Profit, Purpose & Worst Case Scenario

First published 24 February, 2013, updated 3 October 2013.

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“Named must your fear be before banish it you can” – Yoda

“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?” – Seneca

Over the last few weeks I have been leading a recruitment process to hire a new member for our team. While it’s only a part-time position, we received 150 applications for the role!

Up until now I hadn’t really fully acknowledged the emotional toll that going through this recruitment process had taken on me. Being within government there are strict processes to follow in terms of reviewing all applications, evaluating them against set selection criteria and providing written feedback for unsuccessful applicants. It’s been an exhausting process on top of all my other ‘regular’ work and from it all two key themes have emerged for me:

  1. There are a lot of creative people standing at a cross-roads waiting (wanting?) to take a giant leap into exploring their true purpose
  2. There are a lot of creative people also struggling to find work and desperate for money (profit)

These are two often conflicting themes and this week’s post will explore my experience around the relationship between profit and purpose.

In my experience, there is no better way to destroy a strong purpose than to try to make money out of it, to survive!

In 2010, when I had my ‘early mid-life crisis’ and took a six month sabbatical from my job as an architect, (before I set off on my overseas serendipity trip), I spent two months experimenting with life as a full-time musician.

Music has always been a huge part of my life however I’ve often struggled to find the right fit for it. Around this time I was heavily invested in my band Mr Rascal and I enjoyed playing and writing so much at that time that I thought “if I only I could do this every day! I’d be so much happier!”

So I had a go. I played as many gigs as I could with Mr Rascal in Brisbane for those two months and I also took every opportunity to play cafe and pub gigs, frankly because I needed to earn enough money to pay rent and survive (not to mention support the nocturnal lifestyle of being a full-time musician!)

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What happened? Playing over 4 gigs a month in Brisbane killed our audience’s anticipation and interest and by the end of the two months hardly anyone was coming to our shows. Also, playing the pub and cafe gigs, singing covers and effectively being a jukebox made me want to poke my eyes out with guitar strings! Prioritising making money out of my passion for music nearly destroyed the passion altogether. That period marked the start of a two and a bit year break from Mr Rascal that I’ve only just resumed this year.

After I’d experienced my memorable world trip and returned home in September 2010, I had a strong (not altogether clear, but definitely strong) purpose about what I wanted to do with my career. I knew it wasn’t just straight architecture, I knew that it involved working with community, having more fun, using technology and exploring creativity through art and research. I knew I needed to make the break from my job but I had a dilemma:

How was I going to make money while following my purpose?

At first I shared with my Director, at the company I was working for, my ambitions to follow this new career path and try to get his support to allow me to stay on for 3 days a week in the short-term while I got my new business ‘White Light‘ up and running. We had endless meetings trying to work it out and it became more and more difficult to see how I could have the best of both worlds (profit and purpose).

It was around this time that a great mate of mine Grant put me on to a book called ‘The Four Hour Work Week‘ by Timothy Ferriss. For anyone who knows me, I bang on about Timothy Ferriss pretty much every day now, but back then it was all fresh news to me.

One particular section of the book (“Conquering Fear = Defining Fear”) deals with conquering the fear of quitting your job in favour of following a bigger purpose (your ideal life). In this section (page 46 if you’re playing at home) he asks a few challenging questions; these two had the most impact on me:

  • Define your nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering (in my case quitting my job)
  • What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing? (if the nightmare came true)

The truth is my nightmare, the worst case scenario if it all went wrong, wasn’t all that bad. I’d be broke for a while and probably have to sponge off family and friends for a bit, but then I’d get some kind of temporary job, either working for my Dad as a carpenter or at a bar or cafe (which sounded quite appealing at the time). I’d survive. In fact it might end up being pretty good!

By qualifying and getting comfortable with my worst case scenario I realised my choice to quit my job and follow my purpose wasn’t much of a risk at all! So I quit.

