spend a lot of my time thinking on my feet. Often, when people ask what it is I do I tell them “problem-solving.” It is not a glamorous life, the life of a start-up social entrepreneur. This kind of venture shows us the importance of putting our heads together and unleashing our creative powers.

06 | You Learn how to Adapt
I am a big fan of the Strengthsfinders assessment, and my number one strength is adaptation. However, if this is not one of your strengths, you learn it really fast. I have been challenged in so many ways about my ability to let a not-so-great idea go and how to implement and make changes on ones that I was surprised did so well. Adaptation and learning to move with the flow of your venture is a huge skill that leaks itself into other parts of life – in such a good way.

07 | Creates a System of Beliefs You Are Aware Of
As the author of one of my favorite books on social entrepreneurship writes, when you become a social entrepreneur you find that, “some things really matter, and some things really don’t” (Get Here). While our beliefs drive us all in some ways, social entrepreneurship has you define them and run your organization by these values. Whether it’s a for-profit business or a non-profit, your values often define the way the social entrepreneurship goes. One of my favorite fruits from being involved with a social entrepreneurship has been the definition of my own values. I have been challenged to live daily by them and am always learning to do that more.

08 | Gives You a Sense of Purpose
As far as I know, we all want purpose. I can’t think of many other adventures that produce the type of satisfaction and purpose I feel as a social entrepreneur. Many of my co-workers and I have a tradition. When things seem too difficult or overwhelming, we ask one another “Would you still start this venture if you could do it over again?” No matter what has happened (and I have some stories), I have never said “no.” The joy I feel when our team has a success; providing jobs for people who might not have had work; seeing people encouraged and thriving—these are things that mean so much to me.

09 | Allows You to Work Your Passion
I will say that whoever said, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” must not have done what he or she loved. What you will do is work later than everyone else, show up before anyone else, cry more than anyone else (if you’re me), get angry and moved and passionate about your cause, and generally work yourself into the ground. But, you’ll learn to find balance, too—all while doing something and fighting for something you’re passionate about. What a joy that is.

10 | Shows You Your Gifts and What You Need to Work On
I mentioned the Strengthsfinders test earlier, and I am all about it. Social entrepreneurship helps you discover what you’re doing right and what you need help with pretty quickly. Personally, I loved discovering more about myself through this process. When I started, I felt like I needed to be good at everything, and now I realize that my skills are important but cannot take the place of other people’s skills, which I also need. I have learned so much from branching out and trying things with my social entrepreneurship, as well as through a number of tests that have helped me hone in on my skills (Looking at you Strengthsfinders, Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, and DISC!).

Honestly, I am always amazed at how much work and balance goes into running a social enterprise. I am learning new things every day and I am thankful for the ways it has grown me into the woman I was always meant to be. So lean in, learn from it all, and keep being stretched and molded into the social entrepreneur you are meant to be!

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