Never Put Profits First

December 21st, 2013 by Steve Pavlina

Most ideas I learned from business books were useless. The rest were downright harmful. Intuition and experimentation have been the best guides.

The #1 assumption business books tend to make is that the purpose of running a business is to earn and increase profits. Some books really hammer on this point, as if you’re an idiot for disagreeing. I found my decisions and results to be the most idiotic when I bought into that model.

I just thumbed through such a book yesterday that someone had sent me in the mail. That book is now in the recycle bin. It will serve a greater purpose as a cardboard box, which is far healthier for all of us than letting someone else read it.

As soon as you walk into the office of a business that puts profits first, you can smell the oppression. It’s almost unfathomable that human beings would accept such a lack of freedom. I dread walking into places where everyone behaves like zombies. The vibe is so disgustingly creepy. No wonder the cartels have such a thriving business. I’d probably drug myself daily too if I had to spend years of my life in a cubicle.

Profits-first is a great mindset if you want to destroy your health, self-esteem, motivation, and relationships. I’d never want to work in such a place, nor would I ever want to subject others to such an environment. People deserve much better than to be treated like cogs in service of a machine.

There are much more empowering priorities for a business. Surely you can come up with something more exciting than, let’s make a bigger number than we did last year.

I rather like this one:

The purpose of business is to empower people to express and share their creativity, for the highest good of all.

It’s nonsense to believe that you can’t have a sustainable business if you don’t put profits first. In my experience it’s much easier to achieve sustainability if you refuse to demean yourself with a money-first attitude.

Instead of putting money first, put creative challenges first. Put growth experiences first. Put fun first. Put the opportunity to work with cool people first. Put contribution first.

I love running my business — so much — because I don’t put money first. Money is a consideration of course, but the bottom line is at the bottom for a reason, right where it belongs.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for nearly 20 years straight now. The years when I put money first were by far the most stressful and miserable ones. The years when I set out to express my creativity, improve my relationships, dive into fun co-creative projects, make a contribution, give more, stretch myself, and so on, were the years when I was the happiest and most fulfilled.

This longer time perspective helps me see that if I create stressful and miserable years for myself, it will eventually add up to decades of such memories, which means that in my older years, I’m going to feel awfully bitter about how I’ve lived. Fortunately I was able to nip that in the bud before I went too far down that path, so now the opposite is happening. I’m getting happier as I get older because I’m stacking up year after year of positive memories. Regardless of how much money I make or don’t make, I remember the fun projects, the creative flow, the intimate friendships, the collaborations, the heartfelt hugs, the people I helped, and so on. I don’t remember what my bank balance looked like.

Generating income from your creativity is great. Let it be part of the challenge. But don’t make money the central purpose of your work. Don’t do things just for money that you wouldn’t otherwise be inspired to do. It’s better to stick to your path with a heart, even if it means getting kicked out of your home because you can’t pay the rent. I’m speaking from experience since I did that once. At the time it was stressful of course, but as a memory it’s something I’m rather proud of, and as a story it helps encourage others not to settle for zombie-hood.

Follow your path with a heart, especially in business. Do real work that you find dignified and fulfilling, and you’ll end each year with a feeling of deep satisfaction, regardless of how much money you make. If you trust your intuition, act on inspiration, and take the time to build experience and positive relationships, you’ll find a path to sustainability sooner or later.



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