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White Light started slow. I secured one architecture job, designing a renovation to a childcare centre, which was quite a nice job first up and I started writing proposals for public art installations without much success. I took the business and finance side of White Light very seriously and I had set up spreadsheets to forecast anticipated and required profit to track the successful growth of the business. Although I had made a choice to follow my purpose, I was still putting profit first. Things went pretty well to plan in the first few months as I also picked up some casual work at The Edge as a “catalyst” in environmental sustainability.

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Making ‘seed bombs’ at The Edge

By January 2011 my spreadsheet was looking pretty healthy, until Monday 10 January.

I’d just arrived back in Brisbane after spending a long weekend in Melbourne, only to find that my city was being inundated with flood waters. Despite the obvious and most serious impact that these devastating floods had across the State, this powerful act of nature also destroyed my best intentions to run a profitable business.

The floods inundated The Edge building, meaning I had no opportunity to work there for several weeks and at the same time my architecture job was put on hold as a result of the flood waters.

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As anyone who was in Brisbane during this time will attest, despite the initial devastation of the floods, there was also an amazing, almost surreal sense of optimism that emerged from this crisis that transcended our everyday lives. For me, being involved in volunteer work and clean ups around the city made me forget about my personal financial troubles and be present to the immediate needs of my community.

In conversations with friends and colleagues around this time I began to notice how many people had creative and sometimes wild ideas for how we could have better prepared for the floods. Some people suggested we should have hydraulic stumps on all Queenslanders while others suggested that if we could have all turned on our bath taps at the same time we would have released enough water to lower the dam levels!

I connected to this heightened sense of creativity in the community and I felt a strong calling to do something about it. The week after the floods I decided to give the then president of the Australian Institute of Architects (Queensland) Peter Skinner a ring to propose the idea of getting the Institute to host a workshop to capture all of these ideas.

I remember writing down my notes for the phone call on a piece of paper and taking a deep breath before I called! Peter was very receptive to my idea and he said that he’d actually been having a similar conversation with a guy called Alan Hoban from the Healthy Waterways Partnership and that we should all get together for a chat.

A few days later, the three of us appeared, along with an old work mate of mine Damian Thompson at a local coffee shop and we sat down to discuss the idea. We all agreed that we wanted to capture these ideas and share them throughout the community and the best way to do that in the twenty-first century was through a website. With financial support from The Healthy Waterways Partnership, a few weeks later www.floodofideas.org.au was launched.

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I was so excited by this project that I quickly got caught up in the momentum of securing supporting partners, gathering content and promoting the website. One day, early on in the project Alan Hoban from Healthy Waterways said to me that if the project was going to succeed then I would need to be spending some quality time on it and so he asked me if I’d be willing to consult to Healthy Waterways as the Project Coordinator. The next thing I knew I was living and breathing a project I was completely passionate about and getting paid more than I was previously earning or had forecast to earn on my spreadsheets!

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The project became huge! It picked up media interest all around Australia and overseas and tens of thousands of visitors to the site each month. We ran public exhibitions of the ideas, a state-wide student ideas competition, a research project, published a book and won awards!

Wow! I never could have guessed that from that one simple, passionate phone call a whole project could have emerged! In fact that project really helped me establish a strong relationship with the Library which lead to the opportunity to apply for my current job. Not to mention some of the amazing relationships that I formed during the course of the project.

The lesson for me through this experience and since has been simple profit follows purpose.

So, here are your challenges for the week:

  • Identify one area of your ideal life (your purpose) that you are afraid to step into (it could be a career direction, a relationship or a new hobby)
  • Identify the one action that would change everything in terms of turning this ‘dream’ into ‘reality’ (define it in real terms e.g. “I would need to schedule a meeting with my boss to give her two weeks notice on my job”)
  • Qualify and become comfortable with the worst case scenario if you did take this ‘risk’ (imagine the worst and then consider the practical steps you could take to rectify the situation)
  • Just do it!

Remember, profit follows purpose.

I’d love to hear your thoughts around struggles and difficulties in balancing this often tricky relationship between profit and purpose so please feel free to share your comments.

Til next week, Be Awesome!

Christian.

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One thought on “Profit, Purpose & Worst Case Scenario

  1. Pingback: The Power of 3 | Be Awesome

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