This is the time of loaves and fishes. People are hungry and one good word is bread for a thousand. — David Whyte, Loaves and Fishes, The House of Belonging
The Feeding of the Multitude
There is a story in the Bible describing how Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish, gave thanks, and then directed his disciples to distribute the food among a throng of people. The people were fed and the disciples returned with baskets full of left overs.
As I look at the process of building a business, I’m struck by some parallels to the story of the loaves and fishes. For most, starting, managing, and growing a business often centers on never having enough. There is never enough time, money, people, product, space, knowledge, bandwidth, materials, etc. Yet, the success of the venture is completely dependent on the founder’s ability to “feed the multitude” in spite of the fact that resources are limited. Employees and vendors need paid. Customers need products. Your family needs to eat. Investors need a return. Somehow, someway, the business must produce for its constituents even though by its very nature, there is never enough.
No, I’m not suggesting that business owners are workers of miracles. Sleight of hand, perhaps, but miracles are the purview of a higher power. So what is the nature of this entrepreneurial alchemy we see performed daily by little organizations trying to find their way in the world? I reference the terms “miracles” and “alchemy” because they engender a sense of mystery. I think there is a bit of mystery to many of the why’s and wherefore’s of business success or failure. We can measure dollars and cents, debits and credits, revenue and profit, but there are such an array of variables acting upon our ventures that it is impossible to quantify them all on a spreadsheet.
Mitigating the Mysteries
Certainly, by looking back, we can trace all of the good and bad decisions, analyze the trends, and build a clear case study. The lessons learned are good reference points but do little to help along the way. In the midst of the chaos, the entrepreneur has to find a way to feed the multitude.
I asked earlier about “entrepreneurial alchemy” and the question still stands. What is the secret? Alas, there is no simple answer and the answer for me won’t be the answer for you. However, I have a few thoughts on mitigating the mysteries, managing the process, and effecting your own version of success:
- Show up every day. There is no substitute for hard work and much success can be attributed to showing up, day after day, and working as hard as you can. Especially when you don’t feel like it.
- Balance practicality, dreams, and discomfort. Finding a way to survive the entrepreneurial path requires a practical business model (customers, revenue, profit) but it also needs to encompass the dream (independence, adventure, wealth, whatever drives you). But most importantly, you’ll have to balance the first two with your own coping abilities. How much discomfort can you endure and for how long?
- Find the right people. Interestingly enough, the “right” people vary based on you, your business, the time of day, and a host of other variables. The right person will be the one who can balance work ethic, endurance, personality, cost, time of life etc. with your priorities and foibles. Only you will know and you won’t know until you know.
- Forgive yourself. Again and again and again. You will make bad decisions, hire the wrong people, forget deadlines, disappoint others, disappoint yourself and fail numerous times. Yeah, I know it doesn’t sound fun but it is the reality and you will need to allow for it and forgive yourself repeatedly.
- Get away often. As hard as you need to work, you may need to work equally as hard at not working. It will be very important to let go frequently and recharge. The challenges will always be present. Frequently letting go to renew your spirit and decompress will be critical if you expect to go the distance.
- Enjoy it. Remind yourself daily why you do what you do, how it is good for you and your family, and what the possibilities are for your future. Have fun in the moments and enjoy the ride. It will truly be a ride. Bumpy, curvy, and topsy-turvy. Grin and bear it because that is simply the nature of any journey.
- There are no right answers. As I read all of the advice, stories, checklists, cautions, postmortems, and inspirations swirling about in the wisdom success-sphere, I am more and more convinced that there are no right answers, only your answers. Your life, your path, your challenges, your successes, and the unique flavors in which they come. Mark Cuban’s brilliance or Phil Berry’s failings won’t change your situation. Take what you can and know you’ll blaze your own trail.
Meditation for Your Future
Think of this post as a meditation on the nature of creating something that fits with your life, calls for self-compassion, and reminds you to do it your way. Just a few thoughts on taking your loaves and fishes and converting them into something more. Whether you choose to pursue an entrepreneurial dream or to intrapreneur your way to better tomorrows, you will always be called to feed the multitudes with less than is actually needed. Embrace it knowing that you have exactly what you need and you will find a way to fill your baskets