What’s your ‘why’?
“We’ve got trouble?”
It was the 5th time in about as many days that I’d heard this question from Arion. Despite the fact that it typically followed one of his many classroom disturbances, it always made me smile inwardly. The little dude was a troublemaker to be sure, but he was also one of my favorite students from that year.
The year was 2003 and I was a newly minted AmeriCorps member: just 18 years old, fresh out of small town Kansas, and ready to take on the world by tutoring 5th graders in inner city Cleveland. Of all my students, Arion was the one who would have the deepest impact on me. Arriving to the U.S. as refugees, Arion and his family faced challenges unlike any I had ever known. ‘Simple’ tasks such as signing on for utilities, finding jobs, navigating U.S. culture, and expressing themselves linguistically were all massively difficult challenges for Arion’s family. Given this, it is little wonder that Arion was often distracted in school. After all, the guy wasn’t even sure how to ask me if he was ‘in trouble’, “we’ve got trouble?” was close as he could get.
Ironically, Arion’s grammatically incorrect question is a profound statement on his own predicament. ‘We’ve got trouble’ is a pretty accurate description of the sorry state of affairs in most of inner-city America. There are thousands of kids, just like Arion, who are in trouble simply because they wound up in the wrong zip code or wrong school.
Arion is my ‘why’. He’s the reason I startedSocial Change Nation, he’s the reason I believe passionately in cause based business, he’s why I volunteer with Big Brothers, and he’s why I get up every day and build a movement for change agents.
I tell you this to show you that your journey as a social entrepreneur starts with a heartfelt why. If your ‘why’ is money, power, fame, or any other vanity metric, then this isn’t the community for you. SCN is for change agents who have, or want to develop, a deep and profound ‘why’ for launching a cause based business. If you don’t take the time to craft a strong ‘why’ that you’re deeply connected to, nothing else I’m going to tell you will matter. It’s your why that sharpens your purpose, keeps you focused on your people, and ultimately allows you to profit yourself and our planet.
Fortunately, if you’re getting this email, chances are good that you have already planted the seeds of your why. Our job will then be to shape your why into a tangible and sustainable movement. I know we can do it, together. I know this because I’ve done it, helped others do it, and wholeheartedly believe that you will always regret it if you don’t live out your why.
Oh, and by the way, I have a little tool I’ve put together for you that should help get you started. Take a look at this little questionnaire below, reflect on it, then answer the questions. As you answer them, you’ll begin to see your why clear up. If it doesn’t work, email me back and we’ll work on it together:
Tell me the story of your ‘a-ha’ moment - that moment when you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you were destined for social entrepreneurship.
Tell me the story of one person, or one community that has inspired you to work for social good?
What community (or type of community) do you want your business to serve? Why?
How do you want to serve your customer? Why in this way?
All for now, keep it real, folks.