Monday, October 8, 2012

Mission and Compassion Intertwined

One of the underlying drivers of all of the small businesses I have encountered is a passion to do something good. Maybe I’m just lucky and my sample size is small. I’m sure there are plenty of businesses out there that succeed without incorporating compassion into their mission. But what I am finding is really quite amazing. Whether it be a yoga studio dedicated to healing and nurturing the whole person, a graphic designer inspired by young moms in their common journey and designing products that speak to those stories, an architect passionate about green solutions that help the earth, or chefs committed to organic, local foods that support local growers and healthy eating, their business goals are intertwined with care for others.

One example very near and dear to me is the Life is good company who, this week, will be honored by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce in the culmination of their Small Business of the Year Awards. One of the reasons I am a fan of Life is good and its owners is that they started in my little town of Needham, MA, selling T-shirts out of a van and have grown to a $100 million business without losing sight of their early vision. Another reason  I am a fan is because of the Life is good pajamas my aunt and uncle in Colorado sent my three sisters and me as we tried to celebrate Christmas in my mother’s house 23 days after she died – we were beneficiaries of the Life is good vision in a truly thoughtful surprise that pulled us forward. The last reason I am a fan is because the Life is good company is a great example of finding a purpose (promoting optimism) and using their business to serve that purpose. Since their start in 1994, they have grown their business and their brand which has enabled them to develop a non-profit action arm. The Life is good Playmakers provide education, resources, and support to childcare providers who dedicate their lives to helping kids in need.

In Owner/CEO Bert Jacobs’ words: “We tend to think of nonprofits and government organizations when we think about organizations that do good things, but in truth a lot of the power is with people who know how to make money. So if you know how to make money, and have the visibility through consumer products, then you can do some pretty amazing things.”

In my world of small businesses, I don’t normally think of $100 million businesses (especially those headquartered on Newbury Street in Boston) who wield this kind of life-changing clout for others. But no small business should ever be discouraged from trying to achieve the exact same thing – whether it be on a small or large scale. Our life’s purpose and our business can coexist. In a recent interview with Inkandescent Networking, Bert listed 15 tips for entrepreneurs. It is a great list, worth a full read, with an important final point - Start from the end. Ask yourself this question: When you are old and gray, what do you want to look back on and say that you have accomplished? Once you know the answer, go ahead and do it. 

On the subject of mission and compassion, Bert recommends asking ourselves the question posed by (my favorite) poet Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” If your compassion and your business mission intertwine, as they do at Life is good (and Pipal Leaf Yoga Studio and and One Penny Per Mile and more), what a great combination that becomes. As Bert says, “We weren’t created for business, it was created for us. So your business should serve your life’s purpose.”

Catch some optimism from “Jake”, the Life is good mascot, from the many facets of their website (fun and optimistic images, their blog, Fuel (stories from people who have embraced the power of optimism), learn about Playmakers and/or their Festival). They can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Pinterest. It may add optimism to your day or inspire your business.

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