Having spent time with some of the richest, most powerful, most admired people in the world, as well as some of the poorest, most disadvantaged people in the most obscure corners of the globe, I can assure you that, beyond a basic level, there is no correlation between happiness levels and conventional markers of success. A carpenter who derives his deepest satisfaction from working with wood can easily have a life as good or better than the president of the United States.

Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio (currently the 69th richest person on Earth)

What if someone told you that they had a process that would guarantee you to double your company’s profits in the next 12 months? Would you be interested? Just think about that for a moment. All that extra money, pouring into your business.

Now, what if I told you that the same miraculous process would also double the amount of time you had to spend at the office? Say, going from 40 to 80 hours a week (or from 50 to 100). You’ll lose track of your family and your friends. Your relationship with your spouse begins to deteriorate. Your health starts to suffer as well, as the sleep deprivation builds up. But the money, it keeps pouring in.\

Let’s fast forward five years. Your kids are growing up fast, but you don’t see them. Your relationship? Well that ended a few years ago (it was just too hard to do both). But your bank account—it just keeps doubling every year or so. Now, how would you feel about our magical process?

“Once you recognize that the purpose of your life is not to serve your business, but that the primary purpose of your business is to serve your life, you can then go to work on your business, rather than in it, with a full understanding of why it is absolutely necessary for you to do so.”

― Michael E. Gerber, The E-Myth Revisited

Here’s what I have observed about most small business people: we are too busy with our heads down inside the system we have built to ask the bigger question: what am I really doing this for? We have a million little details nagging at us, and it seems challenging enough to ask the strategic questions within the business; let alone ask what I want to get out of the business.

But then, thank goodness: the common sense and wisdom of the American business community comes to our rescue—it assures us that we don’t really have to worry about such a lofty question, because once we have enough money, this “fungible asset” will become convertible into any and all needs we might have; we don’t have to worry, because whatever else is true, we know that money will solve our problems. Enough money will fix everything, right?

After all, everyone else seems to have their heads down, chasing after the same goal—grow, grow, grow! Surely, this “herd wisdom” must mean something. But my opening question  highlights a severe problem with the money-solves-everything mindset: while you are operating your business machine—no matter how to successfully— if at the end you have a lot of money but you hated your life; lost touch with your friends; and the things you believe are wrong, then, what would it really all be worth?

I’m being intense about this because I don’t think we think about it nearly enough, and I’m convinced it’s one of the  collective delusions of our culture.

One of my new favorite business books is called Small Giants, in which the author profiles a number of highly profitable small businesses who’ve decided to stay “small” deliberately. Although very different from one another, one thing they have in common is that they make business decisions not only with the aim of immediate profit, but also for their own quality of life, that of their employees, their mission with the community, and for their core values.

In the book, they profile one New York City entrepreneur who had a previous business which he had feverishly driven up to a $30 million valuation. He was not going to be satisfied until it had reached $100M. Through very aggressive tactics, he did manage to bring it up to $100M! About the same time, the business, and his life, began to fall apart in a variety of ways, as he came to realize how pointless the number $100M actually was for his happiness.

Out of the remains of his life at that point, he then began to construct a new business—the “small giant“ that is profiled in the book. This time though, he still designed a very profitable business, but one which gave him the controls he wanted to make something that suited him, suited his employees, and served his customers over the long term.

The belief that just making a little more money will solve our problems; that a business needs only to be designed around this one goal—is an appealing one. Since money wants to make everything fungible, maybe I can simply trade if for happiness, whatever that may mean for me. But careful observation will of course reveal otherwise. Any system you design will tend to operate according to the rules you give it. If the only design rule you give it is, “make more money”, it will tend to operate according to that rule. It puts all the emphasis on the theoretical promise that the money you earn from the business will bring you happiness and satisfaction; but without a consideration of the other values you want to live by, and the experiences you want to have in the business, you might just end up creating another “job” that you don’t really love or enjoy. It encourages us to put our happiness into the future, when a more well-rounded business can bring us, our employees, and our customers a much richer present. And these other qualities do not have to be at the expense of profit, but actually become the other components that build a steady, stable, enjoyable business that creates an engine for value in the world.

At Essential 3, we work with a five-component model of success. Of course, one of those components is great profitability. But it also includes attention to your quality of life; the quality of your employees; and what you give back to your customers and your community. If this kind of approach interests you or makes you curious, maybe look a little further into our Fit process.

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