Make no mistake: Being successful in business is significantly more fun than being unsuccessful. People can say “money can’t buy happiness”, but try paying for your rent, groceries, therapy appointments, and anti-depressant pills with a fistful of air and I think you’ll be singing a different tune. It’s just a fact: Unfortunately, we don’t live in a barter economy or one where everything is free, so making and having your own money does open the doors to many resources, experiences, and a type of freedom that can’t easily be achieved on the unemployment line.
However, while money is helpful, that’s not the only reason it makes entrepreneurship more fun. Simply put, money is the positive feedback loop entrepreneurs hope to see to reassure them that this product or service they’ve poured years into building and peddling is actually gaining traction and positively impacting the lives of its customers. Whether you’re selling t-shirts or life-saving medicine, the financial feedback loop of sales is the one thing you have to go off to confirm that your time, resources, and career aren’t being meaninglessly funneled into a black hole. Sales imply that you aren’t alone, no matter how lonely entrepreneurship can be.
That said, sales aren’t necessarily enough for everyone. Every person has a minimum threshold of how much financial success they need to survive (and to do so comfortably); however, there’s a different threshold that’s lesser discussed. This second threshold is the level at which a person is looking for more, and money alone won’t do it.
For some people, this second threshold occurs when they can buy themselves a house or retire their parents or buy up a whole slew of properties, businesses, or other assets. It might even be after a trip around the world at 5-star hotels that you realize you’ve hit your second threshold. The common ground is that once you do, the excitement and fulfillment of the sales and money will abruptly shift to a pang of emptiness.
It’s at this point in the entrepreneurial and financial success journey that a person may ask themselves “Now what?” Believe me, whether you’re 25 or 65+, asking yourself that question can be a very jarring experience that kicks up a lot of subsequent emotions and even more questions.
For me, “Now what?” happened once when my dad died, once when my business hit its biggest month, and once when I moved to my dream city. Each time, I was faced with the questions:
I can tell you from firsthand experience, the joy of sales is fleeting if you couldn’t care less about the widget you’re peddling or its negligible impact on the world or your customers. That’s not to say you have to create life-saving products to attain entrepreneurial fulfillment, but it is to say that many entrepreneurs who’ve tasted financial success without massively giving back or impacting lives are likely to seek more.
By more, I mean: More meaning, more fulfillment, and more opportunities to fill the void the sales did not.
Simply put, entrepreneurs have three post-success paths to choose from: They can either get toys, get bored, or get philosophical. Many will take a journey down all three roads and wind up staring at you from a TedX stage or a self-help book cover after figuring out where they went wrong.
I’m not implying that an entrepreneur who successfully turns a product into a lifetime of financial independence and freedom for themselves and their families has “gone wrong”. However, if you’re wondering why so many successful entrepreneurs eventually turn away from their core businesses and toward offering mentorship, consulting services, writing books, and even tackling global issues, this is why: If you build a business and grow it to success, it’s easy to expect you’ll find yourself and your purpose in that journey. Unfortunately, many come out the other end realizing they never actually found who they were, since they were too busy running on the hamster wheel that was entrepreneurship to ask “what for?”.
This is when entrepreneurs turn to helping others, exploring deeper problems and more pressing worldwide issues affecting humanity or the planet, or probing other causes in which they strongly believe.
Founders at this stage don’t want to just push another cluttering product. They want to search for real meaning, during which they may discover “the secret” (or some piece of it) and feel compelled to share it with others to help them cut through the years of pointless pursuits of unfulfilling accolades that will only leave them empty in the end.