A Social Entrepreneur’s Identity Crisis Re: The Bottom Line
“Here, in my solitude, I have the feeling that I contain too much humanity.” -- Ingmar Bergman
When you're working towards a social good you feel like you have two bosses, you and the world. Your bank account needs attention, but so do the people and communities you're trying to help. This seems manageable at first, even motivating when it's not just about you. Then you come across tough decisions that juxtapose the two.
The Dilemma of You And The World
Say you start an organic, community cafe using compostable plates, but you can’t find someone to compost them, so you have to throw them away. Or maybe you find you have to charge higher prices to pay the rent, and end up attracting more affluent customers instead of the broader community. You feel like you’re not supporting your environmentally-conscious vision or your goal to keep your prices down so your coffee is accessible to everyone. You feel like a sell out.
Some decisions may even be blind spots you discover later, like outsourcing development abroad while building a domestic job-placement website or hiring cheap when you're trying to support a triple bottom line vision. You need money to make your dream possible, but don’t want to cave in to the pressure of business-as-usual, single bottom line practices. In some instances you choose personal sacrifice to uphold your principles, and in others you take help regardless of the source. Either situation feel like a loss.
You even find yourself thinking, "When I get to X amount in the bank, I'll prioritize other bottom lines." Not only is that inherently dissonant, but there have been too many instances where that shift never happens, the defining dollar amount changes, or you don’t to trust yourself to be different.
Believing There Are Two Identities
"Knowledge and intellectual capacity alone are not sufficient to meet life's challenges. Learning to enquire, to observe oneself, to relate with other people and the earth is the core intention of education." - Jiddu Krishnamurti
This dilemma comes from the mindset that you have two identities. Think about the logic of separating your needs and the world's needs. That separation, or the belief that it exists, inherently pits one against the other, hence creating conflict. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's because you believe the two are separate that they are. Your belief in a world separate from you creates "you" and "them" thinking, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid as a socially-conscious entrepreneur.
There is no you and the world, there is only you. And the real question you are struggling with is “Am I working for the world or with the world?” If it’s not just about you, then go beyond yourself and share your dilemma with those you hope to serve and benefit. Reveal to them who you truly are. Don’t hesitate to open up about your failures and show the vulnerability of starting a venture that’s about more than just money.
At some point you find the courage to stop what you were doing, and take on a visionary project that benefits more than just your bank account. That intention matters. That's a part of you now, and your actions are indicative of it. It shows in your communication, marketing, and sales. In every pitch you make. In every call you make. In every e-mail you write.
You have already made an incredible leap of faith by starting something you believe in. You have announced your intention publicly, revealing a deeper part of who you are and what you hope to build with others. Rely on that personal affirmation you gave yourself when you decided to launch your project and communicate it clearly and loudly.
Be Your Core Values
“A leader will find it difficult to articulate a coherent vision unless it expresses his core values, his basic identity...one must first embark on the formidable journey of self-discovery in order to create a vision with authentic soul.” -Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Any time you come across a dilemma that makes you question your identity as a social entrepreneur, ask yourself if you’re working for or with the environment and the people around you. Your answer and hence your intention will determine your course of action, not as separate from anything, but integrated with the core, inner values that continue to reflect who you are. You are the personification of your ethos.
Trust yourself, because in this case what got you here will get you there.
FROM THE EDITOR
At Conscious, remarkable people and organizations inspire us, and so we set out to tell stories that highlight human interest stories, global initiatives, innovation, community development, and social impact. You can read more stories like this when you subscribe.
Editorial Collaborator, Akshay Kapur, joins Conscious to provide tips and advice that speak to entrepreneurs everywhere who face struggles dealing with time, money, balance, health, relationships, and more. Read his interview here. Discover his series here.