Saturday, August 28, 2010

The View from the Hill

My life has changed quite bit in the last year or so. I entered my 40s. I left my job and I have since been working out a new direction and a new business.

At these times in life, you're forced into answering the big questions: What do I really want out of life? What are my values? How much money should I seek to make? What compromises am I prepared to make - or not?

These thoughts are framed by the realisation that 40 is the half-way mark, the brow of the hill from which The End can be surveyed, deep in the distance, but just about discernable.

So what have I come up with? Looking back, I view my life and think, so far, so good: I built up a £7 million "for good" business that was mostly successful and changed quite a few lives. I came out of that business feeling it was left in good hands and that it would continue to thrive.

But I struggled, if I am honest, with the whole CEO thing - I was only good at certain parts of it, the `aggro' of the job got to me and having responsibily for hundreds of people's mortgages I found oppressive. And he last three years were probably not my best. I lost a bit of interest and it wouldn't have been right for me to stay much longer than I did.

And now? The next phase - my next business - will be built around my fundamental needs, strengths and values. These are, I hope, mostly well-aligned but I also know there will be tensions. My needs are as follows: to serve, to do brilliant work for others, to make a lasting contribution. I also need some balance, to stay properly fit and to keep my stress mananagable.

So far, so straighforward. But then there's money. As a just-41 year old with an ever-growing brood, no pension and not a lot of equity, I need to earn quite a lot more money than I did as an emerging social entrepreneur (rent on a bedsit being fairly low).

While it probably seems obscene to somebody struggling to bring their kids up on benefit or a low wage, I think I need to earn at least 60 grand a year to feel happy and would probably be happiest at about 100. I know I probably risk riducule for saying that but I am honest and this is what I feel. Interestingly, the research on happiness seem bear this out. We get progressively happier up to an affluent point of income and hardly any happier after that.

Like a lot of blokes my age, I worry about money a lot, probably even more than my health and hair. I know that I don't need to worry as much as I do. But I have inherited a strong money and work-ethic from my father who, just after I was born, swopped a blue collar for a white one and climbed the corporate ladder to a Directorship.

Although we were never, ever poor, I remember my 70s childhood as pretty frugal and, by today's standards, almost austere, before my Dad's career took off. Material self-improvement, therefore, has been kind-of hard-wired in. I have, of course, chosen not to make this the be-all-and-end-all, but it still there, shadow-like in my mind.

What of my skills? Being a jack rather than a master I am not the natural specialist, which the world of work prefers us to be. I love developing and selling things. My energy comes from interaction. I like work that brings me into contact both with the front-line (hence why I am a Councillor) and also the corridors of influence. I like to be part of the debate through writing and speaking. I like to be needed and I need to be liked. I don't see this ever changing. Work has to do all of this for me if it isn't to become dull.

And values? I have come to the conclusion that life is fundamentally about the balance you strike between concern for others and concern for self, between money and broader achievement, between liberty and duty and between kindness and indifference. I see us all as having choices in this balance and that, either consciously or not, most of us find our place on the continuum.

I myself have moved along the continuum over time. As I have got older I have greater concern for myself(and my family)and my appetite for money has edged up a notch or two. This may sound pretty awful but given my starting point as a self-neglecting ascetic, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. On the plus side, I have a more powerful sense of my responsibilities and more head-space for others than I did a decade ago.

So as I move forward, I am aware that, no, I am not going to build another £7 million social business - and nearly do myself in while doing so! Instead I will seek to build a business based on my own values, with people who share those values. I will ensure that this business is also making a difference in the world both in the way it does its work and the use it puts to its profits.

However, I wont' grow as quickly as last time (that itch has been truly scratched) and I will put quality before everything, even the lure of scale. In doing all of this I will, unashamedly pursue the income I need while continuing to uphold my role in the community and organisations I support, and ensuring my friends, family and health are not neglected. The balance, I hope will be right.

Does this make me a social entrepreneur going forward? That debate will rumble on, but if I think, if I do manage to contribute while also achieving for myself, I deserve at least Associate Membership of the club.

1 comment:

Robert Ashton said...

Yes you are a social entrepreneur Craig. Even though you need to provide for your family and your future, you remain committed to your values.

I'd argue you could be a social entrepreneur in or running any organisation. In fact it takes more courage, persistence and passion to remain true to your ideals in a traditionally 'for profit' environment than in the beard and sandals world of grassroots social enterprise.